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Video game

A video game is a game that involves interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device. The word video in video game traditionally referred to a raster display device. However, with the popular use of the term "video game", it now implies any type of display device. The electronic systems used to play video games are known as platforms; examples of these are personal computers and video game consoles. These platforms are broad in range, from large computers to small handheld devices. Specialized video games such as arcade games, while previously common, have gradually declined in use.

The input device normally used to manipulate video games is called a game controller, which varies across platforms. For instance, a dedicated console controller might consist of only a button and a joystick, or feature a dozen buttons and one or more joysticks. Early personal computer based games historically relied on the availability of a keyboard for gameplay, or more commonly, required the user to purchase a separate joystick with at least one button to play. Many modern computer games allow the player to use a keyboard and mouse simultaneously.

Beyond the common element of visual feedback, video games have utilized other systems to provide interaction and information to the player. Chief examples of these are sound reproduction devices, such as speakers and headphones, and an array of haptic peripherals, such as vibration or force feedback.

History

The formative years of video games consist of basic games that made use of interactive electronic devices with various display formats. The earliest example was in 1947, where the idea for a "Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device" was conceived by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann. The two filed for a patent on January 25, 1947, which was issued on December 14, 1948 as U.S. Patent 2455992. Inspired by radar displays, it consisted of an analog device that allowed a user to control a vector drawn dot on the screen to simulate a missile being fired at targets represented by drawings fixed to the screen. Other examples included the NIMROD computer at the 1951 Festival of Britain, Alexander S. Douglas's OXO for the EDSAC in 1952, William Higinbotham's interactive game called Tennis for Two in 1958, and MIT students Martin Graetz, Steve Russell, and Wayne Wiitanen's Spacewar! on a DEC PDP-1 computer in 1961. Each game used different means of display: NIMROD used a panel of lights to play the game of Nim, OXO used a graphical display to play tic-tac-toe, Tennis for Two used an oscilloscope to display a side view of a tennis court, and Spacewar! used the DEC PDP-1's vector display to have two spaceships battle each other.

In 1971, Computer Space, created by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, was the first commercially sold, coin-operated video game. For its display it used a black-and-white television and the computer system was a state machine made of 74 series TTL chips. The game was featured in the 1973 science fiction film Soylent Green. Computer Space was followed in 1972 by the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home console. Modeled after a late 1960s prototype console developed by Ralph H. Baer called the "Brown Box", it also used a standard television and game generated video signal. These systems were followed by two versions of Atari's Pong; an arcade version in 1972 and a home version in 1975. The commercial success of Pong led other companies to develop numerous Pong-clones and their own systems, spawning the video game industry.

Overview

Platforms

The term "platform" refers to the specific combination of electronic or computer hardware which, in conjunction with low-level software, allows a video game to operate. The term "system" is also commonly used.

In common use a "PC game" refers to a form of media that involves a player interacting with a personal computer connected to a high-resolution video monitor. A "console game" is played on a specialized electronic device that connects to a standard television set or composite video monitor. A "handheld" gaming device is a self contained electronic device that is portable and can be held in a user's hands. "Arcade game" generally refers to a game played on an even more specialized type of electronic device that is typically designed to play only one game and is encased in a special cabinet. These distinctions are not always clear and there may be games that bridge one or more platforms. There are also platforms that have non video game variations such as in the case of electro-mechanically based arcade machines. There are also devices with screens which have the ability to play games but are not dedicated video game machines. Examples are mobile phones, PDAs, graphing calculators, GPS receivers, MP3 players, digital cameras, and watches.

Genres

A video game, like most other forms of media, may be categorized into genres based on many factors such as method of game play, types of goals, and more. Because genres are dependent on content for definition, genres have changed and evolved as newer styles of video games are created. As the production values of video games have increased over the years both in visual appearance and depth of story telling, the video game industry has been producing more life-like and complex games that push the boundaries of the traditional game genres. Some genres represent combinations of others, such as massively multiplayer online role-playing games. It is also common to see higher level genre terms that are collective in nature across all other genres such as with action or horror-themed video games.

Types

Video games are primarily meant for entertainment. However, some video games are made (at least in part) for other reasons. These include advergames, educational games, propaganda games (e.g. militainment), and others. Many of these fall under the category of serious games.

Development

Video game development and authorship, much like any other form of entertainment is frequently a cross disciplinary field. Video game developers, as employees within this industry are commonly referred, primarily include programmers and graphic designers. Although, over the years this has expanded to include almost every type of skill that one might see prevalent in any movie or television program including sound designers, musicians, and other technicians; all of which are managed by producers.

