When fifth-grader Matt Trevithick moved from Washington, D.C., to suburban Boston, he didn't have to abandon his old friends entirely. He still plays a video game with his friend Karel on-line.
Matt and Karel are attracted by the action and graphics of a game called Descent. But as game companies are beginning to find out, something else is at work beside action and graphics when their products go on-line. The interaction among players is at least as important as the action itself - as Matt's experience illustrates.
"Sometimes it's fun because you don't know who you're competing with," says Matt. "You don't know the way they'd act" in the game.
The interactive element may explain why classic games such as Monopoly and Scrabble have done well on-line, even though they don't have the graphics or nonstop action of other titles.
"The game seems to be more an excuse for hanging out on-line," says Chris Holden, chief executive officer of Kesmai Corp., an on-line multi-player gaming firm. "Certainly there will be more action games. [But] in the end ... it's about the social interaction and that's what's going to sell massively multiplayer games."
These games often allow dozens of contestants to compete at the same time. Players, however, want to do more than just blow each other up. They want to make friends.
That is why many on-line games have chat rooms. These are areas where people hold a kind of running conversation by typing in comments on a screen everyone can read. These on-line rooms are frequently filled to capacity with players sharing their enthusiasm about a particular product. Air Warrior, for example, is a flight-simulation combat game that includes World War I and II dogfights. In a recent chat session associated with the game, players from Germany and the United States were carrying on a dual-language conversation and teaching each other German and English in the process.