Gaming is emerging as an important part of day-to-day lives—from virtual hangouts in Animal Crossing and concerts in Fortnite to politicians streaming Among Us and everything in between. I think that’s exciting, because there's never been a better time to pick up gaming as a hobby.
We've finally seen the release of latest and greatest next-gen consoles: Microsoft's Xbox Series X and the Sony Playstation 5. On the PC side, new offerings from hardware giants continue to raise the bar when it comes to delivering blistering performance and visuals. Meanwhile, Nintendo is being Nintendo, and just doing its own thing as always, which is great.
But it's not just the hardware. We are on the precipice of cloud gaming becoming the future rather than a pipe dream. Gaming as watchable entertainment is accessible in more places, like Twitch and YouTube. And virtual reality? Well, that's a promise that's gone sadly neglected for the better part of three decades since The Lawnmower Man got me really excited for the prospect. However, in the last year, VR has really kicked it up a notch with some absolutely impressive titles and hardware offerings, and we haven't even touched mobile gaming.
So let's take a few moments and find out why now is the perfect time to get into gaming. Here’s a quick look at the state of the industry.
Free-to-Play Models: An Almost No-Dollar Barrier
Gaining access to games keeps getting easier. Because of digital distribution, there's a plethora of places to pick up new titles to enjoy on platforms that are already in your apartment. The best part, most of these services have tons of accessible gaming content.
And I'm not talking about low-quality games here. The biggest Call of Duty game—one of the most successful video-game franchises ever made—is a free-to-play battle royale game. Also consider its competitors—Fortnite, Valorant, and Apex Legends—these are massive, popular, highly polished titles, produced by companies with incredibly talented teams, and they all operate under a free-to-play model. How crazy is that?
And it's not just new games. To attract a bigger audience, older blockbuster games are going free-to-play as well, including Destiny 2, Rocket League, CS:GO, and Star Wars: The Old Republic—the list goes on and on. Epic, Ubisoft, and other companies and platforms routinely makes games available free of charge through their online portal.
With the number of titles you can get as free-to-play, the dollar barrier to entry for gaming is incredibly low.
Cloud Gaming: Closer Than the Horizon
Think about it: a service similar to Netflix for providing video games. The hope would be that you wouldn’t need the hardware beyond a device and a controller, but instead you’d only need a solid internet connection that would allow you to play tons of recently released games through the cloud.
This has been on the horizon for a long time, but Nvidia and Google are making serious moves that are attracting a lot of attention. Sure, there’s growing pains right now, but what technology doesn’t have those? And I mean, playing games at high-quality graphics settings without having to spend tons of money on hardware? Sign me up.
Hardware Games: New or Old, It’s All Good
What if you want to kick it up a notch and get into the hardware game? Well, the recent release of the latest next-gen consoles is super exciting, sure, and they'll allow developers to do all sorts of cool stuff.
That also means that, if you're on a budget, you can pick up the previous generation at a fantastic price. And there's tons of titles ready to play from the get-go, many of which will be discounted heavily.
If you can manage to get your hands on one of the new consoles, aside from all the new games that'll come out in the future, they're backwards compatible. So if you want to play old PS4 games or older Xbox 360 games—no problem!
And then there’s Nintendo. I don't really know what I can say about them. The Switch is great. They really knocked it out of the park by deliberately catering to a niche that none of the current console manufacturers is addressing: the mobile console. I bought mine for Tetris99, but there are tons of amazing titles in their catalog that I’ve been enjoying.
Look, Nintendo has always gone their own way with stuff like Nintendo Labo, or the workout RPG Ring Fit Adventure, alongside more traditional stuff like Zelda and Mario. But that's the beauty of it—they’re offering a different thing to try and have a great time with.
Now, I can’t neglect the PC market, which is huge. And the great thing about it is that the PC market can cater to most budgets. Sure, you can have the latest and greatest hardware and play until your eyeballs are screaming with high-fidelity, detailed graphics, and buttery smooth frame-rates. But that recently released hardware is also driving down the prices of older gear, which means that you can also opt for a more modest rig on a more modest budget and still experience a ton of games that will look gorgeous and play just as well.
Best of all, the availability of PC games is unrivalled, with competing platforms serving thousands of titles at all price points. They range from profusely advertised AAA blockbuster games to indie titles lovingly made by individual developers pursuing their unique, and sometimes weird, vision. And these platforms regularly have sales that’ll have you buying multiple games for the same money you’d spend on one game otherwise.
Mobile Gaming: Play or Watch
Then we've got mobile gaming, which, I don't have numbers, but, it's big. People call it casual gaming, but there's nothing casual about it.
Mobile gaming is filled with an equally diverse set of titles—from story-driven narrative games to pick-up-and-play puzzles and vast multiplayer battles, like PUBG Mobile. Just go to the app store on your respective device, and you've got a world of entertainment at your fingertips on a device you already probably stare at too much on a daily basis. I know I do.
And that's just playing games. But you don't even have to play games to enjoy them. On Twitch and other streaming sites, you can watch other people play games, hang out and interact with that community, laugh over silly moments, be scared together. It's like a TV show — but live, which is always more entertaining.
Websites like YouTube encourage people to create video essays, breaking down and analyzing games from the mechanics to music to motion blur. You can see an entire other side to gaming—from the memes to the development work it takes to make them. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Virtual Reality: No Longer Ignorable
Finally, there’s VR. Truthfully, the headsets are still bulky, and the requirements are still high—both from a price and a hardware point of view. Sure. But there's a solid drive behind VR from a lot of top companies, and I think it's no longer an ignorable trend.
Games like Half-Life: Alyx have shown us how truly immersive the VR experience can get. And games like Beat Saber have shown us how ridiculously fun they can get. So there's lots of great and exciting stuff to look forward to in the future there.
Games Welcome Anyone to Escape
If we can be honest for a second, many people still have the perception that video games are for kids. But this is a multibillion-dollar industry that welcomes anyone, from young kids to hot-shot executives to grandparents and everyone in between. Those kids that grew up with gaming in the 1990s are now adults and are still enjoying the heck out of the ride.
So then, the final question becomes: well, why video games?
Like music, movies, or books, video games are entertainment. A form of escapism. A form of relaxation. A way of getting satisfaction from competition. A form of art. They're different things for different people. They engage skills—from dexterity to spatial reasoning, and memory—that other types of media do not. They're an evolving medium, still in its early days, I think, still experimenting and exploring to find out what it’s capable of.
And the availability of ways to play and experience games also means that there's lots of people experimenting with what a game is, what it can do, and how it can affect people. I've played games that I wanted to master technically, games that have been no more than a few nights’ afterthought, games that are an absolute joy to play, and games that have brought me to tears with their story. Because that’s the differentiating factor about video games: agency. The player is the story and that makes each game a journey that you take.
At the beginning of this article, I called video gaming a hobby. Wikipedia defines a hobby to be a regular activity that is done for enjoyment. And ultimately, whether it's because of a story, or because of a skill challenge, or some other draw, that's exactly why people play games—because they enjoyed how they spent their time.
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