Posted: November 7th, 2023
Contemporary Games: A Review of Theory and Its Impacts
The person reading this most likely grew up playing games, meaning they have first-hand experience with the tremendous changes taking place in the gaming industry. Since its introduction in the late 50s as a technical oddity, gaming has grown into one of the most profitable entertainment industries globally. Advanced innovations, such as the internet and computer processor technology, have expanded and transformed the gaming industry to extend beyond entertainment. With the introduction of the metaverse, gaming represents the next frontier for defining consumer experience. A comparative analysis of Decentraland, Call of Duty and Candy Cash helps build an understanding of the evolution of gaming, its impact on society and potential solutions. Given the inevitable move towards more immersive and experiential games, society must identify, assess and regulate the technicalities in gaming to ensure game monetization and immersion do not result in toxic and unethical tech cultures while addressing existing ones.
Traditional First-Person Shooter: Call of Duty
Call of Duty is the most successful First-Person Shooter game in the industry’s history. According to a study by Ad Week, following the release of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the Activision-owned franchise surpassed $10 billion in sales (Denisova and Cairns 146). However, the game’s success has not shielded it from receiving criticism regarding its violent content. According to class readings, first-person shooter games are termed so because they provide the game with a first-person viewpoint. As a result, the gameplay experience gets dominated by a sense of presence (Denisova and Cairns 146). The centrality of participation, facilitated by the first-person perspective, is what made Call of Duty revolutionary. The gaming approach mirrors the hypothesis of the Narrative Theory of Games that states a first-person viewpoint results in more concentration and immersion (Denisova and Cairns 146). The concept of immersion remains a hot topic in psychological research due to its hypothesized ability to make gamers lose touch with the real world.
Immersion enhances a game’s ability to become a cultural platform. Critics of Call of Duty argue the game has promoted the emergence of a toxic masculine culture characterized by inept social individuals and revenge fantasies against women. Recent psychological research highlights that violent games affect the brain’s capability to process emotions, with chronic gameplay making an individual less empathetic (Massanri 330). Despite society increasingly becoming open to people’s past times, chronic games, mostly geeks, tend to feel marginal outside the dominant male culture. As a result, the geeks resort to using their immense technological and intellectual resources to marginalize others, mostly women (Massanri 335). A common example is the 2014 GamerGate (GG) debacle. An aggravated ex-lover of a female independent game designer, without consent, released information about her relationship behaviour on Reddit (Massanri 335). While the post was taken down, it found its way back on other sites, starting a trend of harassing private individuals through leaks. Reddit shows how technologies with active participation can become spaces for harassment.
The toxic masculine culture does not exist only in gameplay but also in game design. In 2017, a female worker from Activision sued a male colleague for sexual harassment after a night of drinking (Solon). The legal claim led to a public uproar that encouraged further scrutiny of gender practices in the gaming industry. State-led research into Activision found that the tech firm frequently discriminated against female employees (Solon). It is important to note that in the GamerGate controversy, it was a female game designer at the end of the leak. Gaming has established a ‘frat-boy culture’ that encourages the use of sexualized images in Call of Duty. Sexism and racism have long been ingrained in the entertainment industry, and Call of Duty reflects its continuation in contemporary games. The workplace culture in Activision questions whether it is appropriate to play Call of Duty to empower minority groups.
Freemium Gaming: Candy Crush
The Candy Crush game exploit leverages some well-researched human weaknesses of the brain to keep users attached. Candy Crush Saga is a free online application used by over 93 million people, generating $800000 daily (Smith). In the last ten years, there has been a rapid shift in the gaming industry from the service model of play to freemium styles of play. The business model refers to offering games free of charge, but there are fees for advanced features (Johnson and Brock 149). Unlike Call of Duty, whose main feature is the multiplayer mode, Candy Crush monetization relies on maintaining the player’s interests. Foremost, the game’s premise is simple, match three colours to win and pass levels. The easy approach gives a high level of satisfaction. Secondly, the game becomes harder with each win. The extra hurdles make the burst of dopamine less frequent but more effective (Johnson and Brock 150). Lastly, the game is premised on luck. The user is not aware of the colour configuration. The variable-ratio schedule is the same approach used in slot machines, explaining contemporary game monetization.
Candy Crush and other games based on the freemium model create conditions that legitimize gambling. Freemium designs transform gameplay into an ongoing service (Tom and Brock 150). As aforementioned, Candy Crush players have to pay to access advanced features. The game offers free spins, tokens, or coins for the player to remain committed to playing. It is this mindset that enables monetization. Goal-oriented behaviour prompts the user to continuously consume coins to remove restrictions to in-game advancement (Tom and Brock 150). The player will reach a level where there are no more tokens or coins. Payment has to involve real-world money to allow in-game progression. Due to the already altered user behaviour, the likelihood of paying becomes bigger. Naturally, businesses are anticipated to innovate to adapt and succeed, but the shift in monetization introduces concerns regarding freemium dynamics. The business model is exploitative and less user-friendly than it appears in the beginning.
