Video Games

views updated May 14 2018

Video Games


The field of computer game studies is a relatively new one, especially in terms of detailed textual analysis of the forms of games themselves (as opposed to studies based on assumptions about their social or psychological effects). A number of different theoretical paradigms are in potential competition in current efforts to map the field. Cinema might seem a logical point of reference for many games, especially with the movement of adventure-style games from text to animated graphical form, and subsequently to three-dimensional graphics, a process that began in the early 1980s. There are a number of ways that games borrow from, or can be understood in the light of, aspects of cinema. What must be avoided, however, is an "imperialist" venture of the kind feared by some game theorists (for example, Espen Aarseth's Cybertext points out fallacies in the application of literary theory to games). Perspectives drawn from the study of film offer one set of tools with which to approach computer-based games (although not all games or all types of games), tools that might be more useful in highlighting some aspects of games than others.

A number of areas of broad similarity, or overlap, between games and cinema can be identified. Direct movements from cinema to game are found in some titles, including the games that have become obligatory among the spinoff products from contemporary Hollywood blockbusters and animated features. But many games draw on cinematic resonances more generally in their use of audio-visual conventions.

If some games are based directly on films, or franchises that include films, others are associated with genres or subgenres, particularly in areas such as science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Many games draw on iconographies and audio-visual styles that can be linked to particular film titles but that have become more widely prevalent: the Blade Runner or The Lord of the Rings look, for example. Some games draw on more specific and localized cinematic devices. A well known example is the "bullet-time" mode used in the Max Payne action-adventure games (2001, 2003), based on slow-motion bullet effects used by the Hong Kong action director John Woo and especially its translation in The Matrix (1999). One mission in the game Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (2002) includes a Normandy beach-landing sequence that follows almost exactly the initial moves of the film Saving Private Ryan (1998).

It is important to acknowledge that there are major differences between games and cinema, even in the case of games with which cinema has the most in common. Games clearly need to be studied on their own terms, the criteria for which often diverge considerably from those most relevant to cinema or any other media. The act of comparison should not involve reduction of one medium to the terms of another; it should, instead, be a way of highlighting factors specific to each.


The use of cinematic cut scenes in computer-based games is one of the more obvious connections between cinema and games. Cut scenes are short, pre-rendered sequences in which the game player performs a role closer to that of a detached observer than is the case in more active periods of gameplay. Cut scenes tend to employ camera movement, shot-selection, framing, and editing similar to that used in cinema. Many games use cut scenes to establish the initial setting, character and background storyline. Opening cut scenes frequently employ the same expository devices as cinema, using a combination of long shots, medium shots, and close-ups to provide orientation into the game-world for the player. Cut scenes are also used at varying intervals throughout many games to forward the storyline and to entice or reward players with sequences of spectacular action, connect disparate spaces, and provide dialogue between new playing characters. They may be used to provide clues or to establish enigmas that have a bearing on the narrative trajectory of the game. Critics of the use of cinema as a reference point for games often suggest that cut scenes provide the only formal connection between the two because such scenes are freer than interactive sequences to use the particular formal devices associated with film (in sequences in which the camera is able to break its usual connection with the visual perspective of the player/character). Cut scenes have, historically, been clearly marked by higher visual qualities than interactive sequences, although this has steadily been reduced with the advent of increased graphics processing resources.

The point of view structure of games can also be examined from a perspective informed by approaches to the study of cinema: the specific ways, for example, in which particular first- and third-person perspectives operate from moment to moment or from one game to another. This is a complicated area that involves some major differences between cinema and games. Pre-rendered camera angles are used during gameplay in some third-person shooter games, including Dino Crisis (1999) and the Resident Evil (beginning in 1997) games made before Resident Evil 4 (2005). Predetermined framing of this kind departs from the point of view of the player/character and functions like that of film, to some extent, directing the attention of the player and creating visual diversity though shifts in perspective. The point of view that results is not anchored to the perspective of the character played, however, and comes at the expense of player freedom.

Pre-rendered framing is not found in first-person games or in games designed to be playable in multi-player mode (such as Quake [1996], Half-Life [1998], EverQuest [1999] and World of War craft [2004]). Framing that shifts perspective within gameplay sequences is perhaps more cinematic than that found in most other types of games, although important differences remain.

The first-person perspective used in many games is a rarity in film in other than brief sequences (the major exception is the 1947 noir film Lady in the Lake). This point is highlighted by the limited extent to which it is used even in the combat sequences of Wing Commander (1999), a direct adaptation of the game. Third-person cinema, by comparison, usually involves a much greater and more fluid range of point of view orientations between camera, protagonist and viewer than is found in games. The intermittent fixed views offered within games such as Resident Evil and Dino Crisis have a rigidity that creates a very different, sometimes frustratingly limited, perspective on the action, although they can function to create suspense by enabling the player to see what awaits at a location not yet visible to the character. By contrast, role-playing games (RPGs) and "God" games such as The Sims (2000), Civilization (1990), Black and White (2001) or Settlers (2005)—in which the player creates a world or presides over a society—are among examples that demonstrate little cinematic association in terms of formal strategies. In the 1990s some "God" games, real-time strategy (RTS) games and RPGs, such as the early entries of the Final Fantasy series (beginning in 1990) and Baldur's Gate (1998), displayed the field of battle or action in aerial mode. This fixed view is opposed to the more varied shots found in cinema and the restrictive tracking, point of view, and eye-level shots that characterize first- and third-person games. In later incarnations and with greater graphic processing resources, players are able to "zoom" in and out of the action. This enhanced facility accords with the pragmatic value of the various viewpoints required to direct and manage gameplay, and in moving from a fixed aerial or three-quarters point of view to a more fluid and playerled arrangement, greater cinematic resonance comes into play. But the important difference is that the players make the choice of "shot" to suit their situation.

Even where there are some cinematic resonances, different devices of visual orientation operate in games because of the relationships established between players and the space-time coordinates of game-worlds. Mainstream cinema has developed well established systems of spatial orientation, especially the continuity editing system, to avoid confusing the viewer during shifts from one camera position to another. Many first- and third-person games permit the player to look and move throughout 360 degrees (as far as obstacles permit). This is possible with less disorientation than would usually be expected in a cinematic context because the player-character moves through a particular virtual space in real-time with the camera-view often anchored to a single viewpoint. Even so, the exploration of 360-degree space in games can become disorientating, especially when done under pressure or in a rush (hence the frequent inclusion of maps and compasses in games that require players to explore large spaces). Games are far less likely than films to use ellipses to eliminate "dead" time. Time in games may be spent exploring the available space or interacting with objects that do not have any significant bearing on the main set tasks. Most films give screen time only to what is deemed essential to the storyline or the building of character or mood. Action-adventure-type games operate mainly in something closer to real-time with ellipses occurring primarily at the end of levels or chapters. This creates a significant difference between the pace (and length) of games and that of films. Thus despite the shared use of some aspects of framing, miseen-scène, dialogue, and music, the structuring of point-of-view, time, and space are quite different.


