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Welcome to the world of serious gaming!
Priyanka Joshi in New Delhi | November 18, 2006
On an average, they spend between 10-12 hours playing games on their computers or handhelds. The best part, they are paid to do this. The brothers are professional gamers who test games for a living, as with Games2Win, an online gaming portal.
"Two months back, my machine gave up on me," recalls Mihir, "it just blew up." Even so, the gamer had to be dragged away from his computer because "I was playing a game". Milind is no different.
"I began playing a game on Friday evening and didn't get off until Sunday evening," he confesses, having spent 48 hours without a break, eating (and probably brushing his teeth) before the monitor. "It was a long game," he laughs uncertainly.
The Shahs "game" for a living, but thousands of others simply do it for the adrenaline rush it offers them. Take Gordon Fernandes, a 29-year-old software developer and self-proclaimed game reviewer. Gordon began playing at the age of six.
"My parents say they committed a mistake taking me to the neighbourhood games arcade, and later bought me an Atari 2600 (the first successful video game console)."
Gordon claims to have played hundreds of computer, online, and console games. The Mumbai-based lad also runs an online gaming community on a popular social networking site that has close to 3,000 gaming fanatics as members.
"We host gaming events that have professional gamers and developers helping amateurs understand gaming software and hardware," he explains. The game geek is working on a beta version of "a first person shooter game".
The Shah twins and young professionals like Gordon exemplify a generation that has grown up with video games, fed on PC and console titles, and now thrives on multiplayer gaming platforms.
They are not your average teenyboppers seeking a couple of hours' entertainment on their consoles and computers, but a breed of gaming enthusiasts who are coming out of the closet to declare their passion for serious gaming.
Call them dysfunctional, social misfits, even outcasts, but they will not give up their consoles or keyboards for such mundane matters as attending parties, going to a cousin's wedding, or the office picnic.
And now, thanks to the hoopla surrounding the launch of the Microsoft X360, more Indians are being exposed to consoles and the concept of playing games.
"With the release of the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3), things can only get better," exults another gamer, Abhijeet Kunder. For this 27-year-old, gaming began at "a friend's house". Kunder was 10 years old when he picked up his first console.
"There were days I used to be holed up at my friend's place for hours playing console games." It was only when his friend's mother told them to get out and get a life that he realised that he was hooked on to games.
Working now with Hewitt Associates in Mumbai, Kunder's off-hours are busier than a Page 3 socialite. "I run gaming communities, LAN groups and have seen a steady escalation in terms of participants and game penetration," he says.
Who are gamers?
"They're a normal human species who choose to spend their money on flat screen televisions with Xboxes or PlayStations or a 'mean' desktop with similar gaming paraphernalia," says a defensive Gordon.
"All those who think gaming is child's play should come and play a game with me," he throws out a challenge.
Mohit Anand, country manager, entertainment and devices division, Microsoft India, an avid gamer himself, is one of the lucky ones to pursue a career that revolves around gaming.
"Real time strategy games are the best stressbusters for me," he reveals, "reading and music follow."
To cynics who do not play computer games, shoot-em-ups such as Counter-Strike and Quake might look straightforward. "It's not only about shooting aimlessly at everything that moves with a frightening arsenal of weapons," says Mohit, who is often beaten at the game by his son.
For 20-year-old Ajinkya Athalatti, better known as "Goch" within his circuit, gaming is an intelligent recreational activity.
And for those who insist that games have a negative effect on human behaviour, he bursts out angrily: "Before computer games, did children do all that their parents asked them to? Did they have neat haircuts because their parents wanted them to, or help old ladies cross the street in their free time?"
In the era before games, he points out, you still had misogynists, rap music, muggings, junkies, hoodies and grinding at the local disc. Meaning: don't blame gamers for the deeds of the young generation.
For the Shah brothers, their big moment was launching a magazine dedicated to their passion. Four years back, the duo came out with a magazine titled 'Reviews and Gaming Essentials' that "was a creative outlet" for them.
With a team of eight gaming enthusiasts, they managed a launch all right, but "lack of dedicated readership, lopsided marketing and financial troubles forced us to abandon our project", reasons Mihir. Still, they haven't shut their creative shop yet. "I have not given up the dream," says Mihir. The brothers nurture the hope of earning "lots of money" some day.
"Gaming is serious business," they say. With the gaming industry (including handhelds) worldwide expected to hit $46 billion mark by 2010, up from $29 billion in 2006, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, who knows, they might be right.
I'm serious, honey...
The players, both console and PC, calculate the growth of Indian gaming at a steady pace of 16-18 per cent. "Thanks to the Internet, magazines, recent trend of corporate-sponsored tournaments, the domestic game industry has cemented its place in contemporary culture," says Alok Kejriwal, founder, Contest2Win.
"And by promoting the best gamers as professionals, the industry can help push its product much the same way the visibility of pro-golfers sells clubs and balls." The young executive admits that games let him live his fantasies: "A surreal environment where I am in complete power is an exhilarating experience."
He fell in love with consoles when he was 12 years old. "I belong to a Marwari family where gaming was not exactly the best profession," he laughs. Alok was lucky enough to have a chance to live his dream through Games2Win. "I live, drink and eat my products," he says. "I am grateful that I end up making money too."
The good news among gamers (may their tribe increase) is that consoles like Xbox 360 and portables like Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStations are expected to spread awareness among young PC gamers looking to graduate to bigger, better platforms.
