Are videogames the next frontier for politics after Twitter? Marcal Sanmarti reviews the development of videogames and the prospect of their use in the political world.

Author:Sanmarti, Margal
 
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Videogame addiction has been recently declared a diagnosable condition. It is possible that a particular videogame is coming to your mind right now: Fortnite, an incredibly successful videogame that has taken the world by storm. It has very effectively introduced gambling game-play techniques to make the videogame tremendously addictive. These are the same tricks that social media apps use to make us check our phones hundreds of times a day. However, addiction to videogames per se is not a recent development. Addiction to a particular videogame appeared at the end of the 1970s. Kids would be playing Pac-Man non-stop for hours in the arcades. The difference between the current situation and the one of 40 years ago is the size and the social impact that the videogame industry has nowadays. Videogames were a revolution in the entertainment industry back in the 1970s but now they are much more than that; they are an unstoppable giant able to reach every single area of our daily life.

Videogame revenue in 2018 reached a new peak of US$43.8 billion, up 18 per cent from the previous year, surpassing the projected total global box office for the film industry, according to new data released by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IEGA) research data shows the New Zealand video and computer games industry generated $548 million in the 2018 calendar year, with physical retail sales reaching $143.1 million and

overall digital sales reaching $405 million. This represents growth of 21 per cent. (1) Such impressive numbers are showing not just a booming business but also how videogames are interacting with a wide variety of other industries.

Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. It can also be defined as a set of activities and processes to solve problems by using or applying the characteristics of game elements. Your battery-charging session is about to become a whole lot more interesting, as Tesla has just expanded its suite of videogames to include a Mario Kart-style racing game that you can actually control with the pedals and steering wheel of your vehicle. (2)

We find gamification not just in marketing but also in education. Kahoot! is a game-based learning platform, used as educational technology in schools and other educational institutions. Its learning games, 'Kahoots', are multiple-choice quizzes that allow user generation and can be accessed via a web browser, phone or the app itself. Recently gamification has even reached medicine. Akili Interactive is a digital medicine company combining scientific and clinical rigor with the ingenuity of the tech industry to reinvent medicine. One of its videogames has been designed to help kids with ADHD but needs to be prescribed by a doctor.

Currency tentacles

Videogames also have extended their tentacles into crypto-currencies and monetisation. Many videogames are using their own virtual currency that can be earned through victories or bought with current money. That virtual currency is needed to purchase items inside the videogame that can boost your performance in it. If the videogame is very popular, its virtual money can be even more valuable than current currencies. That is the case with World of Warcraft and the Venezuelan bolivar. Back in May 2018 World of Warcraft virtual gold was worth seven times more than the Venezuelan currency. Back then one US dollar was worth 68,915 bolivars. Compare that to the price of World of Warcraft tokens, official in-game credits that can be used to extend a player's play time or buy in-game items. Back then tokens could be bought with either $20 real world cash or sold for a fluctuating amount of in-game gold. One tracking service lists the current gold price of a token as 203,035 pieces. That works out to about 10,152 gold gaming pieces per US dollar. As a result, some Venezuelans started playing the videogame non-stop, not for fun or because of addiction, but as a way to fight inflation. Some Venezuelans were able to earn US dollars using virtual gold that they had been earning online in the digital black market.

Even spookier is the story of videogame Fallout 76. In there, a group of bounty hunters has recently appeared. They will kill any of your online rivals in the game for a price in caps, the in-game virtual currency. Worst of all, it looks like there is a demand for...

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