In the early days of the industry, it was more common for a single person to manage all of the roles needed to create a video game. As platforms have become more complex and powerful in the type of material they can present, larger teams have been needed to generate all of the art, programming, cinematography, and more. This is not to say that the age of the "one-man shop" is gone as this still occurs in the casual gaming and handheld markets where single screen games are more prevalent due to technical limitations of the target platform (such as cellphones and PDAs).

With the growth of the size of development teams in the industry the problem of cost has become more critical then ever. Development studios need to be able to pay their staff a competitive wage in order to attract and retain the best talent, while publishers are constantly on the look to keep costs down in order to maintain profitability on their investment. Typically, a video game console development team can range in sizes of anywhere from 5 to 50 people, with some teams exceeding 100. The growth of team size combined with greater pressures to get completed projects into the market to begin recouping production costs has led to a greater occurrence of missed deadlines and unfinished products; Duke Nukem Forever is the quintessential example of these problems.

Modifications

Games running on a PC are often designed with end-user modifications in mind, and this consequently allows modern computer games to be modified by gamers without much difficulty. These mods can add an extra dimension of replayability and interest. The Internet provides an inexpensive medium to promote and distribute mods, and they have become an increasingly important factor in the commercial success of some games. Developers such as id Software, Valve Software, Crytek, Epic Games and Blizzard Entertainment ship their games with the very development tools used to make the game in the first place, along with documentation to assist mod developers, which allows for the kind of success seen by popular mods such as the (previously) Half-Life mod Counter-Strike.

Cheats

Cheating in computer games may involve cheat codes implemented by the game developers, modification of game code by third parties, or players exploiting a software glitch. Modifications are facilitated by either cheat cartridge hardware or a software trainer. Cheats usually make the game easier by providing an unlimited amount of some resource; for example lives, health, and/or ammunition. Other cheats might provide an unusual or amusing feature, like altered game colors or graphical appearances.

Glitches

Software errors not detected by software testers during development can find their way into released versions of computer and video games. This may happen because the glitch only occurs under unusual circumstances in the game, was deemed too minor to correct, or because the game development was hurried to meet a publication deadline. Glitches can range from minor graphical errors to serious bugs that can delete saved data or cause the game to malfunction. Glitches in games for home computers, and now in consoles like the Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3 may be later corrected if the developers release a patch.

Theory

Although departments of computer science have been studying the technical aspects of video games for years, theories that examine games as an artistic medium are a relatively recent development in the humanities. The two most visible schools in this emerging field are ludology and narratology. Narrativists approach video games in the context of what Janet Murray calls "Cyberdrama". That is to say, their major concern is with video games as a storytelling medium, one that arises out of interactive fiction. Murray puts video games in the context of the Holodeck, a fictional piece of technology from Star Trek, arguing for the video game as a medium in which we get to become another person, and to act out in another world. This image of video games received early widespread popular support, and forms the basis of films such as Tron, eXistenZ, and The Last Starfighter.

Ludologists break sharply and radically from this. They argue that a video game is first and foremost a game, which must be understood in terms of its rules, interface, and the concept of play that it deploys. Espen J. Aarseth argues that, although games certainly have plots, characters, and aspects of traditional narratives, these aspects are incidental to gameplay. For example, Aarseth is critical of the widespread attention that narrativists have given to the curvaceous heroine of the game Tomb Raider, saying that "the dimensions of Lara Croft's body, already analyzed to death by film theorists, are irrelevant to me as a player, because a different-looking body would not make me play differently... When I play, I don't even see her body, but see through it and past it. Simply put, ludologists reject traditional theories of art because they claim that the artistic and socially relevant qualities of a video game are primarily determined by the underlying set of rules, demands, and expectations imposed on the player.

Social aspects

Demographics

The November 2005 Nielsen Active Gamer Study, taking a survey of 2,000 regular gamers, found that the U.S. games market is diversifying. The age group among male players has expanded significantly into the 25-40 age group. For casual online puzzle-style and simple mobile cell phone games, the gender divide is more or less equal between males and females. Females have been shown to be significantly attracted to playing certain online multi-user video games that offer a more communal experience, and small amount of young females have been shown to play aggressive games that are sometimes thought of as being "traditionally male" games. According to the ESRB almost 41% of PC gamers are women. With such video game social networks as Miss Video Game and Guild Cafe having a large percentages of female gamers, the "traditionally male" games are now considered cross-gendered.

When comparing today’s industry climate with that of 20 years ago, women and many adults are more inclined to be using products in the industry. While the market for teen and young adult men is still a strong market, it’s the other demographics which are posting significant growth. In 2008, the average American gamer has been playing for 12 years, and is now, on average, 35 years of age .

