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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?

(Page 6 of 8)

But then McGovern talks about an issue that isn't just economic. In January, Congress bitterly debated the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), intended to protect intellectual property rights. It drew protests from online giants like Wikipedia and Craigslist, which temporarily shut down their sites.

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The issue split the video game industry: Its trade association supported the measure, while many small companies, dependent on untrammeled Internet access, opposed it. McGovern opposed it.

Shouldn't we stop online piracy?

"You have to be careful of unintended consequences," McGovern says. He worries about the effect on dissidents in countries who need the Internet to communicate. "You can't just design a bill and drop it in," he says about piracy. "We'll have to deliberate – something we're not good at."

McGovern isn't just a member of Congress, of course. He's a parent. Does he worry about the effects of games on his kids?

"I've made trips to GameStop with my son," McGovern says. "I'd be lying if I said I watch every one of his games."

Then he kind of gauges things, pulls out his cellphone, and calls home. "Patrick, what games do you play? Just tell me the acceptable ones."


"A reporter," McGovern says.

His son knows the score.

"Madden 12. OK," McGovern relays, talking about the successful John Madden football video game that includes violence Americans don't mind.

Another pause. Patrick is mentioning another one.

"That doesn't sound acceptable," McGovern says.

He looks around to make sure I know he's kidding. He trusts Patrick. He's relaxed. Mr. Kutner would approve.

* * *

"Ten years ahead? Impossible," Brian Moriarty says. I'm sitting in a conference room with him and Dean O'Donnell, both teachers at one of the schools in McGovern's district: the 147-year-old WPI. I've made the mistake of repeating McGovern's question. "Five years ago we didn't have the iPad," Mr. Moriarty reminds me.

He and Mr. O'Donnell will be happy if students get jobs after graduation – and five years out, have the training to adapt to what's new.

If it was ever appropriate to call colleges ivory towers, those days are gone. Colleges fight to develop marketing niches. Game design is one. Invisible on campuses a decade ago, it now appears as a major in more than 300 college course catalogs.

And the future of the industry holds more than games like Skyrim, Moriarty and O'Donnell point out. They mention a buzzword: gamification. Inspired by the magnetic pull of games, developers are trying to incorporate video game elements into everything: simulators to teach pilots, instructional DVDs for people who've bought a washing machine, or games allowing people to explore moral dilemmas like fighting a nuclear war. These are what are called "serious games."

"Hate that term!" O'Donnell says.

You can see why. Can't a richly imaginative game be "serious?" Yet O'Donnell values so-called serious games, too. Making them might be where his students wind up. And isn't there something thrilling about the idea that a game might help a pilot fly, a kid learn algebra, or a wounded veteran, back from Iraq, deal with injuries? This is a big and expanding part of the video game world.


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