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Gaming is encoded in our DNA
by Junxue Li on 06/15/14 11:55:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


   After read Christian Nutt’s great article Analysis: The Nintendo bubble, I have thought a lot about Nintendo’s past and future, then the thoughts is like a horse goes wild, I can’t help to reach to the whole game industry, to the root of entertainment, and back to today’s gaming again.


Entertainment to its root:

In my eyes, humans are but doing two things in all time: producing life’s necessities, food, clothing, houses, that they could keep themselves alive; And entertaining themselves.  People do create art, but it only serves the two purposes directly or indirectly.


It’s human nature to have entertainment, and entertainment is never small business since the days of men. Think about the Colosseum , the amphitheater, and the illustrious figures in history, in fact they are all great entertainers: Homer, Shakespeare, Dumas.   


People thirst of entertainment. What limits the wide spread of certain form of entertainment is at what cost people can have it. If this impediment is removed, we can see how fast it would reach all corners on earth. For example, when printing technology makes books cheap, popular fictions could get into every hand; When Apps are free for downloading, everyone becomes a gamer. In comparison, we know how much a ticket for a concert or opera costs, and how much a PS3 costs at its debute release.

How much entertainment humans can have, depends on two things: Firstly, how efficiently they could produce life’s necessities: In the past, we produced our food by hand with the aid of cattle, horses, we did’t have much entertainment; Now we produce food by fossil fuels, much less people is needed for this task, that we can have more resources to produce entertainment. And secondly, how much entertainment we can enjoy, of course we can’t play video games all day long, we have other things to take care of.  

There are two types of entertainment: dedicated entertainment and stand-by entertainment. Think about people arranging their time to go to an opera house, staying an afternoon at home playing PS3, those are dedicated entertainment; A huckster reading a fiction while waiting for prospect customers, and your playing Candy Crush in Subway train, those are stand-by entertainment.



Historical trend of video gaming: from minority to majority

In the early years of console gaming, game makers and gamers alike, only regarded video games as high-tech children’s toy. None has realized, that video games are essentially basic human need, only the game contents need to be adapted to the nature of each demographic group. We can see how games were welcomed by non-gamers: There was a NES boom in China, that every mid-class family got a smuggled machine only for Tetris; And lots of US families purchased Wii just to play the boxed in Wii sports, they don’t have the idea that there are other disc games sold separately.


In the past, access to games is limited by the fact that you must be fan enough to buy a dedicated machine. Now the flood gate is open, for mobile devices become more powerful and cheaper than last generation consoles. And phones are everyone’s must have.

As having entertainment is a basic human need, eventually video games would grow from a small group people’s toy(core gamers), to life’s staple need for everyone, old and young, men and women. For it’s the cheapest, and most easy to access form of entertainment.


Think about world’s growing population, now we have 7.3 billion people on earth, half of this figure were born after WW2,  and will have 2 billion more in 2050. Think about the sheer number of people need to be “fed” by video games, they are so many, so different in thinking, culture, age and anything else, that the equally great number and diversity of game makers, suppliers are needed. In the years to come,  no company can think of imposing some types of monopoly by consoles, retail platforms, just as Nintendo, Sony did in the early years. For no company could have the ability to feed so many different people.


About console gaming:

In the first few decades of video gaming, the whole industry virtually grows with the first generation of gamers. When they are teenagers and have video games for the first time, the games are mostly Mario, Zelda type; Later when they go to colleges, have the first job, they have lots of spare time, then the games become more lengthy, you can save the progress on a memory card, and more violent and intense game play; And when those guys have their own babies to attend to, while the industry can’t accrue enough new comers, well, people would cry out “PS4 might be the last console!”


We can see that what Nintendo and Sony do from the early years to now, is to monopolize the market by a dedicated console, serving a small group of people. No doubt it doesn’t fit to the historical trend I described above. Wii had created a phenomenal boom, for it turned away from minority to majority, from core to casual. It well fit to the trend. But only under the context people at that time didn’t have tablets and smart phones yet. For this very reason, now in Wii U’s time, Nintendo become one suffers the most among the three. For tablet and phones are not yet good supplant for Sony and Mircrosoft’s core game machines. Worse still, the price of Wii U and other consoles, set an impediment to people who want to access this type of entertainment, which is not the sole choice now.