Multiplayer

Video gaming has traditionally been a social experience. From its early beginnings, video games have commonly been playable by more than a single player. Multiplayer video games are those that can be played either competitively or cooperatively by using either multiple input devices, or by hotseating. Tennis for Two, arguably the first video game, was a two-player game, as was its successor Pong. The first commercially available game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, had two controller inputs.

Since then, most consoles have been shipped with two or four controller inputs. Some have had the ability to expand to four, eight or as many as twelve inputs with additional adapters, such as the Multitap. Multiplayer arcade games typically feature play for two to four players.

Many early computer games for non-PC descendant based platforms featured multiplayer support. Personal computer systems from Atari and Commodore both regularly featured at least two game ports. PC-based computer games started with a lower availability of multiplayer options because of technical limitations. PCs typically had either one or no game ports at all. Network games for these early personal computers were generally limited to only text based adventures or MUDs that were played remotely on a dedicated server. This was due both to the slow speed of modems (300-1200-bit/s), and the prohibitive cost involved with putting a computer online in such a way where multiple visitors could make use of it. However, with the advent of widespread local area networking technologies and Internet based online capabilities, the number of players in modern games can be 32 or higher, sometimes featuring integrated text and/or voice chat. MMOs can offer extremely high numbers of simultaneous players; Eve Online set a record with just under 36,000 players on a single server in 2006.

Benefits

It has been shown that action video game players have better visuomotor skills, such as their resistance to distraction, their sensitivity to information in peripheral vision, and their ability to count briefly presented objects than nonplayers. They found that such enhanced abilities could be acquired by training with an action game, involving challenges to switch attention to different locations, but not with a game requiring concentration on single objects.

As a form of multimedia entertainment, modern video games contain a unique synthesis of 3D art, CG effects, architecture, artificial intelligence, sound effects, dramatic performances, music, storytelling, and, most importantly, interactivity. This interactivity enables the player to explore environments that range from simulated reality to stylized, artistic expressions (something no other form of entertainment can allow) where the actions of the player operating as a single, irreducible variable. In this respect, every game scenario will play out a slightly different way every time. Even if the game is highly scripted, this can still feel like a large amount of freedom to the person who is playing the game.

A related property is that of emergent behavior. While many games including card games and sports rely on emergent principles, video games commonly present simulated story worlds where emergent behavior occurs within the context of the game. This is something that some gamers find appealing as it introduces a certain level of randomness to a game. The term "emergent narrative" has been used to describe how, in a simulated environment, storyline can be created simply by "what happens to the player. Emergent behavior is not limited to sophisticated games, however- generally any place where event driven instructions occur for AI in a game, emergent behavior will inevitably exist. For instance, take a racing game in which cars are programmed to avoid crashing, and they encounter an obstacle in the track: the cars might then maneuver to avoid the obstacle causing the cars behind them to slow and/or maneuver to accommodate the cars in front of them and the obstacle. The programmer never wrote code to specifically create a traffic jam, yet one now exists in the game.

In Steven Johnson's book, Everything Bad Is Good For You, he argues that video games in fact demand far more from a player than traditional games like Monopoly. To experience the game, the player must first determine the objectives, as well as how to complete them. They must then learn the game controls and how the human-machine interface works, including menus and HUDs. Beyond such skills, which after some time become quite fundamental and are taken for granted by many gamers, video games are based upon the player navigating (and eventually mastering) a highly complex system with many variables. This requires a strong analytical ability, as well as flexibility and adaptability. He argues that the process of learning the boundaries, goals, and controls of a given game is often a highly demanding one that calls on many different areas of cognitive function. Indeed, most games require a great deal of patience and focus from the player, and, contrary to the popular perception that games provide instant gratification, games actually delay gratification far longer than other forms of entertainment such as film or even many books. Some research suggests video games may even increase players' attention capacities.

Learning principles found in video games have been identified as possible techniques with which to reform the U.S. education system. It has been noticed that gamers adopt an attitude while playing that is of such high concentration, they don't realize they're learning- and that if the same attitude could be adopted at school, education would enjoy significant benefits.

Online multiplayer games provide players with the opportunity to compete in real time with other players from across the globe over the internet. MMORPGs build on this concept with the establishment of vast, online communities existing in persistent virtual worlds. Millions of players around the globe are attracted to video gaming simply because it offers such unprecedented ability to interact with large numbers of people engaged simultaneously in a structured environment where they are all involved in the same activity.

