As of 2018, 66% of U.S. citizens play video games. General players spend on average between 5 and 8 hours a week on these games, about 11% of their leisure time. And gaming isn’t restricted to just when you’re actively playing: 69% of gamers watch video-game-related content on YouTube.
It’s clear that video games have become an indelible part of most people’s lives, at least as much so as TV and other leisure activities. Video games aren’t just a race to get the high score, either. More and more, gaming is a social activity, where you meet new people and bond with friends in multiplayer, chat about your experiences in single-player games online, or follow popular streamers that make watching others play video games a whole new kind of social experience. And that’s before we get into the growing popularity of esports – competitive gaming you can watch just like traditional sports, with a massive international following and salaries that reach into millions of dollars per year.
Virtual worlds are more than just a pipe dream these days, they’re an inescapable reality. Exact player counts are hard to come by, but the popular game World of Warcraft has had over 100 million accounts registered since it’s inception in 2004, and that number was reported back in 2014. There are only 13 countries in the world with a population over 100 million. People are building lives in virtual countries, making money off of virtual goods, putting effort into virtual friendships.
What does this mean for the future? The vision of a single VR game-world we all live and play in is a tired cliché at this point, but I’ll take the leap and make a somewhat more realistic prediction: a kind of virtual multiverse that some people consider as important as the real world. Companies and platforms will come and go, but virtual worlds are going to play more and more of a role in our lives, especially with the rise of VR and AR. Soon enough you won’t need to hop on a plane to visit relatives – you can just slip on a headset and hang out virtually.
More than that, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be long until the virtual and physical worlds are all but indistinguishable. Right now we save 3D environments for games, and do our shopping and other business more on web pages and through text, but that’s going to change. Techniques like face capture and haptic feedback are already sprouting up to give us interactions that are as engaging and multi-faceted as they are in “realspace”, and limiting our digital lives to images and text won’t last long when we crave more personal interaction. The distance between people that the internet caused may soon be mended by interactions just as rich as the real thing.