Video games are a huge influence when it comes to cultural trends and insights. Harbouring the potential to redefine sex education among teenagers, such games have essentially reshaped our lives over the pandemic by providing us with much-needed comforts of escapism. As consumers increasingly demand cloud-based services, it is inevitable for the gaming industry to follow suit—ultimately paving the way for the next generation of gamers with the concept of ‘cloud gaming’.
Imagine logging into your Netflix account just to play games—that is cloud gaming for you! While traditional games run ‘on-premises’ by inserting a game cartridge or disc into a console or by downloading software onto individual systems, cloud gaming allows games to be stored directly on remote servers. The visual interface is then streamed directly onto the user’s device, similar to how content-streaming platforms like Netflix works.
“While media-streaming platforms move the physical hard drive and downloaded data to the cloud, cloud games essentially move the entire console to the clouds,” explained TechStory. All you need to play games on the cloud is a piece of hardware that supports cloud gaming with a strong internet connection. Such platforms have the capability of offering a wide range of games such as video, web and mobile games.
The on-demand gaming service was first demonstrated by G-cluster in 2000 and has been a coveted sensation ever since with a significant amount of the gaming population already having moved from disc-based games to digitally downloaded ones. A recent report further found a majority of gaming platforms with streaming infrastructure—such as Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform—having at least one of their games available on the cloud.
With a market poised to generate $1.4 billion in revenue this year, cloud gaming has immense opportunities for growth. The innovation expands the flexibility of the media-streaming industry and disrupts gaming to foster an attractive market for both consumers and game developers.
For consumers, cloud gaming offers an on-demand gaming experience without the burden of downloading and installing software on their personal devices. Accessible at any time and location, the innovation eliminates the traditional limitations of hardware requirements—thereby making cloud-based games a smoother pick-up-and-play experience. It also closes the gap between billions of gamers using low-spec devices and millions of players with high-spec ones.
In terms of the industry, cloud gaming has the potential of offering a stronger level of cybersecurity than downloaded games, given the fact that they store information on remote servers and virtual storage spaces. The innovation significantly reduces bandwidth costs for companies and enables developers to make games which pull in significant numbers of microtransactions across the gaming population.
Cloud gaming’s untapped opportunities, however, come with a number of challenges and infrastructure issues that prevent developers from fully embracing it. The availability of high-speed broadband and internet access is critical if cloud gaming is to provide the premium mobile experience needed to convince consumers. “Gaming service providers must make significant investment in both data centers and server farms across various locations in order to seamlessly host and stream software to what could be a global player base,” advised Lexology. Such investments are far more than costs associated with the traditional gaming model itself.
Another concern is regarding access to personal user data. Traditional gaming can be used almost anonymously without any concern on how a user’s data may be recorded and repurposed. In terms of cloud gaming, however, companies will have much greater access to data, accessible on the tip of their fingers. “The success of cloud gaming is using this data responsibly and in compliance with data protection legislation which may be more of a challenge for small developers and publishers,” Lexology concluded.
As for the users, the fact that the service is entirely dependent on their internet connection makes up one of the major drawbacks. These services can be unreliable as a drop in connection would interrupt the stream, hampering an enjoyable gaming experience. Nobody wants to watch a lagging, 144p Black Mirror episode now, do they?
The global market for cloud gaming is expected to grow by $4.50 billion between 2021 and 2025. Despite the challenges faced by the industry, cloud gaming is now seeing more major players on the scene than ever before.
In 2019, Google released its in-house cloud gaming service, Stadia, while Microsoft released Xbox Cloud Gaming in 2020 as part of its wider Xbox games service, powered by Microsoft Azure. Amazon has also released its own cloud gaming platform recently called Luna, powered by Amazon Web Services. Even Facebook has jumped on the bandwagon—producing its own cloud gaming platform focusing on mobile games.
As we increasingly brace for a cloud-first generation, consumers would undoubtedly seek out primary sources of entertainment on such virtual platforms. “Subscription-based gaming services will soon become a commonplace as Netflix, as consumers negate the need to download or buy a game,” reported TechStory. Although the cloud gaming industry is still in its infancy, it is hailed as the future of gaming—set to redefine the creation, distribution and consumption of games for an era seeking out new experiences. And it so seems that Google Stadia has already gotten a headstart into this future.
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March, 2020. It was the day after Activision released its free-to-play battle royale game Call Of Duty: Warzone and a little over a week before Nintendo released Animal Crossing: New Horizons. One year later, these two games have essentially reshaped our lives over the pandemic, providing comforts of escapism and helping build socially-distanced friendships via multiplayer. But what if such gamification models could redefine today’s digital-first education system, particularly for those subjects which require ‘interactive tools’ for better understanding? What if contemporary sex education was meant to be taught through video games?
