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    We Need a New Term for Video Games


    This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.

    Everyone is trying to get us to come out — or stay in — and play. Seriously. Peloton, Netflix, Zoom, TikTok, Amazon, Apple and Google are all either experimenting or going much bigger into video games.

    What’s going on?

    The straightforward answer is that globally people already spend a lot of time and money on video games, and established game companies and newcomers alike are eyeing all sorts of interactive digital experiments to grab more of our time and money.

    I’m excited for this development, even though my own avid video game playing ended in the era of BrickBreaker for the Blackberry. It feels as if we’re in the middle of reimagining both what a “video game” is and what online idle time can be — more engaging and social, perhaps, and a little less passive doomscrolling. (Or I might be reading too much into this. Yeah, it might just be about money.)

    Whatever the motivation, games may soon feel inescapable. New features on Zoom — yup, that Zoom — include poker, trivia and mystery games. Peloton, the maker of $2,500 exercise bicycles, is releasing a game that allows people’s pedal power to command a rolling virtual wheel. Netflix this week confirmed that it planned to add video games to its online entertainment service. Facebook, TikTok, Amazon, Apple and Google to varying degrees are pitching us video games or selling game subscriptions. (The New York Times is going bigger into digital games and puzzles, too.)

    Video games are a big business that grew even bigger during the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s not surprising that more companies want a piece of the action. A recent report from Accenture estimated that global sales related to games are higher than the combined revenues from movies and music. Those figures include sales of conventional video games for computers and consoles, smartphone games, advertising in games and more. Video games also have cultural relevance, as the Olympic organizers showed this week by featuring game music in the opening ceremony.

    We may actually need to change our terminology because many new digital games are different from how we might traditionally define and imagine video games — those cinematic worlds of PlayStation or Xbox.

    Just as smartphones introduced us to simpler games that capitalized on unique features of phones like gyroscopes and on-the-go internet connections, many newer games blur the lines between video games and other types of social activities. Pokémon Go, Fortnite and Among Us are video games, but they are also hangouts for friends, pop culture moments, opportunities for political organizing and more.

    What’s thrilling about many of the newer game experiments is that they signal a move beyond a phase in which online and smartphone media often mirrored what came before — many podcasts were like talk radio, Netflix was like TV and online news outlets were like newspapers.

    I know that games aren’t all stimulating paragons of human social connection, but it feels as if something exciting is happening. There’s more mushing together to arrive at new digital forms that emphasize interaction rather than passive reading, watching or listening.

    We’re going to get more sophisticated games on the bleeding edge of technology and more stuff that doesn’t fit the video game box to challenge our minds, bodies and social interactions. I’m intrigued to see it all.


    • Are the good times TOO good? The pandemic catapulted technology companies and executives “into another universe of wealth and influence,” my colleague David Streitfeld writes. David spoke with technology executives and industry critics about the benefits and perils of tech’s even more dominant dominance.

    • Wikipedia is a blueprint for better public health communication: The misinformation researcher Renée DiResta says that the internet encyclopedia is a good model for government pandemic communications that would keep up with evolving scientific knowledge, provide visibility into who is saying what and tap into a wide range of voices.

    • How to watch the Olympics without cable TV: It’s hard. The Washington Post has a helpful guide that involves the Peacock streaming service, password sharing and old-fashioned NBC.

    The sulfur-crested cockatoos of Sydney have taught one another how to pry open trash cans. Also, how is it possible that Australia’s nuisance animals — including those cockatoos and the white ibis known as the “bin chicken” — are so beautiful?


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