The Changing World of Electronic Games
“Last year’s best-selling videogame,” according to “Newsweek” magazine, “was Grand Theft Auto 3.” The object of the game is to advance in a criminal organization by taking part in various crimes, such as prostitution and murder. “Each of your actions has consequences,” notes “Newsweek.” If you kill pedestrians in your stolen car, police officers chase you. If you shoot one of them, the FBI gets involved. Kill an FBI agent, and the military seek to destroy you. Although the game is intended for those 17 and older, stores have been known to sell the game to younger children. Reportedly, even 12-year-olds are expressing interest in playing.
THE first modern computer game, Spacewar, was created in 1962. The game’s objective: fight off asteroids and enemy spaceships. Countless similar games eventually followed. When more powerful personal computers became widespread in the 1970’s and 1980’s, computer games became increasingly common. There were adventure games, quiz games, strategy games, and action games. One type of strategy game, for example, requires the player to plan and manage the growth of cities or civilizations. Many games simulate sports, such as ice hockey and golf.
There are games that are praised for being educational and entertaining. In some, you can try to land a jumbo jet, drive a race car or a steam engine, ride a snowboard, or travel around the world. However, some action games, such as those called shoot-em-up games, are often criticized because of their violent content. A common objective for the player is to choose a weapon and then shoot and kill different human or nonhuman enemies.
On-Line Games—A New Trend
The land of Britannia has about 230,000 citizens. They are people of all sorts—soldiers, tailors, blacksmiths, and musicians. They wage war, build cities, open shops, get married, and die. Yet, this particular Britannia does not exist in reality. It is a virtual medieval world, a place where network players compete and interact with one another simultaneously—a form of computer game, called an on-line game, that has become increasingly popular and is expected to be the “next big thing” in computer gaming. Launched in 1997, Ultima Online—which includes the fantasyland Britannia—was the first Internet-based game. Since then, many other Internet games have arisen, and more are in the works.
What is different about this type of game? The various characters you meet in the game are controlled, not by a computer, but by other players acting simultaneously over the Internet. Thousands of people can participate in the same game. For example, Ultima Online is said to have had players from 114 countries participating at the same time. The popularity of these games may depend a lot on the social contact involved. Players can chat with each other and thus feel that they are part of a global community.
The electronic-game industry is very optimistic about its future. By 1997 the annual income from the American computer- and video-game industry reached $5.3 billion, and the worldwide sales were at least $10 billion. This trend shows no signs of losing momentum. The market is expected to increase by 50 to 75 percent during the coming five years.
Every day, according to Forrester Research, over a million people log on to different Internet-based games, and it is said that interest in on-line games will increase with the spread of broadband, a type of high-speed Internet connection. Children who have grown up playing computer games show no sign of stopping when they get older. One long-time player says: “Playing computer games has become a way of associating with friends from all over the world.”
Are all such games harmless entertainment, or are there risks involved? Let us see.