Next year, Gen Z will become the largest generation globally. While millennials will account for 31.5% of the global population of 7.7 billion in 2019, Gen Z will comprise 32%. Despite fundamental cultural differences between generations, young people across the world are increasingly connecting in virtual worlds. As such, some emerging phenomena suggest Gen Z will transform virtual worlds into a natural habitat.
What does this mean?
The virtual worlds of Gen Z blur boundaries between media, gaming, learning, creativity, and social networks. More than any other website, 6-12 year olds use Roblox: a platform for kids to make their own unique virtual creations, tell interactive stories, play games, meet friends and strangers and build communities. Kids that create game experiences can charge other players Robux, and exchange this virtual currency for real money (this year, young creators will earn $70 million). Meanwhile, Fortnite, a highly accessible (playable on any device) and wildly popular game, is becoming an interactive social network by connecting millions of people (including celebrities). While older generations have barely heard of it, a Fortnite tournament drew 8.8 million live viewers one night, more than the most recent Walking Dead finale (7.9 million).
The fact that young people are increasingly finding meaning in virtual worlds is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Gen Z struggles with loneliness, mental health issues, and non-virtual communication, which are all frequently associated with time spent in virtual worlds. As such, perhaps Gen Z will adapt by becoming less virtual as they grow older. On the other hand, these virtual worlds empower youngsters on their platforms (i.e. to earn money), provide spaces to play, learn and create, and build community. As Gen Z increasingly attaches meaning to these virtual worlds, traditional media that retain rigid boundaries (i.e. between games, media, creativity and community) could lose their attention. Gen Z does not merely want to livestream, but also wants to be able to connect to, interact with and truly create for their communities. Roblox and Fortnite might just be early examples of virtual worlds that provide meaning that is traditionally only found in the physical world.