Iqbal Khan has a job most men would kill for. As a freelance fashion designer and stylist, he dresses up pretty women for a living and is surrounded by the glitz and glamour that is films and advertising, but the smile on his face in the middle of a high-energy shoot is for a different reason. He just won a pot of $1 million in poker. Online, that is.
Playing from his smartphone, Khan manages to sneak in a bit of poker whenever he gets the time. Whether it’s while travelling, in between a boring movie, or in this case, in between shots at the shoot. And no, he doesn’t consider it an addiction. “As a freelancer, I don’t have a set schedule. It was in between work in 2008 when I found Poker on Facebook, and it was a good time filler. I didn’t even know how to play poker then, so I learnt how to play it online.
The social aspects of it, and winning, of course, is addictive. I used to play 8-10 hours before but now I play when I am bored, so I wouldn’t say I’m addicted anymore,” laughs the 41 year-old. Given its portability and rewarding nature, online gaming was always a sure-fire hit. Today, it’s emerging as a popular choice for leisure amongst housewives and senior citizens as well.
Addicted to score
Thirty year-old Manisha Chaudhury, a freelance content developer who works from home, prefers to spend her time on the computer, gaming, when she isn’t working. “I have always loved experimenting with software programmes and indulge in a fair bit of social networking to keep up with the buzz. Since a bulk of my work requires me to be on the Internet, my leisure activities, too, tend totake place online. I read e-books, play games, chat with friends and stream movies,” she says.
Chaudhury is currently hooked to rummy sessions online, though she considers herself a rookie. “A couple of hours every alternate day would be my average time on gaming. I do keep scores occasionally, especially when I am winning, but so far I wouldn’t be able to quote a significant achievement,” she says, with a twinkle in her eye.
On the other hand, 28 year-old Sonia Kochar has been gaming for nine years now, and while her 17-month old daughter keeps the homemaker busy for most of her time, gaming is still very much a part of her life. “I was looking for crosswords and scrabble online, when I came across Literati — a word game by Yahoo. It took me a month to understand the game and then I was on a winning spree, competing online with players from across the globe. I play a lot more games,” she confesses, admitting that she is addicted to online gaming.
“Getting a good score or high rank is captivating,” she adds. “Once you achieve a high score or rank, you want to either maintain or improve on that. On Literati, the highest band is Red. Once you achieve that you tend to either improve your rank or at least retain the red tag. On an average I spend three hours each day playing online games,” she says.
Charandeep Singh Hattar, country head of operations, Mango Games India, notes that online gaming in India is on an upward trend. “With the improvement in technology and advancement in Internet speeds and connectivity, online games have moved from basic block-breaking or Tetris to the likes of Farmville and Angry birds, etc. There are now elaborate story lines that take numerous days to play.
The art and animation make today’s online games look like no less than a full movie. So the casual single player online games have evolved to the social games that are easily accessible via the Internet and can support many players playing together,” he says. Interestingly, like many other things in India, the Internet, earlier seen as a male-dominated field, is now giving way to women.
“Look at the gender-wise numbers of people who play social games. In the USA, 55 per cent of games on Facebook are played by women. In the UK, 65 to 70 per cent of social gamers are women,” says Hattar. “In the Indian context, there is a lot to be done with regards to gaming content which will appeal to female audiences.
There is a strong case to be made for computer-literate homemakers or working-from-home ladies who have both the time as well as the income to play social games. Games based on fashion, shopping and pet care have all done really well here because their main consumers are housewives. It’s a perfect way for them to relax or take a break from their hectic schedule,” he adds.
Kochar agrees, but believes that you should be careful not to let the game take over your life. “Playing online is a great way to keep yourself occupied, but when you are about to achieve a new score or level and you know a couple of more games will take you there, you end up spending hours trying to achieve that, starving your family of your time and company. I try to maintain a balance between my hobby and family life,” she says.
Where one might feel that playing games with ‘friends’ online actually defeats the whole purpose of the activity, our gamers say they have increased their social circle thanks to their online habits. While the women have “made a couple of friends online,” Khan hangs out with more than a hundred friends on the Internet.
So how does the online experience compare to the real one? Chaudhury explains it best. “Playing games online is more of a personal hobby while watching movies is a social one. So when I am not with friends or family, this is a great a pastime. I would rather indulge in gaming than watch a movie alone in a theatre. It is a relaxing pastime without the necessity of having to disclose my identity, register for online subscriptions and pay huge amounts of cash to become a member.” She adds, “In fact, gaming has given me a thrilling new set of challenges, without the danger of gambling. It’s also helped hone my social media interaction skills.”
The limits you set for yourself define what your gaming means to you. The future is full of promise. Chaudhury and Khan are sure their gaming is just a hobby, while Kochar takes it a step ahead. “Online gaming has become a part of my daily life,” she says. “Just like sleeping and eating food, I don’t forget to spend some time playing online. In fact, if given the right chance in the future, I would love to game professionally,” she says.
Hattar smiles knowingly at this promise of games changing lives. “With technology evolving all the time and people needing to find easy yet engaging modes of relaxation, the future of online gaming, especially, social gaming, is very bright. If we go with the numbers, housewives and females audiences in general are definitely ruling the social gaming scene,” he sums up.