The transformative power of video games | Herman Narula
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The transformative power of video games | Herman Narula

November 4, 2019


Hello. My name is Herman, and I’ve always been struck
by how the most important, impactful, tsunami-like changes
to our culture and our society always come from those things that we least think
are going to have that impact. I mean, as a computer scientist, I remember when Facebook
was just image-sharing in dorm rooms, and depending upon who you ask, it’s now involved in toppling elections. I remember when cryptocurrency
or automated trading were sort of ideas by a few renegades in the financial institutions
in the world for automated trading, or online, for cryptocurrency, and they’re now coming to quickly shape
the way that we operate. And I think each of you
can recall that moment where one of these ideas felt
like some ignorable, derisive thing, and suddenly, oh, crap,
the price of Bitcoin is what it is. Or, oh, crap, guess who’s been elected. The reality is that, you know,
from my perspective, I think that we’re about
to encounter that again. And I think one of the biggest, most impactful changes
in the way we live our lives, to the ways we’re educated, probably even to how we end up
making an income, is about to come not from AI, not from space travel or biotech — these are all very important
future inventions — but in the next five years, I think it’s going to come
from video games. So that’s a bold claim, OK. I see some skeptical faces
in the audience. But if we take a moment to try to look at what video games
are already becoming in our lives today, and what just a little bit
of technological advancement is about to create, it starts to become
more of an inevitability. And I think the possibilities
are quite electrifying. So let’s just take a moment
to think about scale. I mean, there’s already
2.6 billion people who play games. And the reality is that’s a billion more
than five years ago. A billion more people in that time. No religion, no media,
nothing has spread like that. And there’s likely to be a billion more when Africa and India
gain the infrastructure to sort of fully realize
the possibilities of gaming. But what I find really special is —
and this often shocks a lot of people — is that the average age of a gamer,
like, have a guess, think about it. It’s not six, it’s not 18, it’s not 12. It’s 34. [Average age of an American gamer] It’s older than me. And that tells us something, that this isn’t entertainment
for children anymore. This is already a medium
like literature or anything else that’s becoming a fundamental
part of our lives. One stat I like is that people
who generally picked up gaming in the last sort of 15, 20 years generally don’t stop. Something changed in the way
that this medium is organized. And more than that,
it’s not just play anymore, right? You’ve heard some examples today, but people are earning
an income playing games. And not in the obvious ways. Yes, there’s e-sports, there’s prizes, there’s the opportunity to make money
in a competitive way. But there’s also people earning incomes
modding games, building content in them, doing art in them. I mean, there’s something at a scale
akin to the Florentine Renaissance, happening on your kid’s iPhone
in your living room. And it’s being ignored. Now, what’s even more exciting for me
is what’s about to happen. And when you think about gaming, you’re probably already imagining that it features these massive,
infinite worlds, but the truth is, games have been deeply limited
for a very long time in a way that kind of we in the industry have tried very hard to cover up
with as much trickery as possible. The metaphor I like to use,
if you’d let me geek out for a moment, is the notion of a theater. For the last 10 years, games have massively advanced
the visual effects, the physical immersion,
the front end of games. But behind the scenes, the actual experiential reality
of a game world has remained woefully limited. I’ll put that in perspective for a moment. I could leave this theater right now, I could do some graffiti,
get in a fight, fall in love. I might actually do
all of those things after this, but the point is that all of that
would have consequence. It would ripple through reality — all of you could interact with that
at the same time. It would be persistent. And those are very important qualities
to what makes the real world real. Now, behind the scenes in games, we’ve had a limit for a very long time. And the limit is, behind the visuals, the actual information being exchanged
between players or entities in a single game world has been deeply bounded by the fact that games
mostly take place on a single server or a single machine. Even The World of Warcraft
is actually thousands of smaller worlds. When you hear about concerts in Fortnite, you’re actually hearing
about thousands of small concerts. You know, individual,
as was said earlier today, campfires or couches. There isn’t really this possibility
to bring it all together. Let’s take a moment to just
really understand what that means. When you look at a game,
you might see this, beautiful visuals, all of these things
happening in front of you. But behind the scenes in an online game, this is what it looks like. To a computer scientist, all you see is just
a little bit of information being exchanged by a tiny handful
of meaningful entities or objects. You might be thinking,
“I’ve played in an infinite world.” Well it’s more that you’ve played
on a treadmill. As you’ve been walking through that world, we’ve been cleverly causing the parts
of it that you’re not in to vanish, and the parts of it
in front of you to appear. A good trick, but not the basis
for the revolution that I promised you
in the beginning of this talk. But the reality is, for those of you
that are passionate gamers and might be excited about this, and for those of you
that are afraid and may not be, all of that is about to change. Because finally,
the technology is in place to go well beyond the limits
that we’ve previously seen. I’ve dedicated my career to this, there are many others
working on the problem — I’d hardly take credit for it myself, but we’re at the point now
where we can finally do this impossible hard thing of weaving together thousands
of disparate machines into single simulations that are convenient enough
to not be one-offs, but to be buildable by anybody. And to be at the point where we can start to experience
those things that we can’t yet fathom. Let’s just take a moment
to visualize that. I’m talking about not individual
