Video games are more than stress relievers or entertainers; they are community builders

When we think of video games, the ones uninitiated into the world of gaming would think of Candy Crush, Subway Surfers, Temple Run or even the good old Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. We are, however, talking about the hardcore games with 3D visual effects and interactive UI/UX, the ones that connect players from across the globe in real time. A 2017 KPMG India-Google report shows that the Indian gaming industry will add 190 million players by 2021. “The gamer(s) are engaged because they perceive online gaming to assist in stress relief and also provide social interaction opportunities in the virtual world,” states the report.

According to Statista, “approximately 55 percent of casual gamers and 66 percent of the heavy gamers across India are below 24 years old. Heavy gamers in India prefer using a mobile as a device for gaming over tablet or PC/laptops.” Shams Memon, a 24-year-old “proud gamer”, has been a player for nearly a decade. “The first RPG game I started playing was Heroes of Atlantis. It was a text-based RPG, back in 2010. I was fed up with life, and had no friends, no motivation in real life. Heroes of Atlantis provided me with a family; I played that game for about five years, up until I quit social media for a while.”

Just because PUBG is making all the wrong noises, not all online games are bad. PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround, or PUBG mobile, is just one of the many real-time RPG battle royale games—with the last man standing concept—that has become popular and is almost always in the news. For those who are not in for being cool, PUBG doesn’t even register on their radar. Another gamer, a 28-year-old who goes by ‘Aquavenom’ in his online persona, says he doesn’t like PUBG, won’t even play it because he finds it “more trend than fun”. “PUBG is hype where everyone is just playing it as their friends are doing it,” he says.

Memon doesn’t think of himself as a hardcore gamer, yet he plays more than five games—a mixed bag of role playing and real time strategy games. “Rather than online games, I like a good PC game which I can finish well within a month and explore artistic talents of the developers that produced it,” he explains. “Some of the games I would name at the top of my list—according to when they were released on PC—are Diablo, Diablo 2, AOE1-2-3, GTA Vice City and all the versions of Assassins’ Creed series…And they are still producing more and more content and have a solid story behind each one of them.” He, however, has his reservations about making ‘gaming’ a full time career. “Games like AOE and DOTA are free to play…it was the skill level that mattered unlike the size of the wallet these days. Also, there are a lot of people doing hardcore gaming…but there aren’t many opportunities or platforms (in India) that they can base their careers on.”

For Memon, RPGs, especially the ones that are played in real time, became a tool to get over what he calls his ‘social awkwardness’. “It helped me connect with people from all over the country and across the globe. It helped me get over my social awkwardness which in real life still affects me a lot. When I am playing online games, I can be myself without the fear of what society will think of me, as in a gaming community, you can always find like-minded people.”The one thing that these like-minded people have in common are the games they play. Almost all of them are heavy duty RTS/RPGs or battle royales. There are differing views, however. Aquavenom says that the online community in India “is pretty lame” and that they do not have any “real stuff”. “People often follow the communities outside India, as they are much more sensible and informative,” he explains.

And in these communities, people have found a place to belong in the virtual world. “I am relatively new to gaming. I started with DOTA in late 2015. I have been playing for just about three years and we are now a bunch of friends playing all sorts of games, DOTA and Counterstrike are our favourites. I have one other Indian friend in the group, but I am yet to meet him. Our group is a mix of Europeans, Indians and South-east Asians. We now share everything. We even synchronise our time online to be able to play the game as a group. The best part is that we are now friends in real life—we know each other’s problems, families, likes and dislikes,” says a 30-year-old, who only wants to be known as Aggs.Which means, while films show gamers to be loners who are secluded from real life, there are people who are reaching out in the virtual world, away from the social pressures to make virtual to real friends as well. The penetrating reach of high speed internet and cheap data rates is one of the biggest reasons this wave of anthropological change is happening in India. And it is only set to increase...

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