On a positive note, the success of Candy Crush and the freemium model outlines the importance of the gaming industry having female designers. Unlike First-Person Shooter and virtual games, simple freemium-based applications have been the gateway for female developers (Smith). The gaming industry has been dominated by games that appeal mostly to males for many years, ignoring its biggest potential customer. One likely cause of the short-sightedness is the lack of female developers. The state research on Activision found that women comprise only 20% of its workforce and are underpaid compared to men (Solon). The renewed focus on women as customers is resulting in a surge of games built around a single concept. Another common example of a simplistic design is Angry Birds. As seen, the freemium model is bound to positively affect gender imbalances in the gaming industry, further questioning if it should be accepted or rejected. Further research into the freemium gaming model is required to assess whether the effects of game monetization outweigh the potential gander gains in the industry.
The Metaverse: DeCentraland
The metaverse could be the solution to social ills present in freemium and first-person shooter games. According to Jenkins, the metaverse refers to an interconnected network of several virtual spaces. Decentraland adopts the principles of augmented and virtual reality to immerse the player in an alternate world. The player can become whatever race, animal, gender or object they wish to be (Jenkins). The gaming model allows the user to create their own identity instead of choosing from a list of pre-determined characters. Therefore, the metaverse approach could be the next frontier in the gaming industry’s push for liberalism. The ability to choose identities frees society from the traditional constraints of class, gender, geography and culture (Jenkins). It is unlikely that metaverse games will encourage sexism or racism because sex and race are not technical requirements. There is no promotion of non-fluidity in human categories because they are all considered crossable. There are indicators that the metaverse can address the monetization approach in freemium games.
The metaverse approach to payment systems enhances user experience while addressing traditional gender gaps caused by recent monetized played in Candy Crush. Consider the case of Axie infinity whose monetarization process allows both the gamer and the gaming company to earn a profit. Axie Infinity runs on blockchain, allowing users to purchase tokens from verified profiles, facilitating competition between players (Jenkins). Allowing players to earn a revenue is reflective of the changes occurring in social media. Gamers are one of the key investors in virtual events. Therefore, the metaverse encourages players to employ legitimate sources of income through play to enhance the uptake of virtual gaming. The approach negates the need for redeeming or purchasing tokens in single concept games, such as Candy Crush (Jenkins). Secure payments imply improved consumer trust and satisfaction, which results in more immersion, especially in potential female customers (Jenkins). The metaverse is offering enticing monetary opportunities for large gaming businesses with its more secure payment system. With improved payment systems, more women will engage with the gaming industry, addressing its gender and racial imbalance.
The improved gaming appeal in the metaverse will promote increased chronic play, subjecting the player to the adverse ramifications of immersion. The Immersion Game Theory states that prolonged players who experience immersion are more likely to make choices that only make sense in the context of the virtual world (Massanri 331). The metaverse promises the player full ownership of the gamer profile. Unlike in Call of Duty where player persona is pre-determined and owned by the gaming company, the metaverse allows the player to determine and own their physical appearance without any restrictions. The company does not own the profile, giving the gamer more liberty. The gaming approach mirrors decades of research on human behavior. The hidden outcome of the approach is greater absorption and assimilation in users, magnifying any emotional or cognitive implications experienced during gameplay. Further research is required to provide solid strategies for countering the effects of immersion in virtual play. Currently, research is limited to only traditional gaming. With the speed at which the gaming industry is developing, it is only a matter of time before the implications of the metaverse become a reality.
Technology continues to grow rapidly and at the core of these changes in the gaming industry. Video games are leveraging the last technology, including 3D simulations and augmented reality. The comparative analysis of Candy Crush, Call of Duty, and Decentraland proves that digital immersion and game monetization will expand exponentially. Game designs are becoming simpler and more liberal, addressing some of the pressing social issues in the gaming industry and society. Gender and racial identities are becoming blurrier with cross-plays. However, the same games are introducing new social ills while reinforcing existing ones. Game monetization under the fermium model is turning users into active gamblers. On the other hand, chronic immersion makes players more aggravated, isolated and disconnected from the real world. Immersion should be the primary point of focus for future research to justify the inevitable changes in the gaming industry.
Denisova, A. and P. Cairns. First Person vs. Third Person Perspective in Digital Games: Do Player Preferences Affect Immersion? In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM Publishers, 2015. (pp. 145-148).
Jenkins, Holman. Progressives vs. the Metaverse. Wall Street Journal, 18 January 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/progressives-vs-the-metaverse-facebook-zuckerberg-virtual-reality-social-media-identity-politics-11642542878, Accessed 23 April 2022.
Johnson, Mark and Tom Brock. The Gambling Turn in Game Monetization. Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, vol. 12, no. 2, 2020, pp. 145-164.
Massanri, Adrienne. Gamergate and the Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm, Governance and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures. New Media and Society, vol. 19, no. 3, 2017, pp. 329-346.
Smith, Dana. This is What Candy Crush Saga does to your brain. The Guardian, 1 April 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/apr/01/candy-crush-saga-app-brain, Accessed 23 April 2022.
Solon, Olivia. California Sues Activision Blizzard over Alleged Sexual Harassment and Frat-Boy Culture. NBC News, 22 July 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/video-games/california-sues-activision-blizzard-alleged-sexual-harassment-frat-boy-rcna1487. Accessed 23 April 2022.
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