little simulations but a massive possibility
of huge networks of interaction. Massive global events
that can happen inside that. Things that even in the real world become challenging to produce
at that kind of scale. And I know some of you are gamers, so I’m going to show you
some footage of some things that I’m pretty sure I’m allowed to do,
from some of our partners. TED and me had a back-and-forth on this. These are a few things
that not many people have seen before, some new experiences
powered by this type of technology. I’ll just [take] a moment
to show you some of this stuff. This is a single game world with thousands of simultaneous
people participating in a conflict. It also has its own ecosystem, its own sense of predator and prey. Every single object you see here
is simulated in some way. This is a game being built by one
of the biggest companies in the world, NetEase, a huge Chinese company. And they’ve made
an assistant creative simulation where groups of players
can cocreate together, across multiple devices, in a world that doesn’t vanish
when you’re done. It’s a place to tell stories
and have adventures. Even the weather is simulated. And that’s kind of awesome. And this is my personal favorite. This is a group of people,
pioneers in Berlin, a group called Klang Games, and they’re completely insane,
and they’ll love me for saying that. And they found a way to model,
basically, an entire planet. They’re going to have a simulation
with millions of non-player characters and players engaging. They actually grabbed Lawrence Lessig to help understand
the political ramifications of the world they’re creating. This is the sort of astounding
set of experiences, well beyond what we might have imagined, that are now going to be possible. And that’s just the first step
in this technology. So if we step beyond that, what happens? Well, computer science
tends to be all exponential, once we crack the really hard problems. And I’m pretty sure that very soon, we’re going to be in a place
where we can make this type of computational power
look like nothing. And when that happens,
the opportunities … It’s worth taking a moment to try
to imagine what I’m talking about here. Hundreds of thousands
or millions of people being able to coinhabit the same space. The last time any of us as a species had the opportunity
to build or do something together with that may people was in antiquity. And the circumstances
were less than optimal, shall we say. Mostly conflicts or building pyramids. Not necessarily the best thing for us
to be spending our time doing. But if you bring together
that many people, the kind of shared experience
that can create … I think it exercises a social muscle in us that we’ve lost and forgotten. Going even beyond that, I want to take a moment
to think about what it means for relationships, for identity. If we can give each other worlds,
experiences at scale where we can spend
a meaningful amount of our time, we can change what it means
to be an individual. We can go beyond a single identity to a diverse set of personal identities. The gender, the race,
the personality traits you were born with might be something you want
to experiment differently with. You might be someone
that wants to be more than one person. We all are, inside, multiple people. We rarely get
the opportunity to flex that. It’s also about empathy. I have a grandmother who I have literally
nothing in common with. I love her to bits, but every story she has begins in 1940
and ends sometime in 1950. And every story I have
is like 50 years later. But if we could coinhabit, co-experience things together, that undiminished by physical frailty
or by lack of context, create opportunities together, that changes things,
that bonds people in different ways. I’m struck by how social media
has amplified our many differences, and really made us more who we are
in the presence of other people. I think games could really start to create an opportunity for us to empathize again. To have shared adversity,
shared opportunity. I mean, statistically,
at this moment in time, there are people who are
on the opposite sides of a conflict, who have been matchmade
together into a game and don’t even know it. That’s an incredible opportunity
to change the way we look at things. Finally, for those of you who perhaps are
more cynical about all of this, who maybe don’t think that virtual worlds
and games are your cup of tea. There’s a reality you have to accept, and that is that the economic impact
of what I’m talking about will be profound. Right now, thousands of people
have full-time jobs in gaming. Soon, it will be millions of people. Wherever there’s a mobile phone,
there will be a job. An opportunity for something
that is creative and rich and gives you an income,
no matter what country you’re in, no matter what skills or opportunities
you might think you have. Probably the first dollar
most kids born today make might be in a game. That will be the new paper route, that will be the new
opportunity for an income at the earliest time in your life. So I kind of want to end
with almost a plea, really, more than thoughts. A sense of, I think, how we need
to face this new opportunity a little differently
to some we have in the past. It’s so hypocritical
for yet another technologist to stand up on stage and say, “The future will be great,
technology will fix it.” And the reality is,
this is going to have downsides. But those downsides will only be amplified if we approach, once again,
with cynicism and derision, the opportunities that this presents. The worst thing that we could possibly do is let the same four or five companies end up dominating
yet another adjacent space. (Applause) Because they’re not just going to define
how and who makes money from this. The reality is, we’re now talking
about defining how we think, what the rules are
around identity and collaboration, the rules of the world we live in. This has got to be something we all own, we all cocreate. So, my final plea
is really to those engineers, those scientists, those artists
in the audience today. Maybe some of you dreamed
of working on space travel. The reality is, there are worlds
you can build right here, right now, that can transform people’s lives. There are still huge
technological frontiers that need to be overcome here, akin to those we faced
when building the early internet. All the technology
behind virtual worlds is different. So, my plea to you is this. Let’s engage, let’s all engage, let’s actually try to make this something
that we shape in a positive way, rather than once again have be done to us. Thank you. (Applause)