Even simple games offer potential benefits to the player. Games like Tetris and Pac-Man or Galaga are well-designed games that are easy to pick up but difficult to master, much like chess or poker. Despite their simplicity, simple games may also feature online capabilities or powerful AI. Depending on the game, players can develop and test their techniques against an advanced computer player or online against other human players.

The U.S. army has deployed machines such as the PackBot which makes use of a game-style hand controller intended to make it more familiar to use by young people.

According to research discussed at the 2008 Convention of the American Psychological Association, certain types of video games can improve the gamers’ dexterity as well as their ability to problem-solve. A study of 33 laparoscopic surgeons found that those who played video games were 27 percent faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37 percent fewer errors compared to those who did not play video games. A second study of 303 laparoscopic surgeons (82 percent men; 18 percent women) also showed that surgeons who played video games requiring spatial skills and hand dexterity and then performed a drill testing these skills were significantly faster at their first attempt and across all 10 trials than the surgeons who did not play the video games first.

Controversy

Like related forms of media, computer and video games have been the subject of frequent controversy and censorship, due to the depiction of graphic violence, sexual themes, advergaming (a form of advertising in games), consumption of drugs, consumption of alcohol or tobacco, propaganda, or profanity in some games. Among others, critics of video games sometimes include parents' groups, politicians, organized religious groups, and other special interest groups, even though all of these can be found in all forms of entertainment and media. Various games have been accused of causing addiction and even violent behavior. "Video game censorship" is defined as the use of state or group power to control the playing, distribution, purchase, or sale of video games or computer games. Video game controversy comes in many forms, and censorship is a controversial subject. Proponents and opponents of censorship are often very passionate about their individual views.

Historically, this type of controversy and criticism is not unique to video games. The same situation has been applied to comic books, motion pictures, dancing and to some extent music and books. As long ago as the nineteenth century, similar accusations were made about "penny dreadfuls". Moreover, it appears to be a question of age. Since these art forms have been around longer, the backlash against them occurred further in the past, beyond the remembrance of today's youth. In both cases, the attempts at censorship in the United States were struck down as a violation of First Amendment rights, and they have gone on to become fully integrated facets of society. An organization known as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board or ESRB rates software for certain age groups; however, publishers are not required to submit games for ratings, and parents are not always aware of the existence of these ratings.

Commercial aspects

Game sales

The three largest producers of and markets for computer and video games (in order) are North America (US and Canada), Japan and the United Kingdom. Other significant markets include Australia, Spain, Germany, South Korea, Mexico, France and Italy. Both India and China are considered emerging markets in the video game industry and sales are expected to rise significantly in the coming years.

Sales of different types of games vary widely between these markets due to local preferences. Japanese consumers tend to purchase console games over computer games, with a strong preference for games catering to local tastes. In South Korea, computer games are preferred, especially MMORPG games and real-time strategy games; there are over 20,000 PC bang Internet cafés where computer games can be played for an hourly charge.

The NPD Group tracks computer and video game sales in the United States. It reported that:

  • Console and portable software sales: $6.2 billion, up 8% from 2003
  • Console and portable hardware and accessory sales: $3.7 billion, down 35% from 2003
  • PC game sales: $1.1 billion, down 15% from 2006

Also note that PC games that are digitally distributed either directly or by distribution networks such as Steam are not tracked by the NPD, and Steam does not list sales numbers for games downloaded through their service. Software piracy is also more rampant on the PC.

These figures are sales in dollars, not units; unit shipments for each category were higher than the dollar sales numbers indicate, as more software and hardware was sold at reduced prices compared to 2003. However, with the release of the next-generation consoles in 2006, these numbers have increased dramatically. The game and film industries are also becoming increasingly intertwined, with companies like Sony having significant stakes in both. A large number of summer blockbuster films spawn a companion game, often launching at the same time to share the marketing costs.

There is also controversy relating video games in Australia and other PAL regions. In general when compared to the US, PAL gamers have to pay up to 40% to 50% more. More of a problem in Australia is where games are constantly delayed for no apparent reason, most notably games released by Nintendo. As English is the main language in the Australian region there is no need for any translation and the complications of differences between the PAL and NTSC video formats are not existent, as the majority of video displays in Australia are fully capable of running at a 60 Hz format. There is also the problem of regional lockout in Australia, with most DVD players release coming region free in order to comply with local laws, but video game consoles are still sold fully region locked. Some efforts to increase awareness of the issue, specifically to Nintendo of Australia, was in the form of a formal report outlining the issues, published by Aaron Rex Davies. The report has gone on to gain a lot of attention in the public media.

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