This really dates me, but it was 1973 when I was first introduced to video games.
I had just moved into a new apartment in Longview, Texas, and I was invited to a neighbor’s for dinner. After burgers and beer, he showed me a contraption he had hooked up to his TV set that produced the image of a white bouncing blip across the black screen with a couple vertical dashes on each end that kept it moving.
The game was called Pong, it was the first game made by Atari, and it would open the door to the cultural phenomenon of video gaming.
We’ve come a long way since then. Whether that means we’ve progressed or regressed depends on how much time you think you’ve wasted in front of a video monitor, lured into the marvelous world of repetition.
As we have transitioned from the television screen to the computer, videogames have followed us. They are firmly entrenched in the Internet universe. They have grown from the simple games of Pong and beyond to the sophisticated, online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft and Halo 3.
Each of those games boasts tens of thousands of players worldwide at any given time.
The Halo plot
Owned and published by Microsoft Studios, Halo is a trilogy of games that focuses on the interstellar war between humanity and a theocratic alliance of aliens known as the Covenant.
A far cry from ping pong.
The earlier arcade versions of video games, like Pong, Asteroids, and PacMan gave way to more sophisticated role-playing games online with early IBM and Apple machines in the mid-1980s. Games developed into a genre called multi-user dungeongs, or MUDs, which are video games with multi-player capabilities.
For communication theorists, this was when video games moved from the one-one-one mode into the realm of mass communication.
Advertising means change
A change occurred when advertisers began perceiving video games as a platform to reach large and lucrative audiences. The games became more creative and more complex, appealing especially to younger male audiences.
One genre of these online, advertising-supported games is called artificial life games. Players are put in control of a character in make-believe situations. These simulation games are structured around the social interaction of the individual characters controlled by the players.
A popular idea
It is a vicarious experience where the video game player lives the life of a fantasy character. It’s like the old TV series Fantasy Island, only this time the viewer actually steps into the plot on screen as one of the show’s characters.
The same idea that Woody Allen had in his film, The Purple Rose of Cairo. It was also the same concept in the film of Pleasantville. Real life folks moving into a fantasy world and taking on other roles.
The platform, Second Life, is used to support these role-playing games. In them, players select an avatar (alternative identity) and interact with other avatars in the community.
The immense popularity of games like Guitar Hero even allow us to become virtual rock stars.
Since they have amassed such a huge audience, it is only natural that video games have become a target for advertising. Video gamers are an attractive audience for advertisers. The Entertainment Software Association says players average 6.5 hours per week playing these games. And the players include a broad range of people, with about 40 percent earning $50,000 a year or more.
In fact, among entertainment industries, video games have leaped ahead of music in revenue rankings. A recent comparison of entertainment media shows the following relative sales:
- Books: $35.7 billion
- Movies: $32.5 billion (including DVD sales and rentals)
- Video games: $21.3 billion
- Music: $10.0 billion
Whether this fascination with video gaming – and especially the desire of many gamers to live their lives as avatars in fantasy communities – is a permanent or passing trend, remains to be seen. But for now, video games seem here to stay.