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Home / Opinion / Views /  Why we must welcome the metaverse of online gaming

When AlphaGo, a self-taught computer program that plays the board game Go, beat the world champion, a master Go player 3-0 in a best-of-five competition, back in 2016, it was seen as a landmark moment for science and technology.

Millions of people across the globe rooted for the ‘human’ in that contest, a player by the name of Lee Sedol.

AlphaGo’s win was perhaps the first time a computer taught itself and perfected its game enough to beat a human world champion, which meant that it was just the beginning of what we now hear very often of as ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI).

AlphaGo’s underlying algorithms are potentially more general-purpose and may prove that scientists are making progress towards artificial general intelligence. Some commentators said that AlphaGo’s victory made for an excellent opportunity for human society to start preparing for the possible future impact of machines with general-purpose intelligence on our lives.

Using games as use cases for improving technology is not unique or limited to implementing AI.

One of the most relevant use cases of ‘blockchain’ technology also happens to be gaming. Blockchain-based games like Axie Infinity have managed to generate millions in revenue while creating livelihoods in the Philippines. Axie Infinity allows players to earn incomes through non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrencies by breeding, battling and trading digital pets called Axie.

Today, game players can ‘live’ virtually. They can ‘own’ swords, other such tools, avatars, imagined creatures and a variety of digital creations that can be used and even traded within the gaming ‘metaverse’, a kind of online world that has gained much popularity across the globe.

It makes one think: How do technology- driven ‘use-cases’ change the way we live our lives? The history of gaming shows that online games have been the gateway to new technologies for many decades.

While gaming and video games are often looked upon as a technologically-advanced sub-culture, they have also been jarringly confused with gambling in recent cases. Gamers, on the other hand, have become part of this beautiful metaverse which allows them to move from one game to another with the same NFT assets in a world they themselves helped create.

The development of advanced technology is often limited by the various commercial and practical risks involved; gaming, however, has defied those constraints.

In the backdrop of this progress, many Indian states are unfortunately stuck on the concepts of ‘skill’ versus ‘chance’. The recently-proposed ban of online gambling (confused with online gaming) brought in through the Karnataka Police (Amendment) Bill, 2021, covers skill games and paints all competitions with the same brush by stating that “where money is risked, the same may be construed as gambling".

Not very long ago, the Madras high court struck down amendments to the Tamil Nadu Police and Gaming Act Part II, in the case of Junglee Games vs. State of Tamil Nadu on the grounds that it was not intelligible, stating that experts should decide which games are skill-based, and that where the outcome is determined by skill, such an activity does not amount to betting.

Debates on gaming as gambling (or not) dampen the spirits of tech enthusiasts who are keen to use the possibilities afforded by the gaming metaverse to create a better way to interact and participate in social activities, thereby creating a better world for people to inhabit.

Of course, gaming has data privacy and breach risks, and those arising from the online exchange of crypto tokens and NFTs.

Yet, if blockchain is the most path-breaking technology we have right now to verify records and protect our data, and AI is rapidly learning how to get smarter, then the intersection of blockchain, gaming and AI potentially has much more to offer than we can currently imagine.

Note that gaming events have surpassed traditional concerts in terms of the number of attendees. The highest attendance for a concert within a video game is reported to be 12 million viewers, achieved by Travis Scott’s Astronomical event hosted by US-based Epic Games’ Fortnite in 2020. It is on its way to surpassing many sports viewership records on audience engagement through game-streaming platforms such as Twitch.

The market potential remains mostly uncovered and the covid pandemic served as an unexpected pivot pilot for this sector. Gaming does not make distinctions among people on parameters that humans have created. To take just one of many examples, an 8-year-old in downtown Manhattan is now friends with a 62-year-old woman in the suburbs of Kolkata because gaming made it possible.

By virtue of experimentation, the virtual world of gaming enables the use of new technology to do what is not possible in the ‘real world’ because of the latter’s inherent and human-imposed limitations, which are considerable. In the absence of gaming, many new technologies would have come and gone without making us realize how much richer our lives could be.

Shivani Jha is a tech policy researcher and director of eSports Players Welfare Association

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