I’ve been following the pending release of Gamer, the new film by Spartastic actor
Gerard Butler. As an urban hermit who hasn’t actually been to a movie theater
in months, I’m interested in the flick for reasons other than sating my popcorn
Gamer is the latest
offering in an emergent genre of writing and film I call MMOReality – flicks
that cover the merging cultures of online games and real life.
If Pixels and Policy
can be accused of anything, it’s that we tend to take a rosy view on the
merging of virtual and real worlds. That said, there’s something viciously fun
about imagining all of the horrible ways the unity of web and world could go
The genre has a proud history: Blade Runner. Minority Report. Ender’s Game. Tron. The slightly newer Tron with an overweight Jeff Bridges and
a new graphics card. By all accounts Gamer
is good people, but that’s only half of what makes the film so compelling.
With a wide slated release and in-your-face marketing, Gamer could bring millions of new avatars to the welcoming shores
of online gaming.
There’s nothing particularly special about Gamer. In many ways it’s a retread of The Running Man, but with Butler’s version we have average
Americans logging on to a virtual combat world as avatars. The twist? The
avatars are actually death row inmates engaged in a bloody battle royale. Any
inmate who survives 30 rounds wins his freedom. You can figure out the rest
Gamer is going to
provide a boost to the online gaming industry by acquainting millions in the
audience with a type of gaming experience that they may never have found
otherwise. This follows closely on the heels of a point I made in my earlier
post, Sleuths: Or How Interactive TV Makes You Smarter – the majority of consumers are introduced to new technology by
means of old technology. In this case, the theater introduces massively
Perhaps the spike in World
of Warcraft or America’s Army
subscriptions will only be temporary, but as with all booms, a good portion may
well stick around past the initial phase of outsized expectation. Online games,
as Edward Castronova has shown, are inherently social. Once a new player is
connected, they will reach out to others in their real-world social group as a
means of augmenting and strengthening both real and virtual social networks.
Another recent sci-fi movie, District 9, grossed around $83 million to date. Assuming $10 per ticket
– the reason why I’m not included in any box office stats since maybe Titanic – that’s 8.3 million people. If
we figure around the same for a big-ticket name like Gerard Butler, and then
cut out a good half who may already play online games (a liberal sum to cut),
that’s still 4 million new exposures.
If only 10% of those go on to play an online game because of
their exposure to Gamer, that’s 400,000 new subscriptions. That’s only
slightly fewer than the current number of active accounts in Second Life. With an optimistic
prediction, we begin to see how Gamer
could bring virtual worlds and online gaming into the mainstream.
So, why does it matter? One big reason: If online gaming
goes mainstream, the number of innovative users and organizations with knowledge
of and access to virtual worlds spikes. As the population of players grows, so
does the potential for innovation in virtual worlds beyond entertainment.
worlds will benefit from the economy of scale: You’re much more likely to get a
good idea for using virtual worlds in long-distance education when you have
400,000 teachers than when you only have 4,000.
And they said we’d never learn anything from movies.