Not Everyone Owned a Cotton Gin

Cotton_gin_harpersEric Zimmerman recently posted a manifesto on what he calls the Ludic Century as a prelude to his forthcoming book “The Gameful World.” The manifesto predicts that our increasingly data driven culture will be largely accessed through user interfaces inspired by digital games.

Abe Stein, a research affiliate with the MIT Game Lab, thoughtfully expressed concerns that the Ludic Century is biased toward Western Culture. Stein faults Zimmerman’s manifesto for failing to acknowledge that a large portion of the world does not consume games or digital technology.

While we cannot deny the statistics on global Internet usage or that access to digital technology is restricted in much of the world, there are several studies that indicate these trends are changing. As American audiences continue to grow, so does the proportion of global Internet users. Pew Internet indicates that over 90% of American Adults own cell phones. Meeker and Wu estimate global Internet at only 34%, but they demonstrate that global usage has grown 8% since last year and exponential growth is predicted for the future. This growth rate has been confirmed by The World Bank.

The changing technological landscape can also be witnessed by the trends in game development. Digital technology is becoming more affordable every year, and digital games are migrating rapidly to mobile platforms. Developers who produce and publish to mobile platforms have a broader audience. Consequently, more of the world will have access to games this century.

In his book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” Jared Diamond illustrated how the smallest shift in the tide between cultures can have profound consequences. The introduction of a few guns to the Maori natives of the Cheatham Islands led to the slaughter of the Moriori in New Zealand. While games may not be ubiquitous, the availability of mobile technology will put games in the hands of a significant number of users. Democratization does not equate with ubiquity, but there will be enough users to influence other aspects of culture.

The cotton gin revolutionized production in America, which had far reaching consequences for the world. I use the word “revolutionized” judiciously because the cotton gin is viewed as creating a demand for slavery in the American South, which eventually led to the American Civil War. Similarly, one need not be a direct consumer of digital games to be profoundly influenced by their design principles.

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