Fiction: Video-game designers are nerdy people who don't see the light of day much - and when they do, don't know what to do with it. Brilliant but socially inept, they're mostly loners who can be creative but emotionally stilted.
Fact: The people who design computer games are normal people, family people who enjoy life and like to play games - the Waltons with an adolescent streak. The majority are smart men and women who just love to spend a lot of time with a mouse and a CD-ROM.
So says Keith Robinson, president and co-founder of Intellivision Productions and one of the pioneers of video games in the early 1980s.
As an insider in the video-game industry, he's been around the people who make games filled with mayhem, violence, and gore. And he's not willing to denounce gamemakers, even though many Americans have linked the shootings at Columbine High to the killers' fascination with violent video games. Instead, he worries about how youths are using video games.
"Video-game playing is just like anything else," says Robinson. "It has to be done with perspective and balance from other areas of life. Am I concerned about those guys who play video games 10 hours a day? Yes. But I'm equally concerned about anyone who spends 10 hours a day doing any one thing."
Also, he sees games such as "Doom" as part of a trend as old as video games themselves.
In the early years, designers looked to translate any kind of conventional play activity into a video counterpart, he says. Activities such as combat and competition grew out of the success of existing games and toys, and the dominance of the 14- to 18-year-old age group as primary buyers. Designers and companies sought to expand the capabilities of each game in subsequent generations - more guns, bigger explosions, flashier graphics.
"For a long time, the money has stayed with games themed for teenage boys, so the industry has definitely been skewed in that direction," Mr. Robinson says.
Yet many features of video games come from the sensibilities of the people who design them, he adds. "There's not some marketing or research person standing over them saying, 'Yeah, we'd like to have a little more blood or violence.' It's more the personal vision of someone producing a game that he himself enjoys playing."
The types of games they are designing now, however, are changing as game-use patterns change. "At first we were aiming for those who were playing four to five hours a day," he says. "But increasingly, the market is shifting to those who occasionally want to play 30 or 40 minutes after work."
With that shift have come more sports games and strategy games. And three-quarters of computer-entertainment software users are over 18.
Rich Stafford just goes to the arcade.
"I stop by in here on the way home from work after I've had a bad day," says the thirtysomething insurance salesman playing SEGA's "Altered Beast." "It's just a way for me to channel some of my stress and forget about the tension of my day."