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Comment: Video games can be good for you — honest!

The following is a response to an article that appeared in the local media and the negative effects of videogame design. It highlights the many positive effects of the modern industry from therapeutic applications to empowering consumers.

Article first appeared in the Time Colonist newspaper on June 16, 2015.

Video games are great for you, great for your children and great for your parents and grandparents.

No, this isn’t a joke or satire. This is an accepted truth that is well understood by those who work in the video-game and interactive-technology industry.

There are a large number of significant benefits of playing video games, including therapeutic applications. For instance, video games help with everything from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children by improving attention and focus to offsetting the decline in Alzheimer’s sufferers’ executive functions.

This emergent application of video games has caught the attention of the medical industry. A deal was reached recently in which one game is in clinical trials to gain approval by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.

However, these benefits, as well as other similar positive stories, are often shadowed by the perception that games are played by teenagers in their mom’s basement, replacing physical activity and socializing.

The fact is that more adult women than teenage boys play video games. Furthermore, video games have been shown to have a more positive impact on behaviours than other passive forms of media. This includes the choice of gamers to replace TV consumption with video games while also maintaining sports and other outdoor activities as part of their lives.

The pastime is still seen by some as the domain of a niche audience, but how big is this audience? Well, it’s not actually a niche at all. The video-game industry is larger than Hollywood. Victoria itself has seen an estimated $3-billion impact on the high-tech companies here, a number of which are focused on video games.

Video games as pure entertainment have been given a rough ride by the media. Allegations of violence have been cited but have been disproved by reputable studies.

Game design has been called into question, with unethical game design blamed for promoting addiction. However, most successful games are not designed to hook you psychologically, any more than binge-watching your favourite Netflix series is responsible for you staying glued to your couch for hours.

Here at TinyMob Games, we launched our first game, Tiny Realms, in the popular free-to-play mobile strategy category. Free to play means exactly that. Players have the ability to experience a complete game for free.

This is a move away from the traditional way of making a game and selling it at set price. Players want to be entertained first before making the important decision to spend real money on their video-game experience.

This fundamental change in the way that video-game studios approach creating games empowers the consumers, who inform the designers about what they want. Social media and crowdsourced reviews among peer groups have given consumers control over the message from brands.

Now all companies, even outside the interactive entertainment industry, must listen and engage with their customers or risk falling foul of negative sentiment that no amount of paid advertising can undo.

The change is a positive one for the consumer. Studios such as TinyMob Games are now held to a high standard in terms of the games we produce — we have to ensure high-quality output. The key to success is to focus on making games so enjoyable they promote engagement.

Gamers are a sophisticated and connected audience who rapidly work out if they are being manipulated through game design, and they are quick to tell others. Failing to respect your players is a death knell for an unscrupulous game developer, who will be exposed quickly.

Every company is vying for the same time of the same audience. That means delivering excellent experiences. Anything less will be passed over for something better.

Video games should be embraced as an important part of the modern world and not marginalized. The benefits of important breakthroughs for medicine through to empowering the consumers with more high-quality choice are a good development for everyone.

Clive Gorman is an 18-year video-game-industry veteran who started as a writer before transitioning to making games at Electronic Arts and Disney Interactive Studios, among others. He is currently the product and marketing manager at TinyMob Games in Victoria.

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