Video game nation: Why so many play
A journey through the world of video games, which 183 million Americans play – 25 percent over age 50. What's behind the fascination?
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And Harvey illustrates something else. The average American gamer is about 37 and has played for 12 years. Harvey is 29. He's played for 13 years. This isn't something kids outgrow.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Video games: A $25 billion industry
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Why not? Yale professor Paul Bloom, author of "How Pleasure Works," points out that Americans find many products of the imagination – games, movies, TV – more interesting than real life.
"Why would individuals ... watch the television show 'Friends,' " he quotes one psychologist as saying, "rather than spending time with actual friends?"
Among other things, Dr. Bloom says, the adventures of fictional characters are usually "much more interesting" than ours.
Fries sees the relevance to games. "You can't walk around on giant tundra with a sword," he says about real life. "You can't swim next to a submarine. I could go skydiving, but I'm horribly afraid of heights. If I hit the ground in a game, I won't die."
Bloom offers another reason, quoting television and literary critic Clive James. "Fiction is life with the dull bits left out."
Nesmith confirms that. In real life, he says, "we often say nothing of consequence. You don't want that in a game."
When you ask what's unique to games, though, designers or players all mention one thing. "You get to interact," says Carofano. "There's something rewarding about that."
Clearly, interaction – choice – separates video games from other forms of storytelling. You don't just read about someone killing a dragon. You do it.
Howard offers yet another attraction. Wearing jeans and sneakers, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a remote, he is the keynote speaker at a conference in Las Vegas, which has named Skyrim "game of the year."
"What can games give you that nothing else can?" he asks.
Against a black screen behind him, the answer appears. PRIDE.
"Pride in something you did," he says.
"Definitely true," Fries says. "Sure, you get a feeling of pride reading a book. With games you're participating. You work towards beating the game."
Finally, critics of games point to another allure: their violence. Clearly there's something to the charge: When companies release violent and less violent versions of the same games – one famous example is Mortal Kombat – the violent ones sell better. But does that make players more violent in real life?
This possibility alarms people – and politicians. In 2005, despite an industry rating code, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), star of some of the most violent movies of all time, tried to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. The move launched a lawsuit.
It wound up in the US Supreme Court.
IN PICTURES: Video games: A $25 billion industry
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"California asks this court to [permit] states to restrict minors' ability to purchase deviant, violent video games ... harmful to the upbringing ... "
Justice Antonin Scalia doesn't let California's lawyer finish. "What's a deviant? As opposed to what? A normal violent video game?"
It's June 2, 2010. The Supreme Court is hearing California's argument.
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