In the past two decades, video games have morphed into a largely online phenomenon, and one of the most common complaints associated with online gaming is the experience of lag: the slowing down or interruption of the gaming experience due to faulty online connectivity.
Industry analysts believe that 5G, the next era of telecommunication carriers, will have achieved mainstream US market penetration by the end of 2020. For many gamers, this comes as welcome news — faster, more reliable connections mean less connectivity issues. Even single-player games may require an online connection for play these days, so the upgraded communication infrastructure impacts an audience beyond those who inhabit multiplayer realms.
But according to Dr. Jane McGonigal, game researcher and bestselling author, the increased connectivity promised by 5G will have far more gaming benefits than just decreased lag. Faster, more reliable connections may elevate the overall gaming experience to a degree that fundamentally evolves the way we approach and play video games as a whole.
Pull back the brain curtain as you play any kind of video game and you’ll see a whole lot of cognitive wizardry. According to McGonigal, one brain effect of a video game is that your neurological pathways start firing up with this message: Good stuff is going to happen if we do this right!
This anticipation of a good result can have some profound cognitive feedback. Basically, it’s a good thing, mentally speaking, if your brain is feeding you optimism and hope. It’s a better thing if said optimism and hope persist after you turn off your game. This is called the Game Transfer Effect, and right now you tend to feel the benefits of said effect in the places where you play video games: generally at home, while sitting down.
But the sheer brawny bandwidth of 5G networks, which will massively accelerate connectivity speeds and data transfer, means video games will soon be able to be played anywhere — and this doesn’t just mean mobile games, but an altogether increased level of games with expanded storytelling and game mechanic possibilities. Also, said games may not be tied to a handheld device; the expansion of 5G means the expansion of augmented reality games (ARG) and virtual reality devices.
Some may be asking, is this all a good thing? Don’t video games have their behavioral drawbacks? The answer is, of course, yes, but per McGonigal, those drawbacks seem to kick in when players regard their gaming as a form of escapism. Thanks to 5G, gaming can become an integrated element of interacting with the world. Heck, ARG and VR already exist, but their accessibility will be massively expanded thanks to 5G technology. The cognitive benefits discussed earlier — hope, optimism, and generally feeling groovy — do not have to be things that a gamer only experiences in the light of a screen at home; these integrated emotions will potentially become part of their external routine, a synced up interweaving of the game world and external “reality.”