In an era where mornings have become synonymous with Zoom links and clean backgrounds for students, schools are increasingly prioritising what gets taught online. As subjects like physics and physical education go online, much of the curriculum is getting lost in translation from the real to the virtual world. And sex education is no exception.
“There’s already lots of cultural stigma around something like saying the word ‘penis’ in a room full of people who are under 18,” said Karen Rayne, the executive director of UNHUSHED, a non-profit that offers sex education for schools with the aims to remove the stigma surrounding them. In an interview with US News, she illustrated the challenges of teaching homebound teenagers and college students who are “attending classes from their childhood bedrooms” about the birds and the bees.
Not long after the pandemic hit, Rayne, who also teaches human sexuality at the University of Texas at Austin, created a manifesto outlining 10 tips for teaching online sex ed. These tips include being mindful of students’ developmental stages, expecting some awkwardness and looping in parents.
Despite her efforts, however, she admitted that some students were in fact being left behind in classes. “After so many months online, we were beginning to lose some kids in a way that I wasn’t really concerned about in March or April (2020),” she said. “It might be that for some kids, sex ed is not where they need to spend their limited online learning hours.”
A paper published by Leslie Kantor, chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health at the Rutgers University School of Public Health, further spelled out why teaching reproductive health during a pandemic is critical and how schools should prioritise the same. “Even when in-person schooling resumes, missed sex education is unlikely to be made up, given the modest attention it received prior to the pandemic,” the paper concluded, which has essentially hatched a sense of urgency at the educational forefront.
As teachers scramble to come up with innovative ways to “translate what we learned about effective, in-person sex education into the digital environment,” some sex education game developers think this could be their moment.
Gamification can be summed up as the use of game design elements like avatars, scores, leaderboards and virtual rewards in non-game contexts such as apps for learning a skill or tracking one’s progress. With the growing use of computer-based therapy in mental health and promising results seen in the use of gamification in psychotherapy, the push to gamify sex education is part of a broader movement—deploying video games to target health issues ranging from depression to tobacco use.
So how does game design and principles help tackle a social stigma? Three major factors come into play here: interactivity, privacy and familiarity. Interactivity is a huge influence on a person’s learning capacity, especially in a digital age saturated with online lectures and note-taking. What this means in terms of sex education is that these games could essentially offer a way to interact with the subject at hand without getting ‘down and dirty’.
“Putting a condom on a banana, that’s like a stereotype of sex education, right? But that’s what everyone remembers,” said Nina Freeman, the developer behind the acclaimed sex education game how do you Do It? “It’s the thing that you’re actually doing. You’re basically performing the act of putting a condom on a penis—it is performative.” In an interview with Mashable, the developer equated the act of putting a condom on a banana to a game-like experience and how in that sense such games could be a very effective way of conveying information.
Freeman’s approach to game design involves role-plays and simulations which gives players a different perspective on the whole sex education front. “I think player/character embodiment is really powerful and games are uniquely better than other media at having people get into character, almost like they’re in a play,” she said. “Games are really good at that because they’re actively having the player pull information instead of pushing it on them.”
Another example of interactivity in gamified sex education is the smartphone app Tap That where players are responsible for taking care of different characters navigating their sexual relationships. If one of them has an STI, the players have to diagnose and determine how to cure or treat it. Virtual condoms are also offered in player toolkits to prevent the infections from spreading. “Sex should be a positive experience, so why shouldn’t sex ed be too?” a video explaining the game reads.
This brings us to the next two factors pushing these video games into the mainstream: privacy and familiarity. Such games have the potential to filter out all of the awkwardness surrounding the topic. It gives players the ability to learn about sex and sexuality from the privacy of their homes in a way that they’re familiar and comfortable with.
“Having students engage with the world in a way they’re more familiar with and feel more comfortable doing makes a difference when you’re trying to get them to talk about issues that are really sensitive or maybe their parents haven’t talked to them about,” Freeman mentioned. “I think giving them more of a private space to explore some of this stuff is definitely helpful.” The added privacy also fosters a safe space for players. One where they can reflect on their own sexuality and explore their feelings without being judged.
In a recent report by Censuswide, the agency surveyed 500 teachers who used video games in their classrooms over the pandemic. 89 per cent of them highlighted the fact that the tool has proved beneficial for engaging students with their subjects. 69 per cent stated that their students are more likely to do their homework when gaming is involved. And 68 per cent swore that gaming would become an important resource in education moving forward.
As comprehensive sex education becomes essential for today’s ‘digital native’ youth—with means of sexting, online dating and VR sex literally available at their fingertips—video games along with the transferrable skills they offer might just help safeguard education in the COVID-19 generation and beyond.