A/N: Another gaming related essay written for; WEB207 – Web Media.  I received a Credit grade.

Games have been argued to be one of the only indigenous digital mediums, being created and borne solely digital, but this is not entirely true.  Games in a physical form has been traced far into our ancestor’s history, and if the stories are to be believed saved an entire civilization from famine (McGonigal, 2010).  However, this being said, gaming as we know it today, both online and in the physical world have an immense impact on our lives, this essay aims to analyse what impact digitisation and convergence have had on the gaming industry and subsequently the gaming culture.

Games in the physical sense, long before computers were created, have been around for centuries. The first computerised games were coin operated and were games such as the legendary Pong and Spacewar (Chau, 2015).  These such games and later on arcade style games such as House of the Dead, Daytona USA, Sega Rally, Time Crisis, Point Blank and Street fighter, are the reason many argue that games are indigenous to digital.  Gaming has gone through immense changes over the years since arcade games, including becoming part of computers, moving to consoles and eventually handheld devices.  We now experience games in many forms, and those old ‘clunky’ style consoles, such as the Nintendo 64, Sega Mega Drive and Atari are considered ‘retro’.  Where gaming originally began as a past time with little objective but point and shoot the enemy or K.O. your opponent; cue the Street fighter line “Finish HIM!!”; many gamers now are hooked on graphical marvels, immense storylines and feats of epic game design, pushing the gaming industry to new and exciting heights each and every year.

Digitisation has had little impact on games in the sense that, as we know them today, they have been digital in some form.  Gaming is, however, vastly different, to say photography or music in the way that it has changed due to the digital age.  Although electronic games have always been digital, in a sense, the industry and the way we game has changed immensely with the new technologies created in as little as the last thirty years.  We have gone from coin operated machines in the local cafe or pharmacy, to entire stores devoted to coin operated games, arcades.  Around the same time that arcades existed companies transitioned into making dedicated gaming consoles bringing the joy of arcades to the home, these consoles transitioned into gaming for the personal computer (PC), still considered by enthusiasts to be the ‘master race’ where gaming in concerned (Plafke, 2013).  This eventuated into handheld devices dedicated to gaming, giving people the opportunity to take games with them wherever they went.

Moving on from the nostalgic years of gaming, in current times, digitisation has had even more of an impact on the industry, with technologies allowing gamers to use smart phones, tablets and new generation consoles and impressive computer builds to play games virtually wherever and with whatever platform they wish.  This is where convergence really begins to unfold, people can now play online with each other, all over the world people are forming communities of gamers dedicated to certain games and platforms.  LAN (Local Area Network) parties were the rage in the 1990s and are surprisingly still quite popular today (Peterson, 2009; “LAN Party Essentials”, 2006), however, we now can connect with people from anywhere in the world.  With the internet we can connect and share so much of our gaming experiences with others, entire websites, blogs and even Wikis are dedicated to it, showing the overflow from the gaming world into the virtual arena (Gray, Sandvoss & Harrington, 2007). The largest Wiki, excluding Wikipedia, is dedicated to an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game) called World of Warcraft (Chau, 2015). It does not just stop there however, convergence flows strongly in the form of YouTube videos, walkthroughs and the infamous fan fiction.  Fanfiction.net is one of the largest fan fiction websites on the internet and the games portion of the website takes up over fifty percent of the entries, which is an incredible amount considering the size of website (Fanfiction.net, 2015).  To further that point there are also entire LiveJournal threads dedicated to an eye opening thing called a kinkmeme, two particularly large thriving communities of these particular, rather adult, forms of fan fiction are the Mass Effect kinkmeme and the Fallout kinkmeme, they are all anonymous, however they are open, supportive communities that embrace everyone’s likes and dislikes and are respective of others (falloutkinkmeme, 2015; masseffectkink, 2015). 

It is not all holding hands and taking long windy walks for the gaming industry however; physical stores such as EB Games now must compete with online stores, such as Xbox Live, the Playstation Network, Valve’s extremely popular Steam and the EA Games’ version Origin (Senior, 2010).  While console online stores are yet to catch up with the ridiculously cheap prices and impressive sales that Steam and Origin appear to be able to offer (Dutton, 2011), it still applies an amount of pressure to physical stores to be ‘better’, after all why would one travel to the local store when you can simply log onto the internet, purchase and download the game via a broadband network for cheaper than it would cost in store?  It is evident through a visit to an EB Games store that physical copies of PC games in particular are dwindling into an ‘extinct’ medium, through the amount of copies stored at the tiny corner in the back shoved sadly between the wealth of Xbox and Playstation games.

