The Ouya Has Geopolitical Implications (For Your Kids)

The world’s first mass-market open source video game console is not going to turn the video game industry upside down any time soon. But in 20 years, it is going to turn every industry upside down. This cheap little box is going to have a profound effect on every kid that grows up with it, and they’ll go into business and politics wondering why the rest of the world doesn’t work like their good old little Ouya.

The Ouya isn’t the first piece of technology likely to imbue hacker culture into anybody that comes into contact with it. But it’s certainly the first to do it in such a polished, tightly-designed way. The price, the design, and the focus on games is what gives the Ouya the chance to break into the mainstream. It’ll have the biggest effect on kids.

At $99, the Ouya’s certainly more attractive to parents than any of the absurdly expensive behemoths from Microsoft or Sony. In South America, Africa, and Asia, that low price makes it exponentially more accessible. Even if older gamers end up rolling their eyes and dismissing it — just as their parents did to their NES — an entire generation of kids is going to grow up playing free and cheap Ouya games.

Then they’ll start making them. Then they’ll start tinkering with the console. Yesterday’s kids all played Mario. Tomorrow’s kids will all hack Mario.

Every educator knows that video games are a gateway drug to teaching kids how to program. That big word “Make” right on the Ouya’s start screen will draw curious, creative kids in by the droves, even before schools and summer camps inevitably jump on the console as a teaching tool. They’ll grow up writing code, sharing code, and participating in the open source culture already developing around the console. Many of them will go on to publish their games, and sell them at a low price or with a pay-what-you-want model.

None of them will be able to wrap their heads around why anyone would do it differently. Why would anyone refuse to share their code? Why would anyone try to stop people from enjoying their work for free? DRM and proprietary licenses will seem as quaint as a Betamax tape.

Think about that. An entire generation of kids, raised on the values of free games, open source, and the ability to do whatever you want with your own hardware. Not all of them will grow up to be programmers. Many of them will bring these values to manufacturing, to service, to agriculture, to energy, and even to politics.

Oh, and there’s one more thing they’ll bring with them; something especially relevant to a political career. They’ll bring with them the experience of game design.

If the world were an MMO, the levels of social and economic inequality it’s experiencing would be attributed to “poor game balance.” Imagine a whole generation of kids who learned to fix game balance issues when they were five years old. They’re going to grow up seeing the world as one big game, waiting to be patched and balanced so that it’s fun and fair for everyone. That’s what they’ll talk up when they run for office.

Maybe the Ouya will break through with older “core” gamers in the next year or so, maybe not. It’s not the gamers of today who matter; it’s the hackers of tomorrow. If you’ve bought an Ouya and aren’t impressed, consider donating it to a children’s charity instead of selling it on eBay. It could pay off in 20 years.


  1. Chuck Smith

    I’ve been following Ouya as a developer since its beginning, but haven’t yet really thought about its potential political consequences. Very insightful, thanks!

  2. psionski uses a glitch to beat Super Mario World by making the code jump to the end credits screen through careful manipulation of the random number generator and a bug… I bet whoever did that learned something AND had lots of fun (which is not unimportant; dopamine helps your neurons make more and better connections, so you retain knowledge much better that way).

  3. jhhdk

    Poor game balance as cause of inequality – brilliant!

  4. LennStar

    Unfortunately the Ouya seems to be less open than promised. I would really like to use it as dual-boot machine (Ouya if I want to play, standard Linux distri for “typewriter and browsing and always online”). But it seems that the boot loader is closed and you would need a real hack to do it – not just simple put in a Linux-on-a-stick in the USB port.

    Just imagine what such an Ouya would mean to poor families – 100$ for the “PC” and less for a used screen. Not to mention the energy and space efficiency.

    1. Minthos

      Ever heard of ?

      1. LennStar

        Anything I have seen with a raspberry is either a lot slower or – for the same power – at least the same cost, if not more. And that is without controller, the Ouya games and a nice “teapot” where the hardware is in.

        1. Minthos

          Obviously the Ouya is more powerful, but if what you want is a cheap linux box for penniless families then a raspberry gives you that for less money. It’s more than powerful enough to read email, wikipedia and organize rebellions on facebook.

    2. eebrah


      Have your seen this?

      I cannot really comment on the openness of the Ouya, but not being able to plug ina a USB drive with a GNU/Linux installer of your choice seems to be in part a technical issue to do with the choice of processor, I do not think you can do that with NVidia tegra.

      Products based on the Chinese Allwinner A1x and A2x family of processors are more flexible in that you can boot a GNU/Linux off an SD card but the company themselves are not marketting that feature.

      Whereas I do think there are better devices out there than the ouya [ in terms of price, power or openness ] I do like that Ouya has a big reach and even if their impact is not exactly as I would like, a little more open is better than the totally closed alternatives.

  5. mijj

    reminds me of the golden age of home computers which was Sinclair Spectrum, BBC Atom and Model B, etc.. (When was that .. late 70s?) Everyone who had those had the opportunity to hack about and play in the guts of the machines. Those machines gave users control and ability to be creative. Maybe the Ouya is a return to that mindset.

  6. David Gerard

    +1. My daughter is six; she’s been playing Flash games on her computer (her very own, at first a 10-year-old Mac G4 that we got for free) since she was four. We explained to her that games were things people wrote, and that if she worked hard on her maths at school she could learn to write her own games. She got hugely excited at this idea and started drawing mockups of what her games would look like.

    1. LennStar

      Then you can excite her even more on learning reading (at least a few words) by pointing her to “Scratch”
      There she can learn loops and such things. And the wealth of sharing.

      1. frank87

        I was 7 when I wrote my first “games”.
        So if she is really excited, she probably can produce something nice in scratch.

        1. Autolykos

          Yup, she’s definitely old enough to get started. I also built my first games in BASIC while I was in primary school (mostly text adventures and a Worms-clone built by adding parts and bits to the GORILLAS.BAS example program).
          Had to unlearn a lot of BASIC to learn proper C/C++ later, but that’s what got me started.

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