Video games invade the mainstream

As gamers of the arcade generation grow up and have kids of their own, the market for video games is exploding. This week brought three new signs that the young medium has grabbed more and more of the pop-culture spotlight – and that some unexpected names are racing to join in.

1) "Grand Theft Auto IV" snatched $500 million in its first week of sales. Compare that to movie box-office smash Iron Man, which made $100 million in its debut last weekend. This newest installment in the popular, mature-rated game series made more money in its first day and first week than almost any other game, movie, book, or album in history. GTA beat out last year's "Halo 3", which swiped $300 million in its opening week, and rivals the last "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, which scored $500 million globally in its debut weekend.

2) Looking to grab his own slice of this expanding market, Steven Spielberg released his own video game Tuesday. Boom Blox, for the Nintendo Wii, is a cartoonish puzzle game that came out of a brainstorming session between the famed movie director and reps from EA Games. Despite initial skepticism from gamers, reviews have been very positive.

3) One of PC games’ biggest franchises, The Sims, is getting an Ikea makeover. This week, EA hinted at an upcoming expansion pack for the popular life simulator that will allow players to furnish their digital homes with items from the Swedish big-box store. The series already offers pixelated apparel from real-world clothing giant H&M.

What surprises me the most is how these stories have been covered by the media. Video game articles usually revolve around some outrage over graphic content – and GTA IV is certainly steeped in explicit game play. But the tone of many GTA stories from the past few weeks was “this is big,” not “this is ruining your kids.” These recent pieces often noted the portrayals of violence but then focused on the huge open world that can take more than 60 hours to explore.

For example, last week NPR’s Talk of the Nation ran a 16-minute segment on GTA IV that gave much more airtime to a reviewer who loved the game than to the requisite video-game detractor. If that piece had run a few years ago, the balance would likely have skewed the other way.

I can’t tell if this is because games have won over the media – perhaps sheer sales figures have convinced them – or if those early gamers have grown up to become today’s journalists.

Also see:
The 'Halo' effect returns. Xbox 360s are in overdrive.
Gamers have skills. Let's tap 'em.
Women find new appeal in video games

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