Early in PS2’s time, I thought playing games by connecting to a TV set is an outdated idea. We still do so today, only because a yesterday’s relic, the publishing mode is still in place. We can see mobile gaming belong to stand-by entertainment in a traditional sense, and console gaming dedicated entertainment. And today the trend is that mobile gaming is invading the dedicated entertainment territory, console games are pressed even harder.

Now the old console makers are facing grievous challenges, we can’t say what they did in the past is right and in today is wrong. The game industry is evolving, just like the fauna on earth. It would go through certain stages. However, lots of things remain unchanged: game design, production, those big companies are rich of these resources, I think they only need to take a change of mind, to adapt to the ecosystem, that they would continue doing well. 


A little thought about Nintendo:

   It would be totally unthinkable Nintendo can still stand to today in its old ways, if it weren’t Nintendo. It’s plain that if people don’t buy Pokémon, or there aren’t so many Japanese people buying 3DS, Nintendo would have been out of business.

  Nintendo is always able to fare the bad weather by a single product, think about the story of Game Boy and Tetris, of GBA, and of 3DS now. So we have reason to expect the surprise Nintendo would bring us tomorrow. 


More of my articles about games & art production:

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Rickard Elimaa
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I like what Scott McCloud writes in Understanding Comics, and what Raph Koster states in Theory of Fun: that boredom is the default state, and boredom is what makes us seek entertainment.

We can fight boredom by doing physical, social or mental activities to receive outside stimulus. We can fight boredom by letting out emotional imbalance. We can fight boredom by doing random activities. The first one leads to sports and games, the second one to art as self-expression, and the third one leads to discovery and science.

What makes boredom disappear, is the release of dopamine that we get from learning from our activities.

So saying that we just crave for entertainment is, from my point of view, ignoring why we seek entertainment, and that leads to not seeing why games entertain us.

Michael Joseph
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If there's any such thing as a default state, it's probably much closer to curiosity and exploration... at least until that state is suppressed by the education system with the early introduction of work and responsibilities, or bad parents, or bad culture.

I think boredom is a condition that only exists when we have obligations that we are postponing but which in the back of our minds we know we must return to. This awareness limits our ability to be free to truly explore, or to truly be at peace while at rest. So boredom is a state of postponed work/obligation and we're trying to figure out an activity to perform in the meantime. Even a "day off" is just a temporary respite from such obligations and so long as those obligations are hanging over us, we seek entertainment as mental diversions that satisfy our need to explore.

That makes frivolous entertainment that fills in our down time akin to chew toys and scratching posts for the imprisoned pet.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Interesting article.

While you seem to say that humans have a genetic disposition to entertain themselves, it doesn`t solve the mystery why over the course of mankinds history traits would get selected that are leading to "useless" (for reproduction/sustainment) and often selfdestructive behavior (gambling) I myself am pretty much convinced that Art, Religion, Videogames, TV-Shows, Ideologies are merely variation on the same theme.

I believe we are in a phase where memetic selection is gaining the upper hand in mankinds evolution, especially on the internet, anybody is acting as dawkinistic [sic!] meme machine ( ) that is spreading ideas, opinions, youtube-videos, gamasutra-comments etc. that`s why any artform that intensively propagates communication, interaction will rise to the top, since its a perfect breeding ground for memes to spread. That`s the main reason why facebook, mobile gaming, online gaming is as popular/ successful as it is.

The resource that is getting burned to speed up this viral processes is our personal lifetime, because deep down we are very much like The Last Of Us`Infected: replication machines for a mindless fungus.

Michael Joseph
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interesting. i never knew this was a serious area of study. sorry for going off on a tangent, but I wonder how appropriate or useful it would be to use a memetc model in a game to evolve procedural alien cultures.

Andreas Ahlborn
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There are some ground rules how memes should be engineered: the most simple memes are more likely to be copied, than complex memes, but memes must also be adaptable, meaning they often use/hijack existing memes to build so called mem-plexes.
If I were to develop an alien culture based on memes, I would look to the animal kingdom, there are intersting stuides considering the memetic evolution of bird songs (
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