Our future will be shaped strongly by computer games. At least that’s what Dominik Rinnhofer predicts.¹ He is a professor for Game Design at Stuttgart’s Macromedia Hochschule. And he is probably right.

A planet of gamers

Gaming used to be a hobby for the few, now it is woven into every aspect of popular culture and its global reach surpasses those of movies, sports, or television. No wonder! Smartphones, consoles, and PCs have brought gaming to currently approx. 2.7 billion gamers worldwide. Today – well, before COVID-19 anyway, tens of thousands of screaming fans filled esports arenas, while a global audience of half a billion watches online. Its often-teenage stars become more popular than professional athletes and gaming revenues have already surpassed many of the classic fields of entertainment.

The chicken-and-egg question

Games strive to achieve a maximum of immersion and emotional impact, requiring technologies that are not yet available on the market. As a result, games constantly adapt to modern hard- and software – and vice versa.² Processors, storage, audio devices, monitors and power packs are essential factors to guarantee the full functionality of the games that are more and more complex. Users are more or less forced to invest in new gear; just imagine playing a VR game without VR goggles!

 

And so, it is a continuous ping-pong between gaming, technology – and even science and sustainability! In 2019, Sony and Microsoft announced a partnership to explore cloud gaming and streaming solutions built in the Microsoft cloud, Azure, effectively combining Sony’s expertise in semiconductors and Microsoft’s expertise in artificial intelligence.³

Tech for the masses

Deep learning now makes graphics sharper and games smarter. Today, real-time ray tracing, e.g. built into NVIDIA GeForce RTX GPUs gives game developers control over light, shadows, and reflections – a technology once exclusively available to top moviemakers. And cloud gaming makes high-quality games available on the next billion devices: underpowered PCs, Macs, and smartphones. Gaming has made strong, and cost-effective tools available for a wide variety of industries, such as interactive visualizations for architectural projects, or the virtual construction of movie sets.

Application options are endless; gamified simulations are gaining ground in kids‘ and adult education, while military and medical simulations render costly and dangerous real-time tests obsolete. And what’s more: gamers and computer users worldwide are donating their free computing power to support scientific research, e.g. via folding@home by the Stanford University, or in the game “Eve Online”⁴, both of which support COVID-19 research.

 

And while gaming is an energy-intensive field of entertainment, it also plays a growing role in fostering sustainability, as Rinnhofer explains. “Greenified” games like Sims 4 Eco Lifestyle teach kids about living green and finding ways to better the environment. Projects such as Eco are intrinsically built to foster cooperative and eco-conscious behavior. And the chance does not stop at ecology. Diversity and inclusion find their way into a notoriously white and heteronormative industry. While the heroines of newly launched The Last of Us Pt II⁵ are a lesbian couple, the narration-heavy Tell Me Why⁶ tells the story of twins, one of whom is transgender. In the long run, computer games reflecting all varieties of modern society will hopefully be a given. US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign team have already started booking ad space in the popular game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.⁷

Gaming used to be equated with numb escapism, a kind of flight behavior into a virtual world, to shirk real life’s responsibilities. Yet the tide has turned. Game developers and gamers a retrieving their ownership for the future. Will games shape our future? They already have! So, let us use the MQ! Virtual Innovation Summit to develop the right questions to find playful solutions for!