The new world of Games

April 5, 2006

If you have any opinion (good or bad) about the role Games (specifically video games) play in today's society than you need to read the articles written in the April issue of Wired magazine. I have always been a proponent of video games. We didn't have a game console in my house until I was in high school but I had plenty of opportunity to play them at my friends house growing up. I started playing video games in the 4th and 5th grade in a computer club after school but since those were Apple IIe computers I was easily bored with the 2d green screen displays. I wasn't until my friend across the street got his NES that I really started to enjoy the challenges provided by video games.
The early games were cool and offered general pattern and skill challenges. I can remember playing hours of excitebike and moving from level to level by learning how to jump and land properly to keep speed. Games like double dribble and blades of steel offered a great opportunity to challenge the mind and coordination of an opponent other than a computer. It was fun to defeat all of my friends at every video game possible. I can remember my cousin (who is 6 years my junior) getting a Comodore 64 when he was like 8. I loved playing simple games like (the paint bucket game) and even learned how to do some basic programming. When I finally got a console for my own I spent countless hours mastering Super Marios 1 2 and 3. I was a wiz at Contra and Metroid. Then came Zelda! Oh my! At the time my best friend and I were into D and D so the complex worlds of Zelda and the "adventure style" play was incredible. I wasn't a "junky" per se I just enjoyed the mental challenges of conquering worlds and boses. The trial and error style play was intriguing because while I was not playing I could think about the problem and then when I got back to the game I was excited to try my solutions out. I think it was at this time in my life that I truly understood the meaning of insanity and that if you tried something a hundred times in a row and did it exactly the same way each time to no avail that I could truly go insane.
Up to this point in my gaming career everything was 2D. And I loved it. When I was at arcades or the bowling alley my two favorite games were R-Type and Galaga. Again 2D games. I remember the first time I saw a "3D" game – Dragon Slayer. It wasn't 3D in the sense that we know of today but it had depth. The backgrounds were not as linear but you could not move in 3 Dimensions. I actually thought it was kind of stupid (and so did many other people because the game was not at the arcade for very long). The first true 3D game that I can remember playing was "Foxfire" on the Super NES/ That game rocked! I would play that game for hours. I can not remember if I ever completed the game but I know that I got real far. Some of my favorite early 3D games were Pitfall Harry (not the original one although I found a secret place in that game where you were transported to the old game in what I remember as the first "Game in Game" experience – truly amazing experience), Super Mario Bros 4 for the Super NES ( the one were Yoshi was introduced – boy was it fun hopping around on that guy – even named a cat after him), 720 (one of the best skateboard games ever) and Skate or Die.
My gaming experience began to taper off after I started college and except for a few stints on Quake and the recent PS2 I received 2 years ago for Christmas I don't have much time for playing games. Currently I own only a handful of games – NBA 2K5, NHL 06, GTA Vice, Grand Tourismo 3 and Ghost Recon. I know that I will get back into gaming (in a big way) when my two boys get good enough but for now I play maybe once or twice a month. So why am I posting this? Well the articles have sparked some interest in a few ways. One is that they are a great set of articles on the current state of gaming, everything from the past to the future, the gamers, the game inventors, the pioneers, the social acceptability (and unacceptability). A few of my favorite articles from the Magazine were
"Dream Machines…"
I like this article because it spoke to the "society" aspect of gaming. Gaming gets such a bad press from everyone except the gamers. We only hear about the bad things that games do – the GTA style killings, the immersion into "virtual worlds" and lack of reality. We never hear about the benefits of gaming – the fact that the nature of games today provide immense improvements in childs imaginations which is probably one of the single most important parts of your ability to learn and think. I am sending this article (and a few others) over to my sister in law who has two boys who are by far the most amazing game players I have ever met. A little over a year and a half a go, I had the opportunity to watch them play a computer game centered around the movie "Toy Story". The game had like 8 levels. It started off in Andy's play room (I know the boys name because I have seen Toy Story at least 30 times). Buzz lightyear is tasked with getting around the room by jumping from one area to another. You start in the crib and have to trigger the switch on the crib which drops one side of the crib wall down which enables buzz to get out. You then needed to jump over to the dresser, and then on a few more items and on to the door where you had to open it with some crazy jump move. Seems like an easy game but one thing that made it amazing was that my nephews were 4 and 5 years old and they beat all 8 levels without any instructions or help from the parents. In addition, they played together. The game is a single person game so one of them would take the arrow keys and move Buzz and the other would take the Space and action button to make Buzz interact with the game. I know that a lot of brothers their age can play constructively together but I also know that no two people play a video game the same way. For those two to work together as well as they did was amazing. My sister and law is concerned about their game playing time so I hope that the article helps here understand that there are some benefits to the gaming industry.
An excerpt from the article:

"To spice up life in Habitat, developers added money and pawn machines. For a while, you could buy crystal balls at one machine and sell them for nearly twice as much at another. Of course, someone coded his computer to run a character between sellers, quintupling the money supply overnight."

For real? That is awesome. I can picture the geeky guy/girl behind the keyboard coding that with a wicked huge smile on their faces. The article also talks about how Sony ordered EBay to stop auctions of Everquest currency because it was screwing the games economic system. Like any good corporate move online, it only prompted other auction sites to sell the currency for more as it now became a scarcity ("choice under scarcity")
"My Second Life as a Muckraker"
The last article that I found interesting was one on the Social Aspect of MMORPG's and how some of the cyber society rubs off on our real society. Do a google on "Linden's crackdown on Ballermomo's crew". Seems like the game creators are only happy when the game is played the way it was intended. Sounds more like 16th century religious oppression to me.
My recommendation: By the magazine it is worth the 5 bucks. As a note the above article "My Second Life…" does not appear to be online nor is the cool "pull out" in the middle of the articles which has a history of games.


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