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It Can’t Be All Fun and Games (But It Might Be)

February 7, 2018

If you were born anytime in the last three to four decades, at some point someone older than you told you something like, “Get serious. Stop playing around. Life is hard. It can’t be all fun and games.” Like many other things people were saying you should be doing, they were actually talking about their own experience.

He is old and wise, listen to him you must


Consider this – the games and toys industry estimated annual revenues in 2016 was around 22 billion USD; Online Gaming annual revenues are around 52 billion USD; The video games industry annual revenues are now close to 92 billion USD; despite its rapid decline, the music industry annual revenues are still 16 billion USD; Broadcast TV generated 152 billion USD; and the movie industry generates nearly 40 billions USD in the box office.


We can easily expand this list of vices into the Gambling industry (155 billions), legal Cannabis trade (32 Billions), and even personal consumer electronics (838 billions) and social media (almost 600 billions) which both rely heavily on entertaining and not-so-entertaining content. Soon we’ll conclude that not only are fun and games something serious, they may be the only things that really matter.


If an alien would land on earth today and ask a random person, “what have you been doing all this time?” It is not unlikely that their report will include a video of a cat doing something silly and whatever is the #1 game in the AppStore.


The reason someone told us fun and games are not something serious is because they grew up in a totally different world than ours.


In an article from 2014, writer, Mark Manson, notes that as a society, we are always obsessed with what seems to be the rarest resource at the time. In ancient times, it was food and land. After industrialization, it was labor and jobs. After the economy recovered from the great depression and two world wars, it was information that people were looking for.


And now, that information is free for all, the rarest resource of all has become human attention. If you can get someone’s attention and then multiply it by millions, you can get ridiculously rich or famous, or both. As Manson concludes,


… until you are able to limit your attention, until you are able to turn away, at will, from all of the shiny things and nipple slips, until you are able to consciously choose what has value to you and what does not, you and I and everyone else will continue to be served up garbage indefinitely. And it will not get better, it will get worse.


 If you made it this far, you deserve to see a cat doing something silly.


From an investor’s point of view, capitalizing on our natural obsession with fun and games is a milking cow. We are biologically wired to look for easy wins and social approval. Games of all kinds are basically a signal for a massive dopamine release in our brain. And easy games, like slot machines, are so addictive, that we keep playing even when we know we would probably lose. We can’t help ourselves.


There are technological changes all around us. These will affect the way people work, commute and learn. There’s a good chance that Manson’s prediction of things getting worse will materialize – we’ll have more free time, which will lead to more loneliness and boredom, which will lead to even more opportunities to be distracted by stupid videos and senseless games


But playing doesn’t have to be reduced to a steady flow of dopamine from worthless game apps, or from online “social” games with people we’ll never meet. Games are fun, but ‘fun’ doesn’t always mean solitary, senseless or inattentive.


When we are young, playing games is important because it helps us developing new and existing skills. But as we grow up, we realize that playing is also about interaction.


Grownups meet regularly to play Poker, Go or Chess because playing against the computer isn’t as rewarding as seeing your opponent. Games become life itself when we talk to someone, guessing what they’re thinking and hoping to win.


If you are a parent, then instead of repeating what you were told about “fun and games” consider showing your kids what a good game can look like.


Show them that it can teach us new things, help us communicate with others, teach us how to respond to threats and opportunities, help us become more empathetic.


Because no matter what world they’ll be living in - the ability to learn new things, to communicate, to make quick changes, to understand how other people think – all this will be priceless.

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