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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 today’s 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. Nintendo’s 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 Tyson’s 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, Nintendo’s 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, Nintendo’s 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. Sega’s smash video game hits included Rocky (1987), Zillion (1987), Phantasy Star II (1989), and the ultimate game of strategy and surprise, Herzog Zwei (1990).
Nintendo’s 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, Nintendo’s 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: Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Sony’s PlayStation 3, or Nintendo’s 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 people’s 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 one’s 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 cliche 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.
- 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: A-1.
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