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  1. Everything you are experiencing is serving a purpose. One day you will look back on these days and understand why things needed to happen the way that they did. Understand this and try to enjoy the journey for all that it is. Hope our channel helps 🤞

  2. Fantastic! I’ve put these ideas in my movie about video games already long ago but it’s great that we are finally getting there! I went from WoW widows forums a decade ago and having a sense of warning about gaming to a COMPLETELY different approach and view. Games help people! Thank you so much!

  3. This is just promoting social proofing in games in order to gouge and monetize consumers with predatory fee-based models. And just like when I devour books, I don't play games to socialize. I love experiencing art on my own, not being harrassed that I dont own the latest skins or rushed to some next objective by a group of impatient people.

  4. Eventually we will all be making money off of video games, maybe eating food that we create in video games… We might live a life outside of this life!

  5. Some good points, some really fabricated points (so we didn't work together on stuff? Really and that Protein project that happned a few years ago is nothing? the internet itself is nothing?) and some really bad reductive arguments why other things can't step up tht the same position oh and of course some lies.

    Overall 3/10 talk. Like he said some Tech person promising the world

  6. Growing up, I was deeply influenced by RPG games. It gave me my fascination of adventure and creating an impact to those around you. Nowadays, games are becoming more movie like and could actually move people like movies does, provided they have a deeper meaning.

  7. I don’t know why but his reasoning kinda relates to the idea behind the creation of Star Citizen.
    The limits are endless

  8. i started gaming after i got married/kids age 30. this very youtube channel im typing with is a monetized channel that brings me money every month.

  9. I remember how 5 years ago when I was interested in going into Game Design my parents didn't think it was employable. Now, I am studying it and my parents are encouraging me to do it since it's such a growing field.

  10. Gamers have to make sure not to develop unhealthy habits like a bad diet, no sunlight/vitamin D etc. while spending more and more time in games. Apart from that, game on!

  11. I just felt a disturbance in the force as millions of men just shared this video with their wives and girlfriends.

  12. This guy gave 0 details on the new technological developments to make this achievement possible. He just said… trust me, its possible. How did we suddenly get the power to do this? Quantum computing take a giant leap? Cloud servers take a giant leap? What happened?

  13. I check back periodically to make sure that there are more people out there liking this video than disliking it. There are. I still have faith in humankind.

  14. As pc gamer those games are meh. Star citizen is way better than what you're presenting. Also this old news for pc gamers.😪😪😪🙄 entire planet only? Come man get with the times an entire planet is so 2013 or 2014.