Some important developments in technologies, and the formal capacity they offer for rendering versions of new fictional worlds, are also shared between cinema and games, most obviously in the area of digital animation. The fact that new standards of realism in computer-generated graphics are offered as one selling point of games and animated films creates a point of crossover between the two media. This is especially the case in a film such as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001), based on the successful Final Fantasy game series. The crossover between more overtly "fantastic" digital special effects in live-action cinema and those used in games, such as the morphing effects in Primal (2003) and American McGee's Alice (2000), is another prominent point of contact. Similar representational capacities are drawn upon by the two media, a fact of significance to the libraries of images, image-textures, and devices available to each. The availability of particular kinds of effects might in some cases encourage particular types of production. Horror and fantasy, for example, lend themselves especially well to the spectacular display of fantastical morphing effects in both films and games.

This is another area in which differences are in play, even when such fundamentally similar building blocks are involved. The level of surface, visual realism attained in the film version of Final Fantasy is higher—more detailed—than that found in the interactive segments of games contemporary with this film, mainly because priorities other than graphical realism have an important call on the hardware resources available during game processing. The same goes for the morphing effects in Primal as compared to their equivalent on film. A similar kind of transformation might be present in some films and games, creating similar potential for the development of narrative or spectacular effects. But the quality of resolution—and, arguably, the importance of this factor among others—remains different. These differences, driven by substantially different priorities and agendas, have various implications for effects produced in the name of both realism and spectacular attraction for its own sake.

Developments in graphics processing are closing the gap, however, a promise that figures largely in advance publicity claims for forthcoming products (software and hardware), as is evident in each new generation of games and games designed to take advantage of the capabilities offered by new processing technologies. The development of new generations of graphics technology contributes to the ability of games and cinema to create increasingly spectacular audio-visual effects (realistic-looking water and fire or dynamic lighting/shadows, for example). And as processing power increases, animated characters in tie-in games become more like the actors who originally played them—in terms of both facial features and movement (as is the case with the player/character in Constantine [2005], composed from motion-captured movement, the recorded voice, and digital-mapped face of the actor Keanu Reeves).

In a multiplayer online context, limitations of telephony still have an impact on levels of graphical realism, more detailed graphics creating a slower rate of exchange between server and PC. Action-adventure-type games and some types of cinema also share an investment in the production of intense sensational experiences that impact forcefully on the player or viewer. Varying combinations of rapid editing and unstable camerawork are used in contemporary Hollywood action cinema to create maximum sensation. Games sometimes mimic devices used in Hollywood—the fireball impact effect, for example—but they also take this a stage further, requiring a frenzied response on the part of the player.


One of the most important points of difference between film and games is the aspect of player participation. If games can offer something like a cinematic experience, it is made more complex by the fact that games are played, engaged with, in a manner that is much more active and formative of the resulting experience than is the case with watching a film. However, opposition between game-playing and film-viewing as a distinction between activity on the one hand (games) and passivity on the other (cinema) is not that simple. Film-viewing is far from a passive experience; it involves a range of cognitive and other processes in the act of interpretation and emotional response.

Games, however, place a central importance on the act of doing that goes beyond the kinetic and emotional responses that might be produced by a film. To use the term "interactive" to describe this dynamic is problematic, however, as Espen Aarseth suggests. Taken literally, the term can be applied so widely that it no longer has the power to distinguish between the interactions that occur between users and texts of all kinds, such as literature or cinema, with which games are often compared. Aarseth proposed instead the term "ergodic" (derived from the Greek ergon and hodos, meaning "work" and "path"), to identify forms in which "nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text" (1997, p. 1), meaning an effort greater than that involved in reading a novel or watching a film.

The player of video games has to respond to events in a manner that affects what happens on screen, something not demanded of readers of books or viewers of films. Success often depends on rapid responses, effective hand-eye coordination and learned moves or skills made through the use of devices such as keyboards or game-pads, or puzzle-solving skills. Games are demanding forms of popular audio-visual entertainment, requiring sustained work that is not usually associated with the experience of popular, mainstream cinema. It is possible for players to "fail" a game, or to give up in frustration, if they do not develop the skills demanded by the particular title, a fate that has no equivalent in mainstream cinema. Games are a participatory medium; the game-world is left undiscovered, character capabilities left locked, and story arcs do not unfold unless the player is actively willing to build the specific skills required to progress through a game.

Another key point of difference that is often highlighted between games and other media is the role of narrative. Narrative, generally, plays a less important role in games than it does in films, despite the widespread claim that narrative has become attenuated in contemporary Hollywood cinema. Narrative remains a central component of even the special-effects driven Hollywood blockbuster. Narrative is also present in many games: narrative progress is sometimes offered as a reward for successful gameplay, or provides a general context within which gameplay is conducted; and in multiplayer games many small narratives delivered in a range of ways provide the mythology that gives added meaning to a virtual world. But, generally, narrative plays a role secondary to engagement in more active gameplay.

Narrative rationales tend to disappear into the background during much of gameplay. Jesper Juul suggests that there is an inherent conflict between interactivity and narrative: "There is a conflict between the now of the interaction and the past or 'prior' of the narrative.… The relations between reader/story and player/game are completely different—the player inhabits a twilight zone where he/she is both empirical subject outside the game and undertakes a role inside the game" ("Games Telling Stories."). Narrative is preset, built into the fabric of a game, available to be discovered or realized, in whole or in part—or, in some cases, in one version or another, depending on the paths taken by the player. Narrative has happened, or been created, while "playing" is always happening, a particular realization of the potential offered by a game, the precise shape or outcome is indeterminate.

The ideal suggested by the game designer Richard Rouse is to achieve a balance between narrative as predetermined and structured into the game and the variable "player's story" generated in each individual experience of the game. The player's story "is the most important story to be found in the game, since it is the story that the player will be most involved with, and its is the story in which the player's decisions have the most impact" (pp. 216–217). Carefully predetermined narrative structure is necessary, however, to games in which dynamics such as variable pace, tension, foreshadowing, and building towards a climax are important or desirable. The extent to which narrative dimensions are experienced as separate from, or part of, gameplay is also determined by the kinds of storytelling devices used by individual games. The sense that narrative is essentially separate from gameplay is encouraged by the prevalence of what Rouse terms "out-of-game" narrative devices, such as cut scenes, that put gameplay on hold temporarily. Strongly favoured by Rouse is the use of "in-game" devices to provide story: signs, written notes, nonplaying character (NPC) dialogue or behavior, and the design of levels. In Half-Life, a first-person shooter with a narrative more complex than similar games, information important to the trajectory of the plot is provided within the game-space. NPCs speak of what is happening without the game shifting into a cut scene, the player-character remaining free to move around as usual. The effect is a sense of seamlessness close to that which might be expected of mainstream cinema, even though created in a different manner.

