Video games, once the stuff of childrens' Christmas morning cheers, are growing up – and branching out.
But these gaming trends include more than just an occasional bout of "Minesweeper" on a lunch hour or even a regular round of Halo after a day at the office. Video games are now finding their way into all sorts of new areas of daily life. A sampling of recent examples:
The military, long a proponent of simulations for training, turned to gaming for recruiting in 2006 with "America's Army." Its latest venture, unveiled Dec. 1, marries cutting-edge commercial gaming technology with the real-life (and classified) performance of Air Force jets for pilot training.
First there were games about sports, with new technology springing up to present ever-more-real simulations. Now it's starting to go the other way: we have professional athletes leveraging these advanced technologies to get an edge over their on-field opponents.
Pitching ace Johan Santana told Sports Illustrated in 2005 that he often scouted the team he was to pitch against the next day by playing against them on his PlayStation Portable (PSP). "Believe it or not, sometimes I see things in video games that will come true," Santana told SI. "In these video games you can see what the hitters have, how to approach them. It's pretty cool."
Swing tendencies and stats may help hurlers decide what pitch to throw, but more recently advanced motion capture technology is helping to decode the more nuanced movements of sports. Soccer goalie Marco Amelia revealed last week that he used his experience playing against Ronaldinho in a video game to block a penalty kick from the star in the first half of a real game Sunday between Palermo and AC Milan. "It was like playing against Ronaldinho on the PlayStation," he excitedly claimed. "He did the exact same run-up, it was very strange."
Politics is also addressing video games. Regular readers will remember the Obama campaign's online gaming ads. Now, a video game is going the other way. French company Eversim is set to release political simulation "Commander In Chief" on Jan. 20 – yes, the same day President-elect Barack Obama takes office. The game asks players to pick a cabinet of fictional characters (no, Bill Richardson isn't available) and then tackle problems ranging from terrorism to the economy. Players can affect the course of world events by invading countries, brokering trade agreements, or meeting with foreign leaders.
Religious movements have also weighed in with games of their own, adding to the list of real-world causes seeking screentime in the virtual one. Education and classical music are on-board, too. What other parts of society will make the leap to video games? Have I missed any that already have? Sound off in the comments.