  15. On the other side of the story, pay-to-win games took off from the mobile market and started to creep in PC/console gaming.
    Companies are developing AI algorithms to psychologically manipulate people to spend more in their games. Children are exploited to buy gamble-like loot boxes.
    As a gamer, I miss the old days when developers just wanted to make fun games. Now, they are making games insufferable intentionally and try to sell you the fix with micro transactions. Every game design is to serve the monetization goal.

  16. Thank you. Finally someone is pointing out how news media divides us. Great talk about video games too, there is too much prejudice and I like how you bring out the positives that are outright ignored.

  17. this number of average gamer ij america is 34 years old is for sure wrong… and he just adept this wrong number to his speech…
    think about it… almost every 7-18 year old is playing videogames… but not almost every 50-60 year old… maybe the 60 year old has played some Video games in his life, but he is not a regular gamer

  18. I´m 37 and I´ve been running gaming communities since the 90's. I´m married, got kids and run a business irl. There is so much misunderstanding about gaming still but it has really changed for the better over the last 10 years. A few years ago I started to study leadership and organization theories at the university and do research on the many benefits online gaming has for people and how it can be used as an efficient tool for learning and empowering peoples creative visions. Its absolutely wonderful and my dream is to be able to do this for a living eventually!

  19. KSP taught me orbital mechanics and various other games taught me the english language. When I first experienced real 3D graphics in a computer game, it seemed like a technical marvel to me and sparked my interest into programming, which I now do as a fulltime job in the field of biophysics. Besides education, video games are also a platform for increadible artwork – looking forward to Cyberpunk 2077 ‐ and bring people from all over the world together and that is a good thing. So yes, there is some truth to the bold claim of that guy.

  20. I haven't played a video game in decades. Yet I invest in them and make money out of it.
    And I think my pre teen son who teaches gaming will probably make his fortune from games

  21. First of all, automated trading is an extremely inappropriate example for technical evolution. Then, 2 B gamers don't revere the same deity, they are just believers of some kind. Religions fight each other. Finally, humans live in small groups. They interact only with few other humans. Outer circles become competition. Therefore, it would be ridiculous to assume we could all share the same VR world. We can't – because we don't want to. Games will become more important though. When we will be able to dive with all our senses into new worlds, we will abandon this one.

  22. he is so articulate! wonderful talk. I wish people would stop giving we gamers side-eye when we tell them we like video games. It’s like movies or books— just another medium for experiences and creativity. Can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us!

  23. It sounds all fun and games (pun unintended), but Video games are very addictive and addiction is a very self destructive behavior that often ends up with crippling depression. It sure doesn't help, that most games/social media are designed to target and amplify this addiction

  24. I'm glad he didn't start talking about Blockchain games. That might be something in the future but so far it's a bunch of noobs making games and trying to milk some money with "minted crypto assets"

  25. The gaming industry keeps pushing the limits of technology, and the progress and innovations created in the process will benefit more than just the gaming industry. Also, gamification in general has a huge potential to transform mundane and boring tasks into something more enjoyable and motivating. I believe we could accomplish so much more if working, studying and chores felt as exciting and rewarding as playing video games.

  26. Some peoples say that video games are dangerous for Young people and can lead them into crime.
    But this I information don't have any prouf and the video games can allow us to go in a new dimensions our own dimensions is much more like a dream.

    And the video games don't stop to be improve years by years maybe soon we'll be able to live our owns videos games.

  27. You forgot that this is the internet we're talking about. If you gather millions of people in one space, half of them are just gonna shitpost while wearing their anime avatar.

  28. Videogames are a great way to escape from reality. Reality can be nasty, scary and hurtful. It's like drinking some fruit juice after having drunk a bitter medicine. But, if you drink many liters of fruit juice all at once, you may die.
    The right question to ask ourselves is: why we, as a society, are producing so many people who need so badly to escape?

  29. He just proved the idea of physicists about parallel worlds. A world where you are 2D, a scavenger, a monkey a tycoon.. a..a..

  30. have u seen ugandan knuckles on VRchat? this will happen in the next gen games…. i rest my case….jk … another thing to be hopeful about.. thank you

  31. Many video games make effective use of addictive qualities to establish long-term behavioral patterns. If you use the same principles but geared towards productivity and personal improvement instead of leisure and consumerism, I think it would be profoundly beneficial to society.

  32. Also interesting that it helps break down the barriers between people (cultures/nations), diminishing prejudice, etc. For example, at the moment, many video war game players in the USA and Russia are virtual friends and having fun.

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