Thu, December 10, 2009
The graphics are prettier, the storylines are deeper and the controls have us moving our bodies in addition to twiddling our thumbsticks.
But the biggest change in video games over this last decade has been their transformation from a nerdy hobby into a mainstream entertainment force.
In 2000, as an odd little computer game called The Sims made its debut, video games and game consoles were still largely seen as the domain of teenaged outcasts, the kind of guys who’d rather spend a Saturday night pressing buttons on a controller than pressing their luck on an actual date.
Was that an accurate depiction of games and gamers? Probably not, but quick ’n’ easy stereotypes rarely are. To say you were a gamer in 2000 was to bravely declare solidarity with your fellow computer-game enthusiasts and PlayStation 2 early adopters, blank stares and stifled snickers be damned.
And now, as the decade winds to a close, The Sims and its sequels have sold more than 100 million copies; Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has had the largest single-day gross of any entertainment launch in history (at $310 million US); and sitcom characters are just as likely to be seen trading quips over a game of Wii Sports as they are over a cup of coffee.
Video games still aren’t as ubiquitous and universal as television or films – we still call those who play games “gamers,” even though no similar segregation exists for movie buffs, TV fans or book nuts — but they’re getting awfully close. Roughly half of all Canadian households now have a video game console of some sort, compared to 35% just four years ago.
And that 20-year-old gamer virgin in his mom’s basement? According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, the average gamer of 2009 is 36 years old, and more than one-third are female. You can bet some of those ladies would eat you alive in a game of Madden NFL 10 or Halo 3.
As a gamer from the Intellivision era onward, it’s been fulfilling for me to see how far the medium has come in the past 10 years (and to have spent a sizable chunk of that time writing about it for Sun Media, as even today we’re one of the few mainstream news outlets that covers games on the same footing as movies, music and TV.)
There have been controversies and steps backward, sure, and video games still have a lot of growing up to do. Ten years from now, it would be nice to see more games that speak to a broader level of experience and engagement, instead of falling back on subject matter such as Guy With Gun Shoots Everything That Moves.
But, like the Sims themselves, video games have evolved, matured, become more social and been embraced by the masses. The medium’s awkward teen years are over, and the exodus from the basement is complete. Game on.