The Next 35 Years of Games

I have been playing video games as long as I can remember, probably about thirty years at this point. The first game I played was Super Mario Bros. This month, that game is 35 years old.

Games serve a variety of purposes in my life. I have learned new vocabulary and concepts from them. I have met new people because of them (some of them who I have still not met IRL). I learned how to be persistent in pursuit of a goal without feeling too bad about failing because of games (…though From Software games are still a bit overkill for me).

I also was inspired to make things because of video games. I grew up playing Myst and upon learning that the game was made with Apple’s HyperCard, I spent hours trying to make my own games in HyperCard. I experimented with Doom level editing tools in high school to try and build my house inside the game engine. I ultimately studied computer science in college in large part because I wanted to understand how games (and software in general) worked under the hood. As an adult, games are still a part of my life. I’ve played several games that felt like art and challenged my sense of what a game can be. I’ve learned to appreciate the skills of esports pros, especially in complex games like DOTA2, and I’ve met a number of amazing entrepreneurs inspired in similar ways by the potential of games. I have even started to introduce games to my kids.

Thirty years after my first taste of Super Mario Bros. I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what the future of gaming holds. I can’t possibly unpack this all in a single post but suffice to say I believe (like many others) that our definition of “game” is going to broaden tremendously over the next 5-10 years. It is already being challenged as games like Fortnite and others start to experiment with becoming “third places” that users hang out in. Gaming is also becoming more inclusive and while the hardcore aspects of the industry used to appeal primarily to the “nerdy white male” persona, that is changing for the better as a new generation of diverse gamers and developers move their ideas into the spotlight.

If the history and evolution of books, music and movies as mediums are any indication, we are still in the early innings of games as a medium. With the rise of cross-platform engines like Unity and Unreal Engine and the massive deployment of mobile phones, the possibility to reach a huge audience via a game is bigger than ever.

Not all of these games or gaming concepts will be “venture backable” in the traditional sense. But as many smart people have articulated, the next big thing often starts out looking like a toy. Super Mario Bros. certainly did, and it has inspired a slew of incredible new games that have continued to push the boundaries of what a game can be. I can think of no more popular nor fertile ground for experimentation or the next big thing than gaming and game engines. Here’s to the next 35 years.