Video Games

Another look at Video Games

The power of video games together with the connectivity of the internet has left an indelible mark on our global culture. Kids are growing up today playing games with other kids in other parts of the country and even in other continents. Even a decade ago this was the stuff of science fiction; today it's a reality.

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Video game systems today like Xbox and its Xbox Live community seamlessly bring the rest of the world into your game. As parents of video gaming kids or a spouse of a video gamer who doesn't understand their appeal, it can be a bit confusing and even seem like an alien world at times. Our Video Games section will help you sort out what's going on.

Video gamers know all too well the addictive draw of some games, the combination of graphics and style of play designed to make the game last and give the player a memorable experience (so hopefully he'll buy the sequel). And video games are not just for kids anymore. The kids who first hit up their parents for an Atari 2600 or the original game systems by Coleco in the 1970s are now middle-aged men and many still play games.

Actually, there is really no reason to "grow out of" the gaming habit. As the gamers matured, so have the games. One would no sooner lose interest in playing games as they would lose interest in movies or TV because, like movies and TV, they're just another form of entertainment. In fact, TV and film are a one-way communication from the storyteller to the viewer. Games are two-way - the player is active, not simply a stagnant viewer watching what goes on, but actively controlling the outcome of the game.

Many sophisticated games aimed at adults are built around complex storylines more comparable to a novel than a movie in the amount of detail and intricacies. A good quality video game today challenges more than just our twitch response to eye-hand coordination. They challenge our minds and, in rare cases when elevated to fine art, they even challenge our sense of morality and self.

Games today have budgets that rival films, even hiring the most famous actors of the day to play characters in the game. And the profits earned from video games have surpassed Hollywood movies since the late 1990s.

Certainly not all games elevate the art. In fact, there are a lot of garbage games out there, just like any other art form. Not all games developers are like Sid Meyer, a games creator who elevated gaming with challenging hits like Civilization and The Sims. Unfortunately, there are those developers who look to appeal to the lowest common denominator, seeking to do nothing more than titillate juvenile impulses.

It's equally unfortunate that the media and even politicians give these games instant celebrity status by pointing out low-lights in our culture. Titles like Grand Theft Auto may have a dubious distinction in the mainstream. But a bad reputation becomes a badge of honor when controversy translates into game sales. The media is skilled at making small problems into monsters by drawing attention to them. There are hosts of imitators and there will always be poorly made games looking to cash in, but usually they are short-lived experiences with little to offer the gamer.

Video game controversy takes a personal side in homes across America.

From the dismay of spouses and parents who see a form of addiction unfolding under their noses, to congressional inquiries into the affects of video game violence, games are often given a bad rap. At the end of the day, video games are no different than any other form of art. Kids should be protected from adult-oriented games as they would from any other media. To this end the games developers created their own self-regulating body, and the result was the ESRB rating system. Parents can see at a glance of any games cover who and what age group the game is designed for. The game rating system is intuitive and offers more detail about the games than the MPAA rating system for movies.

Many people have difficulty with striking balance between entertainment and responsibility. But the problem didn't start with games nor will it end if the games are taken out of the picture. As a parent, it's your authority and example that will teach kids to strike that balance.

There's a term for wives whose spouses become strangers with a game pad or keyboard permanently attached to their hands, they're called video game widows. Video games are an indulgence, and indulgences are healthy - but compulsion is not. Any diversion that turns into an obsession is usually a symptom of a greater problem that shouldn't be denied. In many cases the video game is only the messenger.