Moments of the most heightened and intensively interactive gameplay often entail features such as cause/effect relationships and linear progression (although the latter, in particular, is far from guaranteed: it is quite possible to regress, to lose ground, during activities such as combat or the negotiation of difficult terrain). These are qualities often associated with narrative, as, for example, in David Bordwell's influential formulation of "classical" Hollywood narrative. By themselves, however, they are not sufficient to constitute narrative or story, unless defined at the minimal level. Moment-by-moment developments gain narrative resonance through their position in a wider frame that is largely pre-established. Games often balance player freedom with narrational devices that shape and give structure to the player's experience, including the provision of cues that guide the movement of the player-character or music or sound effects that warn of approaching danger, as is often the case in the Silent Hill horror cycle (beginning in 1999). One of the major dynamics of many games is the oscillation between these different modes of engagement, the rhythm of which often varies from one example to another.


Where games do borrow from cinema, this is for reasons that are far from arbitrary. "New" media tends to borrow from older equivalents more generally, as suggested by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin's concept of "remediation." As they argue, the experience of playing computer games that offer cinematic milieu might be understood in terms of a move "inside" the world of the cinema screen. The immediate thrill produced by direct engagement in the interactive experience is often based on a sense of "hypermediacy," of awareness that the world occupied virtually is akin to that of other forms of representation. Film-based or film-related video games are sold at least partly on the basis of the attraction of an occupation of worlds the contours of which have been established in other media—most directly, in film, but often also in literature, comic books, or television. The player can, at one remove, become the central figure in a cinematic milieu, following and extending the experience offered by a film. Aliens vs. Predator 2 (2001), for example, can be played from the perspective of either marine, alien, or predator; here, the world of the game is extended in terms of player participation and variation of perspective/allegiance. A novelty offered by the game's sequel is the ability to inhabit the life cycle of the alien, something not available in the film. The cinematic dimension, in this case, is a substantial component of the specific experience offered by the game as a game, and not merely something imported externally.

An incorporation of elements of the "cinematic" can be a substantial component of some games. "Cinematic" needs to be understood in terms of both textual devices and intertextuality. Games draw on other media, including television in many cases, but cinema is the remediated form to which attention is most often drawn by the industry. The reason for this is the greater cultural prestige enjoyed by cinema (as institution) and film (as a medium of expression). Often publicists and reviewers claim that a game is very "cinematic," which is meant as a positive assessment of quality, even if such hierarchies of taste are resisted by some gamers and game theorists. Visual iconography regularly crosses the boundary between cinema and games, as do genres designed to invoke kinetic experience, such as horror and action-adventure. Audio styles associated with cinema have also been used in games, including "cinematic" orchestral music used to contribute to the "epic" quality sought by some fantasy titles (portions of the soundtrack from The Lord of the Rings films [2002–2003] are used in World of Warcraft, for example). The function of such devices is to provide additional atmosphere for action, to add resonance and meaning to the process of participation in the game-world.

Cinema and games are often produced and distributed by the same media corporations. Game spin-offs offer substantial additional revenues to the Hollywood studios. The Sony Corporation is the most obvious example, home to both Sony Pictures and PlayStation. In the year ending March 2004, sales and operating revenue accounted for $7.1 billion from pictures and $7.4 billion from games. In addition to such earnings, tie-in games are also valued by Hollywood as a way of attracting new audiences for major properties such as the James Bond franchise. The development and production process required by games has also come to take on some of the characteristics, and scale, of the film business. Very much on the model of contemporary Hollywood, the games industry has become a hit-driven business. The games industry also share with Hollywood the continued use of "author" names, in some cases to sell products within the anonymous corporate context.

A number of games, such as Tomb Raider (2001,2003) and Resident Evil (2002, 2004) have been turned into films, but these have generally not been very successful and they tend to ignore the formal characteristics of games (even if their protagonists might, on occasion, face tasks similar to those in which the game player is engaged). The same is true of films that have used games, or imagined versions of future gaming, as part of their subject matter, such as eXistenZ (1999) and Avalon (2001). Films that draw on games at a formal level are few and far between, the most cited example being Lola rennt (Run Lola Run, 1998), which features a structure of repetition-within-difference and a climactic time-out device, both of which can be seen as a more substantial remediation of some game characteristics than anything found in the game tie-in examples cited above. Games are also cited by the director as an influence (but one among many) in Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003), the bulk of which is composed of a lengthy series of tracking shots in which the camera follows from behind the movements of characters in an overlapping narrative structure leading to a Columbine-style high school massacre (the film also includes one fleeting shot during the massacre that directly mimics the perspective of a first-person shooter game played previously by the killers). Films provide ready-made characters and narrative resonance that can carry over and play into the experience of a spin-off game, even where the dimension of character and narrative are not greatly elaborated in the game itself. This is an effect that is harder to achieve in reverse, as the case of Super Mario Bros. (1993) shows. Computer games are not a form of interactive cinema; the way games interpolate players into their own spaces and engage them in a particular range of tasks is very different from the experience of watching a film.

SEE ALSO Merchandising;Narrative;Technology


Aarseth, Espen. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation:Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kirstin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. New York, Columbia University Press, 1984

Juul, Jesper. "Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives." Game Studies 1, no. 1 (July 2001). Available at

King, Geoff, and Tanya Krzywinska, eds. Screenplay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces. London: Wallflower Press, 2002.

Newman, James. Videogames. New York and London: Routledge, 2004.

Rouse, Richard. Game Design: Theory and Practice. Plano, TX: Wordware Publishing, 2001.

Wolf, Mark J. P., and Bernard Person, eds. The Video Game Theory Reader. New York and London: Routledge, 2003.

Geoff King

Tanya Krzywinska

Video Games

views updated Jun 11 2018


Video games may be defined as games involving electronic technology in which real-time interactive game events are depicted graphically on a screen through pixel-based imaging. Elements one would expect to find in a game are conflict (against opponents or circumstances), rules (determining what can or cannot be done and when), use of some player ability (skill, strategy, or luck), and some kind of valued outcome (winning vs. losing, highest scores, or fastest times, among others). All are usually present in video games in some manner, albeit to varying degrees. In video games, the scoring of points, adherence to the rules, and display of the game's visuals are all monitored by a computer, which also can control the opposing characters within a game, becoming a participant as well as referee. Most arcade video games, home computer games, and home video games using a television would qualify as video games.

