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Tuesday · September 07 2004

The Video Game Revolution

For half of the American population, an examination of the past, present and future of video games might seem as relevant as a two-hour documentary about skate board wheels or a frank and open discussion of the Slinky. Video games? That's what spotty teen males wearing black t-shirts do in the basement, right?

Wrong. What that half of America might not know is that the other half of America is regularly playing video games. And it's not just kids any more. The average video game player — or “gamer” — is 30 years old. That gamer isn't feeding quarters into an arcade machine, either. He (and increasingly, she) is playing on a home computer, having adventures under a different name and identity in an eternally existing cyberworld full of danger, romance, and thousands of other people pretending to be somebody else.

I know. I've been there.

Shows about video games by non-gamers are often patronizing and lame. I hope this program steps past the easy angles of retro-kitsch and Joe Lieberman's talking head telling me video games are harmful and addicting. There is a strong cultural current behind gaming and its share of spent entertainment dollars rivals movies.

The 2-hour broadcast will be on WTTW Channel 11 this Wednesday, September 8 at 9pm.

Archived: Watch » September 2004
What you had to say:
September 07 2004

Enjoy life and play more games!

September 07 2004

I am facinated by video games, and I know I would enjoy playing them, but I won't buy a game system. There are so many things I want to do, there just doesn't seem like there's enough time to do it all. I will try to check this special out though.

September 09 2004

I watched the program and it was pretty decent. The writers covered alot of landmark games and had interview clips from a few big names game designers like Sid Meier, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Peter Moleyneux.

They did a good job covering the obsessive nature of massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) and covering both console and home PC gaming genres. There's always tons of material that will be left out when you're trying to cram 30 years of evolution into 2 hours, but this program did better than I expected.

Of course, no video game documentary is complete without lame segments on video game violence (yes, they showed Joe Lieberman) and girls in gaming. The female gaming segment was particularly stupid as it showed a bunch of moms and their daughters playing Nancy Drew mystery games and then pulling chocolate chip cookies out of the oven. Their analysis boiled down to the usual: boys like killing stuff, girls like narrative. I wouldn't even have a gamer girl segment. Just show the girls playing next to the boys and you make the point: girls play games.

September 09 2004

I wish they'd elaborated more on some of the macrosocial issues that video games growth has fed off of. They touched on it a little bit when they talked about violence and the kind of boys who are attracted to video games. I would definately wonder if the video games are not the source of aggression but merely filling a hole in our society/baser needs.

I also agree with you that the girls segment was masterfully lame. And that one sociologist with the grey hair they kept cutting back to with a son addicted to video games. Every time they showed the sociologist he was whining about not being able to control the boy. Then when they showed him actually trying to get his son away from the game, turns out he's not successful because he is a big wussy. Of course your kid's not going to listen to you if you don't actually set limits and stick to them. It's not just the video games- parents have a role here too.

September 09 2004

If you look at MMORPGs you'll see the biggest social dents. I think they covered it rather well there when they talked about how you could meet all these people you'd never meet in real life and how you can have a choice of all these different classes (jobs) when in real life your job is always the same cubicle-based, filing, programming, talk on the phone crap.

It's about fantasy and escapism, or at least it was for me. It's about living in a world where you are important and people depend on you. There's always something to do, someone to help, someone to talk to, something new to explore, something to achieve. For $10 a month, you get something that is complex, filled with people, and constantly stimulating, albeit in an extremely one-dimensional way. This effect is hard enough to shake off as an adult, for a kid it must be like Kool-Aid flavored heroin.

This fits right in with why kids play violent games: it's empowering. You get a sense of achievement that's tough to squeeze out of everyday life.

100% agree with you on the guy controlling his son. I was alot like that kid when I was younger, in that I'd sit there for hours if you let me. But the big difference is when my dad said, "you're done for tonight, that's enough," I was, in fact, done. He said so and that was that.

September 10 2004

It's interesting- I'd say a lot of the controversy around the influence of video games lays in the issue of parents not wanting to control their kids. I've seen a couple articles recently about baby boomer parents wanting to be friends with their kids rather than be parents to their kids. All this laying the blame on an object that can be turned off seems highly suspect to me.

And escapism has always been the objective of the arts, of living through other people's views. I would bet that video games just do a hell of a better job of providing true escapism than other, less interactive arts. That's partially why I stay away from them- cuz I know I would get totally sucked in. That, and no time.

© 2004 Jason Keglovitz