Back in the day, video games were the preserve of pubescent teenage boys who wouldn’t leave their rooms for days on end trying to ‘clock’ the last level of Sonic the Hedgehog or Street Fighter. Now the world of gaming, and its colourful fans, has gone mainstream. Events like Comic-Con have put a spotlight on gamers’ quirky hobbies, brought video games into real life and given pop culture the zany world of cosplay where fans dress up as their favourite video game characters. No longer for anti-social geeky kids, gaming is not only a lot of fun, but also big business.
From Thursday September 10 until Saturday September 12, Games 15 kicks off at Dubai International Marine Club, and the following weekend (September 17-20), the Middle East Games Convention (Megcon) pitches up at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Both events offer Dubai’s gaming community the opportunity to play brand new games, win prizes, and meet some of the stars behind the video games.
Games 15 has been running for six years in Dubai. This year the organisers are bringing eight of the top ten Counter-Strike gaming teams for an invitational championship with prize money of US$250,000 (Dhs918,287). Arafat Khan, the organiser, says that top gamers are no longer closeted kids but enjoy celebrity status and even get paid for their impressive skills. ‘Fans here have the chance to meet celebrities from the world of gaming. They are like rock stars.’ He adds that with the advent of smartphone technology, gaming is really for everyone – not just the tech kids of Generation Z. ‘There is a younger target group but if you ask “Who are the gamers?” then I have to say it’s everyone really. We all have smartphones and play some game on a regular basis, even if it’s something like Candy Crush. People may not play console or PC games, but can still spend hundreds on a mobile game.’
Nitin Mathew is founder and CEO of Cygnus Communications, the company behind Middle East Games Convention. He agrees that gaming is not just for teens but actually has the ability to bring people and families together. ‘Over the past ten years, technology has changed what we can do in video games. With the advent of products like the Wii and Xbox Kinect, video games have moved from the bedroom into the living room. Gaming has brought families and different generations closer to each other, through a common activity.’
Mathew confirms that Megcon will not only have exclusive previews of new games and cosplay competitions but also games from a simpler, bygone era too. ‘We’re planning an air guitar competition and this is the third year that we’re doing a rock-paper-scissors competition. We’re harking back to the good old days before technology took over. Our fans love it.’
With both events tapping into the vein of gaming in the Dubai, we asked Mathew why these events are starting to take hold in the city. ‘We have a very young population, or let me put it this way – a youthful population,’ he says. ‘The youth of today were born with devices in their hand and they are part of their society. For those of us who grew up in the ’70s, TV was a big part of our lives, but now the internet and video games are part of their diet. When you put together an event that allows them to come together and engage in shared activities, it just makes sense.’
‘There aren’t that many events in the UAE that bring the 15-25 age group together on one platform, apart from music or pop concerts or movies, but movies are a passive form of entertainment. With video games, you are a part of the action.’
Khan, meanwhile, sees the cross current between the appetite for action films and gaming as part of the appeal. ‘Seven years ago, people thought that an interest in comic books was very niche, but now every season we have two comic book movies coming out. It’s the same with gaming. Games are a cross-platform entertainment, so a fan of the comic will see the film and buy the video game too – it’s all interconnected and part of why it’s growing now. It makes the fan of one genre even more curious about the other. It’s a great time to be a geek right now.’
Top five games at Virgin Megastore
1. Minecraft PS4
A creative game based on building and breaking blocks.
2. Mortal Kombat X PS4
Martial arts game using special moves, and weapons.
3. Batman Arkham Knight PS4
Superhero action game where players control the Batman character and his Batmobile through Gotham City.
4. Call of Duty Advanced Warfare PS4
Futuristic action war game, where players embark in high-tech warfare against a powerful corporation.
5. Lego Marvel Super Heroes PS4
Players can control 150 characters from the Marvel Universe.
Where to play
This gaming spot in Computer Plaza, Al Ain Centre, hosts regular game tournaments with cash prizes. The facilities include high-end screens and wi-fi.
www.micafe.ae (04 359 3469).
This well-established gaming haven has branches in Al Barsha and Oud Metha, with VIP gaming rooms for big events.
www.queclub.com (04 336 5551).
Part of the Stereo Arcade bar at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Dubai, this collection of 12 custom-made video game machines lets retro-gamers play vintage franchises such as Street Fighter II and NBA Jam.
www.facebook.com/stereoarcade (04 558 6062).