BYLINE: By David Thomas , Special to The Denver Post,
BODY: Once a '70s fad and now an entertaining pastime rivaling movies and music, video games have grown up with the video game generation. Digital amusements sneak into our lives through our computers and televisions, cellphones and PDAs. Games are everywhere, and so are the people who play them. Fifty percent of Americans over age 6 play computer and video games, says the Entertainment Software Association, the industry trade organization in Washington, D.C. This might surprise many people, but not gamer Terry Lang. The 33-year-old Highlands Ranch father of three has played games since he was a kid and doubts he'll ever get too old to stop. 'I was starting to get at that point,' Lang says, 'but with the Xbox and some of the adventure games with the long story lines, it seems like something I will always enjoy doing. And I'm looking forward to when my kids are big enough to play some of those games with me.'
Although his children are too young to enjoy favorite titles of his such as the space combat adventure game Halo or the anti-terrorist action thriller Splinter Cell, Lang is not alone in his desire to turn game play into social event. More than half of frequent gamers nationwide play with friends, while a significant percentage play with siblings, spouses or parents, the ESA reports. Gamers, it seems, prefer to play with other people. Ted R. Wilson III takes social video game play to a new level by hosting massive game sessions with his kids, nieces and nephews, grandkids, wife and even neighbors. These sessions involve multiple computers networked between rooms and across the lawn to a nearby house, allowing a dozen or more people to simultaneously play the same game. Even though he's in his late 40s, Wilson's infectious love of video games often rubs off on people, even if sometimes it takes a while. 'My wife used to wake up at 7 o'clock in the morning to go to work, and me and my nephews and kids, seven or eight of us, would still be up playing, and she's saying, 'What are you guys still playing for?' '
After discovering the rich world of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee on the Xbox and losing herself for countless hours in the game, Wilson's wife, Joanne, changed her notion of video game fun. 'Now she understands,' Wilson says. These days, family entertainment in the Wilson household is more likely to feature mom and dad blasting away with the kids in SOCOM: Navy SEALs than sitting around the television watching sitcoms.
As games and the gaming generation mature, women are discovering their niche in the gaming world. A recent study sponsored by AOL found that women over 40 play Web-based games more frequently than anyone else, and they tend to play the games longer. Women may not flock to fast-action shooting games like Doom or Quake, but they find games that suit them. Barb Cole is a 61-year-old Loveland grandmother who acknowledges being terrified to touch her new computer when she purchased it four years ago. Today Cole is a bona fide gamer whose tastes run from word and puzzle games to bridge. 'Oh, yes,' she says. 'I love to play games.' And like a game of cards played around the kitchen table, the social aspects of online play are as satisfying to Cole as the games themselves. 'I gave up smoking because of computer games,' she says. After complaining about aching legs to a fellow online bridge player, Cole was told she should get to the doctor right away u the pain could be a sign of congestive heart failure. Because her online friend was a nurse, she listened to his advice. After the doctor confirmed the diagnosis, Cole took it as a sign to stop smoking. 'I guess he was my little angel,' Cole says of her online friend. Appealing to women The common wisdom in the video game business is that as games improve their stories, open up their social dimension and move away from their click-and-shoot roots, more women will find their way to the pleasures of the PlayStation.
In fact, the move toward equality between the gaming sexes emerges in recent studies showing 39 percent of the game market is made up of girls and women. Colorado Springs computer engineer Heather Holland doesn't need statistics to explain her power-gamer status. Although in her late 20s, she still finds time to play. She and her husband, Jeremiah, often spend evenings at home playing the massively multiplayer online game EverQuest, running as many as four computers at the same time between them. Thousands of players inhabit the world of 'Everquest,' a giant online role-playing masquerade. And while most gamers play on one computer and one character, the Hollands' four-computer setup allows them to enjoy the imaginary world with their own adventuring party of four. For them, game life is just a part of regular life, even if bystanders sometimes misunderstand the Hollands when they overhear them talking about their games. 'We have gotten looks in the grocery store line talking about sniping positions in 'Unreal Tournament,' ' says Holland, referring to the futuristic gladiatorial game. But misunderstandings are rare. In a world where most people play games, it's no longer unusual to be a gamer.
