How Videogames Drive Technology

For good or bad, I think this can be said as true: Major technological advances are driven by two factors – war and entertainment.
On the one hand is the practical military necessity for a nation to continue to advance at breakneck speeds to better defend itself in an uncertain world. It’s one of the darker sides of technology: That some of the most peacefully brilliant minds in history have developed some of the deadliest weapons.
On the other hand we have entertainment, and the necessity for businesses to continue to advance at breakneck speeds to develop the next trillion-dollar content genre or delivery platform.
My love affair with technology decidedly stems from the latter, when I was a one of those bleary-eyed kids standing in dimly lit arcades pushing quarter after quarter into vector-graphic, analog-controlled standup videogames. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that all the branches of modern computing stem from the original video-game tree. To have been alive and to have gamed during those formative years of the computing industry was a privilege because it was the time when some of our most fundamental theories were developed.
Games gave us the idea of a balanced input and output – that a computer can do no more than what the user actually asks it to do, and that great advancements in computing will only stem from equally great advancements in input.Wargames_Jim_Melvin
Games also showed us the legend of the backdoor – a principal made famous by Jim and Melvin in Wargames (clip can be viewed here). Tempest (1981) was the first arcade game I knew of with a significant built-in developer code to skip levels. It reminded us that as long as a human programmed a computer, there would always be a hidden shortcut. A vulnerability. A cheat.
Games painted worlds with the beauty of random and gave us a lasting respect for analog. What happened on the screen wasn’t just a function of a pre-scripted if>then argument. Just as in life, our movement affected the computations and no two games were ever the same. It allowed us to shake that nagging Protestant new-world mentality that everything is pre-determined – that we’re all part of some grand design.
Games delivered artificial intelligence – tens then hundreds then thousands of vectors and sprites reacting to an input and forcing adjustments. Games with the best AI were the best games. We believed in the Ghost in the Machine.
It continues and gaming still drives advancement. It’s the fuel that feeds the beast. Microsoft just paid over $2 billion for the free-form Minecraft. Games are a child’s first introduction to technology. Games like Angry Birds and Words With Friends drove social-media networking and mobile use through the roof and created billions in new revenue from age groups otherwise ignored.
Fact is, gaming has always driven technology and has always brought people together within that technology. The human need to game trumps our need to read and our need to know. Games were the seed that sprung the silicon revolution, and I believe that seminal relationship will continue.