"Every person who has a computer is a casual gamer," says Sameer Bangara, vice president, IndiaGames. "A game of Solitaire that comes packaged with Microsoft Windows since 1990 has been the sounding board for so long now. It's time to urge people to move on," he says.
With every new generation of games, the need to add detail is extreme. "There were days when we had animated bitmaps for games, graduating to textured polygons," Alok says disbelievingly. "Now we are at a point where every blade of grass needs to be modelled, every facial expression, every brick in a building has to be unique."
In India's young gaming industry, estimated to be worth $10 million (consoles and PC) today, "artists who understand the need for detailing have to emerge from within the community of gamers", says Alok.
"The human sensory experience is limited to the five senses. It's just a matter of time before game developers are able to capitalise on each of them. Not only will we feel your pain, but see, hear, taste and smell it," predicts Abbasali Chinoy, a 25-year-old who works with Zapac Digital Entertainment.
"Today's typical hardware stimulates senses of sight, hearing and perhaps feeling. We will soon see hardware devices reach beyond a simple view screen and speakers to stimulate the other senses as well."
This is the future�
Video games - "the escapist pastime of boys and men", as Sameer of IndiaGames describes it - "is poised to grow with Internet and broadband penetration picking up acceleration".
Serious games have been around for years now. Remember the movie War Games? "The army has long employed games and simulations to train its troops and recruits, and continues to do so," says Capt Raghu Raman, CEO, Mahindra Special Services Group.
He also foresees games evolving into video games, powered by better graphics and game play, addressing new topics, educating people and training them to tackle real-world issues.
This is already happening globally. The United Nations World Food Programme released Food Force last year, a programme in which users engage in humanitarian missions, delivering food to hotspots.
The game has been downloaded over 3 million times. Earlier this year, the International Centre on Non-violent Conflict released A Force More Powerful, in which players overthrow a dictator in 10 different scenarios.
Dr Sanjay Chugh, senior consulting psychiatrist, reckons it makes sense to use video games for weightier purposes because they are not only extremely engaging but also because many people have grown up playing them.
"There is a natural progression of using game technology for more than entertainment because it's so compelling," he says.
Meanwhile, for the thousands who spend every waking hour in an Internet cafe or in front of their gaming machines, jabbing furiously at their keyboard controls, they have a dream.
Perhaps, like the Shah brothers, they too could play games for a living. Till then, there is the thrill of living in their virtual worlds long into the night�
Psychiatrists worry about gamers' social isolation
Addictive gaming can be damaging, turning young adults into cyber junkies. Dr Jitendra Nagpal, consulting psychiatrist, VIMHANS, says that as an accepted part of urban culture, it ingrains "a spate of social problems like self-isolation, aggression and a disconnect with the real world".
Senior consulting psychiatrist Dr Sanjay Chugh urges society to look beyond the blanket of condemnations, to focus on its positive recreational side. But even he agrees that social interaction could decline in the wake of alternate recreational activities like gaming and online surfing.
"This should be intercepted as a warning signal for a generation that prefers to spend its time in a room playing, eating, drinking in an isolated environment," he says. "For them, it's one big ecosystem where they are god."
This may be true, but Dr Nagpal warns, "Prolonged isolation can lead to insomnia, chronic depression, fatigue and in some cases indigestion too." Still there's little that can be done to curb excessive exposure to gaming, where patients report signs of physical strain (especially on their hands and backs).
Dr Chugh reasons, "With young teenagers, parents can censor excessively violent videos. But what about restrictions in the case of adults who are capable of making their own decisions?"
Know your games�and their advantages!
Console Games: Console games are loosely referred to as video games that are played on a device specially made for game play called a video game console. The player uses a controller, a handheld device with buttons and joysticks. Video and sound are received by the gamer through a television or personal computer. Examples of consoles include the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation, and Nintendo GameCube.
The machines are simple to set up. There are no operating systems to configure or drivers to update
Multiplayer gaming is also made easy and affordable with companies like Microsoft and Sony offering online services for their products.
Many prefer to play games sitting on the couch. Wireless consoles make life easier in contrast to a PC and its wired controls.
New generation consoles come equipped with a hard disc and other entertainment options like a DVD and MP3 player, eliminating the need for separate gadgets.
PC Games: Video games that are played on computer or over an Internet connection. The controls are located on the keyboard and/or mouse. Console games tend to have a higher learning curve for the uninitiated as you fast thumb your way around.
More games are available for the PC than for consoles, particularly when it comes to multiplayer online games
PCs can be used for more than just playing games
Handheld Games: Games that are played on mobile phones or portable game devices. The game titles are restricted when it comes to numbers, and the playing experience is basic. Mobile gaming is touted as the fastest growing segment of the total videogames industry.
A handy mode of playing games between daily transits
As games are very simple in nature, they can lure first time gamers
You certainly won't need to spend hours in a "tutorial" trying to learn how to operate basic game functions
Most games for mobile phones are affordable downloads at Rs 50-100
What a player gains?
An overwhelming sense of control and responsibility
Pleasure in being in possession of an ecosystem that operates and reacts along with the player's gameplay
Acts as a stressbuster for many burnt out professionals
An alternate form of digital entertainment for those looking for something different
Any game that requires an individual to think and organise his/her actions in advance could act as a brain stimulant for many
Strategy or multiplayer games requires players to establish coordination between their hands, brain and eye