The evolution of gaming culture

In the early days, gaming was a pastime enjoyed by a minority. Being a gamer usually meant hanging around a gaming arcade playing Pac-Man or Space Invaders. Video games were regarded by mainstream society as a novelty at best and a social menace at worst.

However, in the space of 30 years, the gaming world has changed out of all recognition. Now, video gaming is a cultural phenomenon, and an industry worth billions. The best players are famous the world over, and in some parts of the world, thousands of people fill stadia to support their gaming heroes.

As the gaming world has changed, so has the culture of gaming. Here are some of the ways that gaming has evolved and continues to evolve.

The online explosion
The internet revolution took off in the 2000s, and this was also the era of the first immersive online worlds. Games such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft drew millions of players to spend their spare time in imaginary realms of monsters and heroes. As faster internet connections became available, the possibilities inherent in online role-playing games increased, and other types of online game became popular, including first-person shooters such as Call of Duty.

The same cultural change occurred in the casino gaming world. A pastime that had been associated with exclusive real-world clubs and fruit machine arcades was transformed into a modern online phenomenon in which players could enjoy their favourite casino games or slot games from their homes or mobile devices, updating a leisure activity that hadn’t changed for decades.

Online gaming culture also began to develop its own communities, and the online gaming world was where sites such as 4chan first became established, as people came together to discuss their favourite games, making possible a new channel of global communication.

The joy of dressing up
Cosplay didn’t begin with gamers. In fact, the practice of dressing up as your favourite characters began in Japan and was primarily associated with anime, but the overlap between the anime and gaming audiences, and the increased exposure to Japanese culture that the internet made possible, produced a new type of cosplay, in which gamers began to dress as their favourite game characters. Some of these cosplayers have even become globally famous for their outfits, gathering thousands of fans, and earning big money to attend gaming conventions.

Gaming and social change
Gaming has not been immune to the changes that have swept across society in the last 30 years, and while the process of change has been painful, gaming culture shows signs of improving. For many years, gaming was predominantly male dominated, with games, games reviews and gaming culture all geared to men, despite the fact that there has always been a significant female gaming fan base. However, an increasing awareness of the toxic nature of much gaming culture has itself begun to transform that culture for the better. Ever more diverse voices are being heard and young, female, LBTQ and disabled gamers are finding more role models and characters that they can relate to in their favourite games, while gaming also offers an opportunity for younger players to navigate these issues in a context that directly relates to them.

Rise of the gaming superstar
As gaming has grown in popularity, it has also enabled the growth of new career opportunities, and the rise of the professional gamer hasn’t just been confined to lucrative eSports events. Many top gamers found that there was an audience out there who wanted to watch them play their favourite games, and this has led to the creation of gaming superstars who stream footage of their pastime for millions of fans, and who can earn millions through subscriptions and advertising.

Professional gamers have also helped to shape the gaming industry, by acting as a form of market research, providing evidence for games developers about what gaming fans want from their favourite titles, and helping to produce a more collaborative relationship between player and developer.

The future for gaming culture
It is hard to predict how gaming culture will evolve, and much of it may be driven by new technology, with virtual reality (VR) gaming potentially offering an even more immersive version of the original RPG. However it changes, gaming culture in many ways will continue to represent the good and the bad of humanity, in all its creative and occasionally toxic ingenuity.

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