The development of the video game was shaped by film, television, and computer technology, and its influences include pinball, arcade games, science fiction, sports, and table-top games. Video games appeared during a time in which interactive art, minimalism and abstraction, and electronic music were developing, and these provided an important part of the cultural context in which the video game evolved.

Modes of Exhibition

Video games have appeared in a number of different modes of exhibition, including mainframe games, coin-operated arcade video games, home video game systems, hand-held portable games and game systems, and home computer games.

The games created on the giant mainframe computers were limited to the large mainframe computers found only in laboratories and research centers. These games were experiments and were neither sold commercially nor generally available.

Coin-operated arcade games come in several forms: stand-alone consoles; cocktail consoles; and sit-inside or ride-on games. A stand-alone console, the most common, is a tall boxlike cabinet that houses the video screen and the control panel for the game. The game controls can include joysticks, track-balls, paddles (round, rotating knobs), buttons, and guns with triggers. Occasionally there are controls for more than one player, although single-player games are the most common.

The cocktail console is designed like a small table, with the screen facing upward through a glass tabletop. Often the game is designed for two players, with a set of controls on each end of the table and the screen between them. This type of console is popular in bars or restaurants where patrons can sit and play a video game, while setting their drinks on the tabletop (hence the name cocktail).

Sit-inside or ride-on consoles hold or contain the player's body during play. They may even involve physical movement, usually to simulate the driving or flying of a vehicle in the game, typically with a first-person perspective. In driving and racing games, foot pedals and stick shifts are sometimes included. Other games involve bicycle pedaling, skis, skateboards, and simulated horses.

Home video game systems typically use a television or computer monitor for their graphic displays, although some systems come with their own screens. Home game systems that display their graphics on a television can be console-based, cartridge-based, or use laserdiscs, CD-ROMs, ROMs, or DVD-ROMs (home computer games also appeared on cartridges, floppy disks, diskettes, and audio tape). Console-based systems have their games hardwired into the console itself, while cartridge-based game systems have their games hardwired into cartridges or cards that are plugged into the game console, allowing new games to be sold separately. CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs are used for most contemporary game systems, because they can contain far more data than traditional cartridges.

Hand-held portable games and game systems that run on batteries can be carried along with the player. They are usually small enough to fit in the palm of one's hand, and typically have small LCD screens with buttons and controls around the screen. Some of these systems are cartridge-based as well.

Networked games involve multiple participants connected via the Internet to a video game world on a server, where they interact with the world and with each other's characters. Some of these games have hundreds or thousands of players and run twenty-four hours per day, with players logging on and off whenever they want. Players in these on-line worlds meet, converse, and form alliances and friendships without ever meeting face-to-face. Because real people control the player-characters, the social interaction is real, albeit in a more limited bandwidth than in-person interaction.


Like film and television, video games have been criticized for having excessive violence, explicit sex, occasional racism, stereotypical characters, and an overall lack of edifying content. As graphics develop toward photo-realism, games grow more concrete in their visual representations and more like the images produced in other media, including those through which the player receives real world information (for example, television) and interacts socially (for example, the Internet). Combined with a simulated world in which players can act, video games can subtly influence players' behavior, beliefs, and outlook in real-life.

Most narrative media embody world-views through the ways in which characters' actions are linked to consequences, while video games link consequences to the player's own actions. Instead of merely watching and identifying with a character, the video game player is an active participant in the action seen on-screen. Whereas watching martial films does not help one develop physical skills, a video game can sharpen the player's hand-eye coordination skills and reflex responses, and stimulate aggression. The speed at which game action occurs often requires players to develop reflex responses at the expense of contemplation, sometimes resulting in a kind of repetitive stimulus-response training in which reaction speed is crucial. These responses can vary, from abstract figure manipulation, strategic thinking, and problem solving, to the hair-trigger automatic killing in fast-action games. While games can be designed to develop a variety of skills, shooting and killing are unfortunately among the most common.

On a larger scale, ethical worldviews can also be affected as successful game play often encourages or requires players to think in certain ways, and game narratives may link actions to outcomes and consequences that reinforce certain types of behavior. Thus it is a question of how the medium is used, how games are designed, and what values those designs embody. Online role-playing games, for example, differ greatly from other forms of video games in that they are played by vast numbers of people in persistent (twenty-four-hour-per-day) game worlds, and games are ongoing and cannot be restarted. Some players invest a great deal of time and money in such games, building up their characters' powers and possessions, so there is often more at stake during game play, and ethics takes on greater importance as consequences within the game begin to extend into the real world.

While most people can clearly distinguish between video games and real life, ideas learned through the games can spill over to other behaviors in either positive or negative ways. Clearly there is a difference between real-world morality and that of the on-line game world. Killing another player's character may be considered an act of aggression, however the behavior falls within the established rules of play, and players whose characters are killed often come back with new characters. Yet the metaphor of killing remains, as does the fact that many people consider pretend killing to be fun. Likewise the goal-oriented nature of video games focuses more on what a player does and achieves rather than on what a player becomes. Additionally the malleability and repeatability of most video game experiences can lead to both experimentation and desensitization through repetition, because nothing is final or irreversible when a game can be restarted or when a player has multiple lives.

Other potential effects involve the player's default assumptions and ways of analyzing the world. For example, in most games everything is structured around the player and is present to produce an experience for the player. Other characters are there to either help or hinder the player-character, and often they speak in direct address to the player-character. Game objects exist for the player to use, take, or consume. The overall effect can be to promote a self-centered, utilitarian point of view in which players consider everything in the game world according to how it will affect or be of use to them.

At the same time, video games can have a positive influence, enhancing problem-solving skills, powers of observation, and patience. Completing an adventure game's objective, for example, usually requires goal-oriented behavior and often single-minded pursuit. Even when laden with puzzles and ambiguity, most adventure game problems and goals are clear-cut and simple relative to the problems and goals encountered in real life. The video game may remove the player momentarily from the complex problems of real life and offer solvable, simplified conflicts and goals that can be solved in a few hours (or days) and for which solutions already exist. In either case, these effects may be subtle, but repeated exposure to situations in which one is required to think a certain way can have gradual, long-term effects. Some values may find affirmation outside the games, such as overcompetitiveness and the accruing of personal wealth and goods.

