‘Gaming as a Platform’: the boys from Overwatch

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By Neil Merrett

In technology reporting there is this nebulous concept of a ‘platform’.

Trying to explain what this exactly the term platform means in this context is not always an easy task, even after scouring online resources for a simple description.

The Techopedia site describes the term as follows, “A platform is a group of technologies that are used as a base upon which other applications, processes or technologies are developed.”

Any clearer?

This term can broadly apply to hardware in a home that allows for a variety of functions such as word processing, spreadsheets, photo editing or voice and video communication to take place. A platform can also be hosted online as a means to develop and build new ways to communicate or entertain.

Games, in the broad and possibly inaccurate context that I have provided are also platforms of a kind. This is especially the case where gamers, developers and coders can create additional applications and entertainment out of an existing title’s worlds or assets.

This is no more ably illustrated than in the case of the phenomenally successful Grand Theft Auto 5, a title that has now reportedly sold over 75m copies. These unprecedented sales of an already critically acclaimed game have been boosted by the title taking on a life of its own with the addition of online functionality.

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Gaming journalist Keith Stuart wrote in the Guardian newspaper last year about the decision to add a shared multiplayer mode to the blockbuster title. He argued that the move has essentially created an online ecosystem within the game that can be used for design, experimentation and artistic expression, as well as somewhere to commit absurd violence against digital friends and strangers.

He wrote. “In essence, GTA V – like Minecraft, like Roblox, like Counter Strike – has become a place to hang out, it is a venue, rather than a game. Unlike in previous hardware generations, when players simply bought sequels to experience favourite titles again, we’re now in an age where single iterations can be endlessly remodelled and re-equipped for successive machines.”

“Los Santos [the in-game city], in this way, behaves like a genuine city – its real estate torn down and re-modelled every few years to take advantage of new architectural ideas, new building technologies, new trends and fashions.”

“I think the potential of what the Internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable – David Bowie (2000)”

The late David Bowie, an Iconic rock star and purveyor of great haircuts, was seen as being a hyperbolist when in the year 2000 he argued that the early internet had put humanity on the cusp of something both “exhilarating and terrifying” in terms of impacts on art, society and the human psyche.

Where some just saw a publishing platform, Bowie argued at the time that the very nature of communication and collaboration between humans was to change in ways that were then and even now, impossible to define in terms of their future direction.

“I am talking about the actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment. Where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in sympatico that it is going to crash our ideas of what mediums are all about.”

While Grand Theft Auto 5 is a highly praised videogame, it has evolved into a much broader digital form of entertainment that allows individuals around the world to share ideas, communicate and even build real means of creating real world profit from their in-game exploits.

Just as the social media behemoth Facebook allows long lost friends or former mutual admirers a whole new way to engage – whether mutual or not – online gaming can now facilitate friendships and relationships among people who may otherwise have never known each other.

Now not every game can do this successfully, with personal preference still an important factor in the worlds we choose to embrace. Yet when a title is sufficiently working for a group in a manner that allows an ongoing and fulfilling collaborative relationship, bonds can be formed without ever having to physically meet.

The Overwatch bit

The videogame Overwatch was not designed to be a communications platform. Yet it now exists as both a digital sport and a means of bringing together individuals of different ages and backgrounds to form a shared relationship around the digital pursuit of flying people into walls with rocket propulsion, or shielding a wild ape on a violent rampage against trigger happy opponents.

There is, for example, little reason why a charming group of Scottish teenagers, would have any reason or urge to happily waste hours with two middle aged men hundreds of miles away in order to play videogames.

Yet the 2016 first-person team combat game Overwatch has facilitated a semi-productive and mostly sociable form of communication and entertainment. The hugely popular online titles of Fortnite and Rainbow Six siege, which bring together millions of people all over the world, have yet to entice me to share further adventures with this charming band of Celts.

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Yet for better or worse, we will always have Overwatch, where heated conversations about who to protect and how to best aid our campaign for in-game prizes and stature, are interspersed with tales of culinary misadventure, funny anecdotes from work and school and the occasional foray into the group’s broader fears and hopes.

Overwatch is a game, but it is also a means of sharing lives. Finding an online game that can facilitate this form of relationship, whether in more recent releases such as Monster Hunter World, or a populer series such as Call of Duty is a whole new appeal for gaming.

A place where parenting tips can be shared along with advice on how to capture and subdue a purple fur-lined T-Rex creature in the online realms of Monster Hunter. This is a whole new purpose for games.

Modern gaming promises the potential of new friends and shared experiences that can frustrate and frill for a period of a few hours, or a number of years.  It is an unprecedented form of engagement with myriad forms of unique benefits and pitfalls.

Games, for better or worse, have evolved to be a window to the world for millions. In this rapidly changing environment, when a friendly Scottish accent is sought to provide a familiar bit of companionship after a long day, Overwatch is my communication platform of choice and a fictional hammer wielding German is now a means of expression.

Technology writers might call this Gaming as a Platform.  More specifically, I would call it Reinhardt as a Platform.

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