This is not the only problem the industry experiences, there is the ever present issue of piracy, games are now so easily accessible through digitisation that expert hackers can easily ‘crack’ a game and issue it through a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network for everyone to access (“CEG Tek International”, 2014), NOSteam is an excellent example of a crew of experts that crack the latest games for people to access, while no one has solved the issue for online play using these ‘cracked’ games, it still allows gamers to play the campaign part of the game without paying.  This author can sympathise with gamers in this sense, with the prices of new games being so ludicrously expensive it is difficult to justify paying upwards of seventy dollars for a new game, you are not even sure you will enjoy.

The final pressing issue the gaming industry faces in the wake of digitisation is demand.  There is such massive demand for new innovative games that give both an amazing experience and graphical wonders it is difficult to keep up.  At this year’s E3 Expo the gaming culture was blessed with many new, highly anticipated games.  A few of these exciting releases to be Fallout 4, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Doom, Dishonored 2, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, Battleborn and Rise of the Tomb Raider (Gamespot, 2015).  From the presentations these games will be exactly what gamers are looking for, innovative game play and graphics that blow the mind all over the walls.  Amazingly it was not only console and PC games announced at E3, Bethesda, creators of the Fallout series announced a mobile game, Fallout Shelter, it is fun, interactive and allows people to experience gaming at the smart phone level (Bethesda, 2015).  Unfortunately for Android users this game was released for iOS first, with promises of an Android version in the next few months (Bethesda, 2015).  EA Games in addition to the highly anticipated new Mass Effect game announced a mobile game also, Minions Paradise, based on the new children’s movie Minions, this game not only allowed for interesting and fun game play it also had a convergence aspect to it, it would allow you to connect to Facebook through the game, allowing you to play with friends online (EA Games, 2015).  This is an increasingly popular social aspect to mobile gaming with games such as Candy Crush, Bubble Witch and Farmville also adopting the practice.

Although these exciting pieces are due to come out over the next year, the industry has failed the community many times, with unfinished and sadly disappointing games.  This is vastly due to the high demand for new games in a world where technology is booming, Fallout 3 released in 2008 was riddled with glitches that were both amusing and frustrating for gamers (Brudvig & Moriraty, 2009; Yammy XOXO, 2011), thankfully though the open world and over three hundred hours of game play allowed most users to overlook the bad moments.  Unfinished games are particularly disappointing for fans, Half Life 2 also released in 2008 was, and still is, a graphical marvel, the sheer work Valve put into the graphics and game play was staggering however the game was left unfinished, Valve released two, three hour length ‘episodes’ which continued the game (Davies, 2012).  The third and what was to be believed as the final episode was never released, leaving gamers hanging dreadfully at the edges of their seats to see what happened to the much loved protagonist Gordon Freeman.  There was rumours of Valve abandoning the episodic style in favour of making a third game, which made most fans scream like pre-teens at a One Direction concert, however the rumours stopped this year when it was believed that Valve would announce the third game in the series this year at E3, unfortunately for all the diehard Half Life fans out there, Valve never showed (Saed, 2015). There have been many games since then that have had the horrible clunky unfinished feel to them including such titles as Rage, which just kind of ended very abruptly (DeCarlo, 2011), unfortunate considering it had so much potential, and Brink, a severely hyped up game that fell flat on its face due to terrible glitching and clunky game play (Ekyemans, 2011).

Convergence has not been without its problems also, particularly in the world of online gaming. Being able to play online with or against friends has been a highlight in the gaming community, bringing people closer together through teamwork and rivalry.  However, this can have its downfalls.  Many people experience issues playing online, from that pesky beast known as lag or just being unable to connect.  This can be frustrating to gamers, especially with known games constantly having issues.  EA’s Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a game solely created for online play, so much so that you cannot do anything but stare at the pretty title screen unless you have an internet connection.  This game is well known for a severe glitching with online play, it is seen mostly within certain maps such as ‘Gardens and Graveyards’ and the ‘Garden Ops’ games (Santana, 2014).  This is one of the pitfalls of convergence and digitisation working together to thwart gamers, a game that is solely born digital that uses next generation consoles to play online with others, failing in its most basic function.

While games and the game industry have ups and downs it is clearly thriving in the digital age.  Digitisation and convergence, although they have negatives, have helped strengthen gaming and brought people together from all over the world through their love of a certain game or just gaming in general.  This author firmly believes that the gaming industry will continue to prosper using digitisation and convergence in new and exciting ways that will bring all gamers to their very own amazing, exciting, epic win.


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Creative Commons License
Forget Freeman! The Epic Wins and Pitfalls of Digitisation and Convergence in the Gaming Industry. by Sheridan Brownlie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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