In order to regulate games and hold game makers accountable, professional codes, such as that of the Association of Computing Machines (ACM) have been created. Additionally, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) provides a series of ratings (Early Childhood (EC), age 3 and up; Everyone (E), age 6 and up; Teen (T), age 13 and up; Mature (M), age 17 and up; and Adults Only (AO), age 18 and up), although these ratings are not always enforced in stores, where games might be sold to underage players.

While it is true that many games in the early twenty-first century are graphically violent and sexually explicit, it should be remembered that some of the best-selling games of all time (The Sims, Myst, and Pac-Man, for example) have been nonviolent, indicating that it is good game design, not sex or violence, that sells.


SEE ALSO Computer Ethics;Entertainment;Science, Technology, and Literature;Special Effects;Violence.


DeMaria, Rusel, and Johnny Lee Wilson. (2002). High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games. New York: McGraw-Hill Osborne Media. An illustrated history covering the games, the hardware, and the people behind the industry.

Kent, Steven L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze that Touched Our Lives and Changed the World. Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing. A journalistic account of the history of video games compiled from dozens of interviews conducted by the author.

Wolf, Mark J. P., ed. (2001). The Medium of the Video Game. Austin: University of Texas Press. The first scholarly book devoted to examining the video game as an artistic medium.

Wolf, Mark J. P., and Bernard Perron, eds. (2003). The Video Game Theory Reader. New York: Routledge Press. A collection of scholarly essays examining the video game from a multitude of perspectives.

Video Games

views updated Jun 08 2018

Video games


Video games are electronic, interactive games known for their vibrant colors, sound effects, and complex graphics.


First mass-marketed in the 1970s, video games are played by installing cartridges into a game box connected by wire to a television set. The child then manipulates a joystick or controller to control the actions of a character or series of characters as the characters face obstacles displayed on the screen. Video games, designed chiefly to appeal to children and adolescents, can also be played in arcades, on computers, and on small, hand-held screens.

As of 2004 nearly every home in the United States with children had one or more of the most popular game systems, for example, Nintendo GameCube, Sony Playstation2, or Microsoft Xbox. Few children have not been exposed to some form of video game, and access to the games is readily available to children from all walks of life.

Video games for home use proved popular from the start. Children are particularly attracted to them for a variety of reasons. Fantasy characters and situations appeal to young imaginations and provide an escape from everyday routine and the stresses presented by parents, friends, and school. In addition, the games give children a level of control that they do not experience in real life, as the characters on the screen respond to the children's commands. Players also receive immediate rewards for making the right moves. Most games can be played at a variety of skill levels so that every player can be challenged.

The popularity of video games has been matched by the controversy they have sparked among parents, psychologists, and educators. The most prevalent objection results from the violent themes and characters that dominate in most video games. A 1989 study by the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) found that, of the 95 most popular home video games, 58 percent were war games and 83 percent featured violent themes. As technology has improved to allow the games to show situations and characters that are more realistic, debate has escalated about the potential effects of video games on children's behavior. One NCTV study that monitored the playground behavior of eight- to ten-year-olds immediately after playing a laser-weapon game found an 80 percent increase in fighting. There is also added concern that repeated exposure to violence desensitizes children to its effects. Other experts and video game manufacturers contend that negative effects have not been proven adequately, and, in fact, playing such games gives players an avenue for the harmless release of stress and aggression.

Public pressure prompted some video game manufacturers in the early 1990s to begin labeling games with warnings about violent or sexually explicit content. In 1994, in response to considerable political pressure and the possibility of a federal rating agency, the industry created its own rating system, overseen by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Ratings are assigned based on the games' suitability for various age groups. An "Early Childhood" designation on a game box indicates that the game is suitable for players ages three and older, and there is no violence, sexual content, or profanity. The designation "Everyone" indicates the game is for players ages six and older and may contain minimal violence or crude language. A "Teen" game for ages 13 and up may contain violence, profanity, and mild sexual themes. A "Mature" rating is considered suitable only for ages 17 and older and may include more intense violence, profanity, and mature sexual themes. "Adults Only" games are not intended for people under 18 and may include graphic depictions of sex and violence. The ratings system, however, is just a guide, and parents still need to oversee which video games their children buy and play .

In the past, the issue of gender bias in video games was another area of considerable debate. Not only were most video games male-oriented sports and combat games, female characters in the games were portrayed as victims to be rescued by the male hero or objects of violence or sexual desire. In the early 2000s, however, an increasing number of games had girl-oriented themes and an increasing number of gender neutral games became available.

Besides the socialization concerns presented by video games, medical concerns were also raised in the early 1990s, when video games were linked to epileptic seizures experienced by some 50 children. About one third of the children had experienced previous seizures, and there were questions about whether the seizures they experienced were related to playing or watching a video game. Two large studies later reported that the children who experienced video game-related seizures (VGRS) were particularly sensitive to light and that video games with flashing lights merely precipitated, rather than caused, the seizures. Sitting too close to the screen could exacerbate the effects of the light sensitivity, as could the increasingly complex graphic technology featured in games. Individuals with epilepsy are not thought to be particularly susceptible to VGRS, and no lasting neurological damage had as of 2004 been linked to these seizures.

Despite the controversy surrounding video games, benefits have also been noted: development of hand-eye coordination , increases in concentration, logical thinking skills, and healthy competition among children, as well as socialization skills gained from sharing strategies and the heightened self-esteem resulting from successful performances. One research study even found that doctors who had played more video games had better surgical skills.


There are a number of specialized video and computer games that are designed to be educational for toddlers. Many use familiar characters to teach basic things such as shape matching, the alphabet, and counting.


Children in preschool can be exposed to video and computer games that reinforce the basic skills that they are learning, such as phonetics, shapes, colors, and basic addition.

Elementary school

School-age children can be encouraged to play educational games that reinforce what they are learning in the classroom. Parents should research the games that their children want to buy to ensure appropriate content for the child's age group. In the early 2000s marketers have developed increasing numbers of educational games that are also adventurous and exciting. Children, especially young ones, should be encouraged to play these instead of more violent games.

Middle and high school

The effect of violent games on behavior and social development is an especially important concern for older children. These children often spend much of their time playing video games when their parents are not present to supervise the content. Also, many teens buy video games with money earned from allowances or part time jobs, making it harder for parents to control which titles are purchased.

Studies have begun to find significant correlations between violence in video games and violence in real life. One study done on eighth and ninth graders compared teens who generally had personalities considered non-aggressive but who played violent games to those teens who had aggressive personalities but did not play violent games. The researchers found that the non-aggressive, video game playing teens were actually more likely to get in physical fights than the teens considered aggressive but who did not play video games.

