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26 July 2013

Games Against Humanity: How we Quit Work for Play

Jobs are boring - unless you're playing! What is play, really? The fact that there are many theories by prominent researchers like Jean Piaget, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud are clear proof that the phenomenon is difficult to understand. Johan Huizinga defines play as "a free activity standing quite consciously outside 'ordinary' life as being 'not serious' but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly." Play is most commonly associated with children and their juvenile-level activities, but play can also be a useful adult activity, and occurs among other higher-functioning animals as well. Kids tend to play with whatever they can find, pick up any household item and "fly" it through the air as to pretend that it is an airplane. However, when play is structured and goal-oriented, it becomes a game - with rules, challenges, and more importantly - a social interaction. When did we start pursuing voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities for enjoyment?

Games have been played in most cultures and societies throughout history; some even predate literacy skill development in the earliest civilizations. For instance, board games like backgammon can be traced back to 3000 BC in Persia. Ancient Egyptians used to play a board game similar to backgammon called "Senet" and was pictured in frescoes found in burial sites. What makes these games interesting is that it brings people together and promotes social interaction during gameplay. Modern findings in neuroscience suggest that gameplay promotes flexibility of mind, including adaptive practices such as discovering multiple ways to achieve a desired result, or creative ways to improve or reorganize a given situation.

Fast-forward to modern age, you can see that the fundamental of social gaming is the same today as what it was 5,000 years ago. Role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons, in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting, became very popular in the 70s. The game arrived to bring people together and encourage them to use their imaginations to greater levels. Together, the players collaborate on a story involving their characters; create, develop, and explore the setting. In other words, players experience an adventure outside the bounds of everyday life with their friends. With the onset of the Information Age, computers carried gameplay into virtual spaces and video games were born. Some of the earliest known video games were two-player games, including sports games like Tennis For Two (1958) and Pong (1972), shooter games like Spacewar! (1962), and racing games like Astro Race (1973). As processing power and connectivity increased, new genres were developed to form massively multi-player games based around real time networking.

Games have always used whatever technology was current: modems before the Internet, terminals before modems, and cardboards before screens. The expansion of online gaming has reflected the overall expansion of computer networks from small local networks to the internet and the growth of internet access itself. Its rise enabled video game player to come together and compete over servers, but the participation in the late 90s was largely limited only to the very enthusiastic. Facebook would bring it to the masses not long after launching in 2004. The huge growth of Facebook attracted great interest in the platform, from users and developers alike. Zynga was one of the early developers to seize upon the opportunity for social media gaming, with the 2009 launch of Farmville.

New forms of social gaming are emerging every month, and it is all thanks to the continual development of new technological devices, like mobile phones, joining in on the action. The gaming industry is beginning to embrace the value of social gaming, as seen by many sites incorporating social media functions into their online games, especially for games that appeal to demographic groups that otherwise play very few video games (like the elderly who play on mobile bingo sites from their smartphones, for example Thus, the online gaming market expanded exponentially over the past decade, making online games a form of social activity beyond offline limits, and it seems like the future of social media gaming is shooting for infinity.

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