This summer Olympics will be starting soon, which means that here in Canada where summer sports aren’t a strong suit, the media will swoon whenever a Canadian wins a medal. Really important things, like archery, horse jumping and fencing, will be front-page news and the lead story on evening television should a Canadian land a medal in them.
The shame of it is that last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, the Olympics of video games, wasn’t big news anywhere in the country despite the fact that Canadians—particularly those working at Ubisoft’s Canadian studios—cleaned up and stole the show.
Ubisoft brought an impressive array of games, including Assassin’s Creed 3, Far Cry 3, Watch Dogs, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Zombi U and Rayman Legends, to E3. The first three are being developed in Montreal and the fourth is the first game from the company’s Toronto studio, while only the last two are from the parent company in France.
With hundreds of publishers and developers showing off thousands of games, it’s a little odd to declare that anyone “won” E3, but the gaming press is doing just that. Other Canadian studios, including Electronic Arts and Beenox, also had strong showings. The former impressed sports game fans with its latest iterations of FIFA and NHL franchises while the latter’s upcoming Amazing Spider-Man was good enough to crack my top 10 of the show.
Ubisoft, you may know, is a French company that really isn’t. This year, Ubisoft is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the opening of its Montreal studio, which has since become the heart and soul of the multinational company. Montreal employs the bulk of its designers and is responsible for virtually all of the parent’s most successful franchises. Along with the studio in Quebec City and the recently opened Toronto operation, Montreal accounts for nearly half of the entire company’s employees. On the whole, Ubisoft’s Canadian operations contribute a good chunk of the 16,000-plus employees in the Canadian games industry, which is third biggest in the world after the United States and Japan.
With its size and talent, it’s no wonder the Canadian industry routinely produces the best games in the world. But does this get on the front page anywhere in Canada? Did the butt-kicking E3 showing even warrant a mention on TV news broadcasts? Of course not, but it absolutely should. Video games are just a tad more important than archery or fencing.
According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, the games industry contributes $1.7 billion a year to our economy in the form of jobs and the expenditures they make possible. More importantly, video games are the crux of the future economy, lying at the intersection of culture and technology as they do. These aren’t jobs in a dying industry such as manufacturing (don’t believe it’s dying? Wait until 3D printers take hold). They’re the vanguard of an exciting and fast-growing field that is only just starting to take off.
Sure, sure, the Olympics are important. Success at the Games means more government money for physical education programs, which supposedly encourage kids to get off the couch—and ironically leave their video games behind—to go exercise so they don’t get fat. Yet, video games are having a big impact there too.
The technology being developed by game companies is rapidly spreading into physical health and training as well. At E3, Microsoft announced a partnership with Nike to bring Nike+, a training-like game, to the Xbox 360. Nike+ uses the Xbox’s Kinect motion sensor to help the user develop a training regimen, with status and reminders being sent to a smartphone. There’s also Ubisoft Montreal’s Your Shape Fitness Evolved line of games for the Kinect, which train gamers in yoga, not to mention a whole host of emerging physical training titles for Xbox, Wii and PlayStation Move.
Games such as Dance Dance Revolution have been adopted by gym classes at U.S. schools because, as researchers have pointed out, they are a persuasive technology that convince individuals to adopt behaviours without their even knowing it:
Although the DDR was not developed specifically to promote physical activity, it has changed exercise attitudes and behavior of children and youth using principles of persuasive technology. Dance Dance Revolution uses video, music, and a dance platform to capture interest and engage children in the activity without their being fully aware that they are exercising. The emerging field of persuasive technology has enormous potential for promoting physical activity and healthy behavior.
On the flip side, how many kids watch archery at the Olympics and think, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to go get me a bow?” They’re more likely to do that after shooting one in a video game, which is ironic because E3 quite clearly declared 2012 as the year of the bow. Of course, archery may be the wrong example, because it’s not really that physical an activity anyway, but that’s besides the point.
The real point is, the media has its priorities backwards. Instead of slavishly covering an event that has no relevance to the average Canadian, it would be nice to see some attention paid to a field that is actually growing in importance (nearly two-thirds of Canadians say they are gamers). At the very least, the thousands of Canadians who are routinely kicking the rest of the world’s butts should get some recognition.