Some states are trying to pass laws that would make it illegal to sell video games with certain ratings to people under the age for which the games are intended. Even if laws are created to try to prevent underage sale of very violent video games, parents should still be alert to what their teen is playing. Making the teen play video games in a common area and not in his or her bedroom with the door closed can be an important first step in regulating game play and facilitating discussion.

Common problems

Children often become very involved in video games and do not want to stop playing them. Setting concrete limits about the amount of time that can be spent playing games and then enforcing these limits is essential. Even educational games should not be played to excess, because playing video games is not a substitute for positive social interaction or traditional learning. Children can also be encouraged to play the games with other children, because discussing strategies and problem solving in a group is a positive social activity.

Parental concerns

The amount and degree of violence in video games is an important concern for parents. Monitoring the games that a child buys or rents and plays is an important way to help deal with this problem. If a child plays a violent video game at an arcade or another child's house, it can be helpful to discuss the difference between games and reality and to discuss what the real life repercussions of the actions taken in the game would be.


Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) The industry board that rates video games.

Video game related seizures (VGRS) Seizures thought to be brought on by the flashing lights and complex graphics of a video game.

When to seek help

If a child has violent or aggressive behavior or a tendency to mimic the negative actions taken by characters in a video game it may be helpful to consult a mental health professional to discuss possible solutions.

See also Television habits.



Calvert, Sandra L., Amy B. Jordan, and Rodney R. Cocking, eds. Children in the Digital Age: Influences of Electronic Media on Development. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.


Eisenman, Russell. "Video Games: Technology and Social Issues." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 25 (August 2004): 17075.

Levermore, Monique A. "Violent Media and Videogames, and Their Role in Creating Violent Youth." The Forensic Examiner 13 (Fall 2004): 3842.

"Video Game Play May Increase Laparoscopic Proficiency." AORN Journal 80 (August 2004): 290.

Tish Davidson, A.M. Mary Anne Klasen

Video Games

views updated May 29 2018

Video Games


The very mention of video games conjures a myriad of different thoughts, emotions, and concerns. Originally, video games were released for the Atari gaming system in 1973, and for the Apple 2c (1984) and Apple 2gs (1986). Coin-operated gaming machines surfaced in shopping malls and in various stores during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Nintendo debuted video games as early as 1976. Although games have appeared on computer systems in the past and continue to flourish today, the two major gaming systems that paved the way for todays famous systems were the original Sega and the Nintendo gaming system. Nintendo is the oldest of the game systems companies and is currently the leader in handheld console sales. Sega offered the GameGear handheld during the 1990s. Nintendos first offering had been Game Boy, and as of 2007 the graphically intense DS was for sale at retail outlets. The original Nintendo saw games in production from 1983 to 1994, Super Nintendo remained in production from 1990 to 2000, Nintendo 64 from 1996 to 2002, and GameCube from 2001 to 2007.

The games released may seem primitive relative to those on the market in 2007, but for the players they represented something prodigious. Games such as Pac-Man, Galaga, Pong, Budokan, Ultima, Might and Magic, Zillion, Rocky, The Adventures of Zelda, Donkey Kong, and the cult favorite, Super Mario Brothers, have entertained and delighted millions around the world. Donkey Kong was released exclusively for the Nintendo system in 1981, and the prototype for future Super Mario Brothers games appeared on the market in 1983. The Legend of Zelda became another instant classic after its arrival in early 1986.

The cult favorite game Mike Tysons Punch-Out arrived to much fanfare in 1987. Even family restaurants welcomed the coin-machine version of the game into their establishments. The very mention of Mike Tyson in association with a video game proved to be a brilliant advertising mechanism. Meanwhile, Nintendos Super Mario Brothers games, a smash hit when they arrived in 1985, have been criticized because they contain violent images. The objective is to slay the evil serpentine end-guys at the end of each level and jump on the mushroom men. To achieve this goal a player searches for special character upgrades such as the chance to wield fireballs, to be able to fly, and the like. Meanwhile, Nintendos competitor Sega flooded the market with games as early as 1981. Developed originally as a prototype for U.S. servicemen stationed overseas, it too achieved popularity. Although many of the games offered for the Sega system did not receive as much acclaim as those invented by Nintendo, many gamers have heralded its superior game play and controllers. Segas smash video game hits included Rocky (1987), Zillion (1987), Phantasy Star II (1989), and the ultimate game of strategy and surprise, Herzog Zwei (1990).

Nintendos second smash hit system, Super Nintendo, was even more successful. Super Nintendo offered Super Mario Land, an adaptation and graphically superior version of its prototype. Recently, Nintendo has capitalized on the success of these games by introducing Super Mario Brothers for their handheld system, the Nintendo DS. Additionally, Nintendos third hit system, the Nintendo 64, offered a variety of Mario Brothers games in 3-D.

The inundation of the market with video consoles has not come without scrutiny from various sectors of society. One area of concern is that young males favor video game play more than females do. Critics and watchdog groups believe this leads to aggression and violent impulses in men. As early as the late 1980s studies showed that male characters vastly outnumbered female protagonists or heroines. Conversely, scholars have recently argued that those who grew up playing video games may actually fare better in the workplace, having gained valuable knowledge and insight into cognitive behavior and how to socialize with coworkers. As technology has advanced, so have the messages propounded in the games themselves. With the ability to command ostensibly real-life armies and to dictate bombing campaigns and infantry showdowns, skilled game players may act as mock generals. Although this may lead to an artificially enhanced sense of self-power, it can also serve as a lesson about the viciousness of warfare, the consequences of failure, and the large number of casualties experienced during a heated battle. Sports games such as NBA Live, Madden NFL, Smackdown! vs. RAW, and NHL are interactive and promote athletes as supermen and role models, and game players often aspire to become professional entertainers as a result.

As early as 2000, video games had finally become mainstreamed in society. Teenage boys are not the only group interested in acquiring and playing the big three: Microsofts Xbox 360, Sonys PlayStation 3, or Nintendos newest console, the Wii. The competition is on for these companies to produce high-definition-ready systems and games to correspond with this capability. Regardless, the popularity of these systems has been a cause for concern for social and civil rights groups. The most infamous game in the market has continued to be the series Grand Theft Auto, a lucrative series developed by Rockstar Games. A player may purchase prostitutes, destroy private property, wreck other peoples automobiles, and essentially wreak havoc on the streets of a major city. This has captured the attention of city councils, Congress, and any number of outraged advocacy groups. As portrayed in the game, mimicking and glorifying gang behavior is disruptive and dangerous. Two staff writers for the Washington Post, Eric M. Weiss and Jose Antonio Vargas, have pointed out that these games are often sold or rented to children (2005). Although the revenue for game sales may be extraordinary, the social consequences are regarded by some as dire. Psychologist Craig Anderson has published findings asserting that adolescents playing violent video games experience accelerated heart rates and adrenaline rushes that may translate into violent behavior in real life.