Gaming can even offer a great career. Brett Martin of Lakewood knew as a child that his future was in video games. 'When I was really young, I told my mom 'I'm going to make these games when I grow up.'' His mother was less than impressed and pointed out that there was no hope of a career in games. Now, with a freshly minted degree in multimedia from the University of Colorado, Denver, Martin has started his search for work in the multibillion-dollar entertainment software industry. Mom isn't complaining. 'Now she believes you can make a living in video games!' Martin says. Because the average age of a video game player has reached 29, the stereotype of the lonely teenage boy whiling away the hours in his parents' basement has unraveled. These days when you talk with a teenage gamer you are more likely to find a savvy consumer than a misfit loner. Ask 15-year-old Aiden Monnens about his favorite games or gaming system and you'll get a surprising response. 'My favorite system is probably the Super Nintendo. It's a classic. The Nintendo Entertainment system is also one of my favorites.' To put this in perspective, the Super Nintendo showed up in the Monnens' household when baby Aiden was 3. The older Nintendo system already was for sale in flea markets by the time he was born. A deep appreciation for the aesthetics and the design of the classic games led Monnens to collect old titles and to study on video game history even as he checks out the latest games for the current game machines. 'There is a whole generation being raised on games and who have an appetite for them,' explains Alyn Rockwood, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the Colorado School of Mines. Rockwood understands the enthusiasm for video games through his students and his kids. He understands the attraction of games most of all because he is a gamer. Playing games with his kids as they grew up kept him up-to-date on the latest and greatest games while his educator's eye led him to appreciate the enormous learning potential locked away in games. From Rockwood's point of view, video games are evolving past their place as a simple pastime and are becoming a social and educational force a big as any before it. 'I think games will be as big a phenomenon as TV was in the '50s,' he says. 'As the playful face on the digital revolution, video games have become as much a part of America's online life as e-mail and Excel spreadsheets. And as the gaming generation continues to grow, so does the video game medium. From the blips and beeps of pong to the living virtual worlds of 'Everquest,' video games have come of age.'
GLOSSARY Gaming consoles: Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo GameCube is a small device designed to connect to the living room television and play games. Games are usually sold separately. Computer gaming: While some may quibble that computer games are just another type of video game, hard-core computer gamers tend to disagree. The dedicated computer gamer is more likely to spend money on a new machine to run the latest game, not update a spreadsheet. Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG): By allowing thousands of players to join in an imaginary world at the same time, MMORPGs are one of the most exciting areas in video games. Usually played on a computer connected to the Internet, the MMORPG develops an online persona and participates in a wide variety of social and adventurous tasks. Some of the most popular game worlds today include Star Wars: Galaxies and EverQuest. First-person shooter: Video games have a number of popular gaming genres. The first-person shooter elicits strong emotions, both from the players who enjoy these exhilarating games that put them into the middle of action and from game opponents who see them as unnecessarily violent. Good examples of the form include the classic Doom and Unreal Tournament. Serious games: Many game developers and educators have begun exploring the use of video games to teach social influence and simulation. These researchers see the power of video games to teach and allow people to explore new ideas. A recent game helping promote the Howard Dean presendential candidacy was a game designed to be fun with a purpose. $ 5 million Estimated dollar amount spent on auction of virtual goods from the game EverQuest. Players accumulate possessions in the game, such as weapons and magic items. They then sell these to other players on Ebay for cash. Wired magazine, January 2003 $ 7 billion Computer and video game software sales in 2003. Entertainment Software Association 239 million+ Computer and video games sold in 2003, or almost two games for every household in America. Entertainment Software Association 92% of all games are purchased by adults over age 18. Most children don't have the ability to whip out a credit card and buy a $ 50 game. So, they rely on their parents. Entertainment Software Association $ 58,400 Average salary for a game programmer with less than two years of experience. $ 85,867: Average for game programmer with more than six years of experience Gamasutra.com