Many of the most educational games are offered as PC games and are frequently priced lower than those created exclusively for one of the big three systems. Games such as Battle Chess or Chessmaster offer tutorials in how to improve ones chess skills. Colonization and Civilization are examples of intellectually stimulating games that have been offered in the past. Players of these games learn about world history, world leaders, inventions, architecture, the development of civilizations, and how to defeat an opponent by exercising the mind.

Clearly, video games raise awareness of the level of violence and crude sexuality that exist in contemporary society. However, it must not be ignored that these games serve several important purposes. Video games display images that brighten the imaginations of children, many are educational, and the old cliché about hand and eye coordination being sharpened through repeated game play is scientifically valid. When examining and engaging in discourse about societal problems, video games deserve to be discussed in a balanced manner and with the full spectrum of perspectives in order to recognize their positive impact on society as a whole.

SEE ALSO Adolescent Psychology; Cultural Studies; Entertainment Industry; Leisure; Microelectronics Industry; Popular Culture; Sexuality; Sports; Sports Industry; Violence


Beck, John, and Mitchell Wade. 2006. The Kids Are Alright: How the Gamer Generation Is Changing the Workplace. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Provenzo, Eugene. 1991. Video Kids: Making Sense of Nintendo. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sohn, Emily. 2004. The Violent Side of Video Games. Science News For Kids. January 14.

Weiss, Eric M., and Jose Antonio Vargas. 2005. Video Games Chaos Echoed in Streets, D.C. Leaders Say. Washington Post. February 4, 2005: A1.

Jonathan Jacobs

Video Games

views updated Jun 08 2018

Video Games

When the basic "electronic tennis" game, Pong, first appeared in American bars in 1972 it created a sensation that has only since been replicated by the 1990s Karaoke boom in Japan. In relative terms, of course, Pong was as fun and innovative in the 1970s as any video game now, but the basic principles of video gaming have always, in any case, remained the same—score the points, beat the enemy, come back for more. The term "video game" could only really be applied when Atari and Nintendo introduced game consoles into the home throughout the 1970s; the idea being that you would slot your Pong cartridges into the console and play the games through your television set—hence video rather than computer games. But the term has come to cover the main aspect of the medium, playing sight-and-sound games through any convenient screen.

In some sense, the arcade boom that began in 1978 took the group appeal out of video gaming. School children were still taking part in a mass fad, perhaps, but they were also cutting themselves off from others, with the distinction that while Pong required a human opponent, battling against pixellated aliens just pitched the player against the machine. Of course, after the release of George Lucas's blockbuster movie Star Wars in 1977, battling aliens became the rage in the first popular coin-operated machines, such as Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Galaxians. Breakout may have introduced a puzzle element and Pac Man offered a maze race, but video games have essentially always been based on the same principle: "your" pixels blasting, avoiding, or racing against "their" pixels. Technological developments, however, have made the experience of playing these games more visually and aurally realistic, to such an extent that you will not notice that you are only rearranging pixels.

With the introduction of Donkey Kong in 1981, there was an attempt to make a "story" as attractive as the "action." Hence the player now had a character to portray, in this case that of a boy rescuing a princess from an ape monster, as opposed to the previous standard of the player as "thing"—a tennis racquet, a spaceship, or a pac man. It is because of this sort of narrative appeal that Nintendo was able dominate the console market throughout the 1980s. Their 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), released in 1983, took away the market from the Atari 2600, even managing to compete with the personal computer boom—in fact, it is estimated that, by 1990, a third of American homes owned Nintendo consoles. Part of the success of Nintendo in the 1980s was not only their 8-bit monopoly but also the blanket marketing of their games. Again, part of the "humanizing" factor was to bring in a character as appealing as Mickey Mouse or Ronald McDonald, hence the introduction of Mario, the cute Italian-American plumber who would go on to save the world in as many imaginative variations on the platform game formula as possible. First appearing in the Mario Bros. coin-op in 1983, the NES Super Mario Bros. became the "greatest video game" of its generation in 1984, only to be surpassed by Super Mario 3 in 1988.

Following advances in video gaming is just a matter of tracing developments in the game consoles themselves (bearing in mind that, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, arcade machines and personal computers were also advancing the cause). When Sega introduced their 16-bit Mega Drive in 1989, Nintendo was caught off-guard in the "next generation" of console wars. Sega began the 1990s with the christening of a new hero, Sonic the Hedgehog, but Nintendo released their own 16-bit machine, the Super NES in 1990 and was able to win ground with the "greatest video game" of this next generation, Super Mario World. Such were the advances in technology, however, that the mid-1990s came to be characterized by the 32-bit wars, Nintendo seemingly missing out in 1994 when Sega introduced their Saturn and Sony entered the market with the Playstation. And it is the Playstation which came to dominate the market in America, Japan, and Europe, making games "trendy," fun, violent, and often intelligent enough to appeal to "children" of all ages, from three to 33.

For every quick-fire arcade variant, the Playstation also managed to follow the PC (Personal Computer) route into adventure gaming; and altogether combining both speed and strategy with "filmic" production values. Between 1994 and 1998, titles like Doom and Wipeout 2097 became instant classics, and for the growing number of Playstation fans, the Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy series became ways of life. Although missing out on the 32-bit market, Nintendo headed the next "next generation" war with their Nintendo 64 in 1996. With 64-bits to play with, Nintendo's flagship title, Super Mario 64, took Mario out of the 2-dimensional platform world and into a whole new 3-dimensional environment. That games were becoming more like movies was demonstrated by one of the most successful film tie-ins ever, the intelligent and action-packed James Bond spy simulation, Goldeneye (1997); and that Nintendo could corner the same adult market as the Playstation was demonstrated by the glorious prehistoric gore of Turok 2: Seeds of Evil (1998).

Clearly, the basic generic patterns of video gaming have been set—shoot-em-ups, sport, and simulations—but the presentation of video games, sound, graphics, and game play has become nothing short of spectacular. In 1998, Sega launched their Dreamscape, and in 1999 the Playstation 2 completes the 64-bit circuit. With the next 128-bit cycle, however, players will want whole rooms full of equipment in order to experience completely the sights, sounds, and total immersive capacity of these games, the hardware finally expanding to match the immense virtual horizons of the software itself.

—Stephen Keane

Further Reading:

Bukatman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham and London, Duke University Press, 1993.

Jones, Steven G. Cyber Society. Thousand Oaks, Sage, 1995.

Trushell, John. "Interactive Games and Other Fairy Tales: Or, Player(s) in Search of Authority." Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction. No.70, Summer 1997, 58-70.

Video Games

views updated May 17 2018


VIDEO GAMES encompass a range of electronic games, including coin-operated arcade games, console and cartridge games, various handheld electronics, and games on diskette and CD-ROM ranging in sophistication from simple geometric shapes to virtual reality programs with movielike qualities.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Steve Russell developed the first computer game, Spacewar, in 1962. Ralph Baer, an engineer at defense contractors Sanders and Associates, developed the first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey. The Odyssey connected to a regular television antenna terminal and was hardwired with twelve games, all variations of Ping-Pong. There was no sound or color, and each of the games required a different plastic overlay for the television screen, but 100,000 were sold by 1972. At the same time, another young entrepreneur, Nolan Bushnell, developed Pong and formed Atari. By 1974, 150,000 versions of home Pong had sold, and two years later there were over seventy companies making clones. The development of the game cartridge made hardwired consoles and tabletop games obsolete. Instead of buying a piece of hardware with a permanent set of games, consumer could buy one piece of hardware, the console, and as many games, or software, as companies could manufacture. By 1980 third-party companies such as Activision began producing games for other companies' consoles.

As PC technology advanced, so did gaming technology. In the early 1980s the market was dominated by Atari, Intellivision, and Coleco Vision, then in 1985 Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), using an eight-bit processor. By the 1990s, Nintendo released the sixteen-bit Super Nintendo and was joined by Sega. With the proliferation of video games in the 1980s, arcades became standard in American malls. Teenagers dropped 20 billion quarters into games by 1981. The video game industry also benefited from the increasing power and decreasing cost of home computers and the Internet. The Internet provides a virtual arcade where players can challenge opponents from all over the world

using the vast array of data transmission methods. A 2000 survey found that 61 percent of players are over age eighteen, with an average age of twenty-eight. The home console market, dominated by Nintendo, Sony, and Sega, has taken advantage of advances in computer technology to increase processor speed to sixty-four-bit and enable consoles to connect to the Internet.

As the popularity of video games grew, controversy developed over the addictiveness of the games and related health problems stemming from hours of stationary play. The violent nature of many games has also become an issue, as graphics technology allowed for increasingly realistic images. In 1993 a rating system, much like the system for rating movies, was put in place.


Herz, J. C. Joystick Nation. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997.

Kent, Steven L. The Ultimate History of Video Games. Roseville, Calif.: Prima, 2001.

Lisa A.Ennis

See alsoComputers and Computer Industry ; Internet ; Software Industry ; Toys and Games .

Video Games

views updated May 29 2018

Video Games

The idea of interactive games played on a television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3) screen is almost as old as TV itself, and video games have evolved as quickly as TV and computer technology have developed. The industry generated over $100 billion a year worldwide by 2000, as millions of gamers played at home, millions more at arcades, and millions more carried games with them on portable players. Though some parents and teachers complain that video games teach little except violence and inactivity, others insist that the games teach complex problem-solving skills and coordination. All in all, ever since the first game was marketed, video games have proven addictive for many players of all ages.

The first widely popular video game was Pong (see entry under 1970s—Sports and Games in volume 4), a simple ping-pong game with two lines, or "paddles," that could be moved to hit a "ball" back and forth across a television screen. Ralph Baer (1922–), a TV technician, first got the idea of adding interactive games to TV in 1966. However, it was Nolan Bushnell (1943–), later the president of Atari, who brought the new game Pong to the public, with a coin-operated arcade version. Pong was instantly popular, and a home version was soon available. By 1978, hundreds of video games were available, including the popular Pac-Man (see entry under 1980s—Sports and Games in volume 5). Americans spent $200 million that year on hardware and software for video games.

The mid-1980s saw a slump in video games, as players became bored with repetitive games. Interest picked up when a Japanese playing-card company called Nintendo entered the market with a faster processor that supported faster and more complex games. Their whimsical new game, Donkey Kong, along with other Nintendo offerings brought a new wave of video-game popularity. By 1989, thirty million Americans owned the new game technology. Other companies, like Mattel, Sega, and ID Software introduced competing game systems.

Games have continued to develop complexity, realism, and speed as the processors have grown from Nintendo's early 8-bit to 64-bit. Video games are now often designed for CD-ROM drives on computers or game boxes for TVs. The average age of game players has risen from seven in 1987 to seventeen in 1996. Some adults continue to worry that games take players' energy away from more active pursuits and that they encourage violence, as many games involve fighting and shooting. In 1994, video games began to be rated for content, after a controversy over the graphic violence of the game "Mortal Kombat." Shooting games continue to be popular however, in spite of parental worries about the gruesome fight scenes in games like "Kingpin," where players mow down groups of gangsters with highly realistic gunshots.

Some video games have taken realism a step further and have been made into films, such as 1994's Mortal Kombat and 2001's Tomb Raider.

—Tina Gianoulis

For More Information

Chance, Greg. "History of Home Video Games." (accessed March 28, 2002).

Hart, Sam. "A Brief History of Home Video Games." (accessed March 28, 2002).

Leland, John, and Devin Gordon, Anne Underwood, Tara Weingarten, and Ana Figueroa. "The Secret Life of Teens: Video Games, Music and Movies Alarm Adults." Newsweek (Vol. 133, iss. 19, May 10, 1999): pp. 44–45.

Poole, Steven. Trigger Happy: Video Games and the Entertainment Revolution. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000.

Videotopia. (accessed March 28, 2002).

Video Games

views updated May 11 2018


Some early video games, as well as many recent ones, were and are self-consciously educational and prosocial. Most would agree that video games of the 1970s, such as Pong, carried little more developmental risk than a game of table-tennis. The primary criticism at the time was that they fostered sedentary behavior in children. Many surveys of video games of the 1990s, however, tend to reveal both violent and sexist content. More serious criticisms include the promotion of short-term and long-term aggressive behavior through exposure to on-screen violence and the formation of negative gender stereotypes through exposure to passive, sexualized, and/or victimized female characters. Other research suggests that children's prosocial behavior may be reduced by playing video games. Technology improvements have allowed photorealistic effects, which lend credence to the view that negative effects found for television viewing may be true for playing video games as well. Nevertheless, findings for long-term developmental effects are not consistent. The conservative assessment is that more study is needed.



Cesarone, Bernard. "Video Games and Children." In ERIC Digest[web site]. Urbana, Illinois, 1994. Available from; INTERNET

Dietz, T. L. "An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior." Sex Roles 38 (1998):425-442.

Van Schie, E. G. M., and O. Wiegman. "Children and Video Games: Leisure Activities, Aggression, Social Integration, and School Performance." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 27 (1997):1174-1194.

Derrald W.Vaughn