Not all Fun and Games

On Monday I mentioned the Supernova conference in San Francisco and this morning I dropped in (virtually-speaking) to read about computer game-play both as a market (per capita spending of $108 annually) and as a social phenomenon (no surprise to this parent of two teens).

The per capita spending figure was offered by Stanford communications professor Byron Reeves, as reported by the well-known blogger JD Lasica. He was reporting on a panel called Connected Play that featured Raph Koster (Sony Online), JC Herz (Joystick Nation), Philip Rosedale (Linden Lab), and Dennis Fong (Xfire). (My note: I’m pretty darn sure that the per capita spend was all video games and not just the connected, i.e. online, variety.)

I snipped this quote from JD’s account: “Society and media underestimate the importance of games to today’s generation,” said Koster. “Games to today’s kids are having as big as impact as rock ‘n’ roll, TV and radio to previous generations. That’s the world now, the game world. “You non-gamers, you’re the dinosaurs.”

That may be a bit of an overstatement, but possibly not by much, judging from the amount of time I see my own and other kids playing games. Literary and political types embrace the interactivity of the web as organizing tools. But it makes sense that play appeals to a larger demographic (ditto for sex and dating). JD reported another factoid (from Reeves’s talk) that struck home: “350,000 people are playing WarCraft at any one time.” (That estimate includes my 16-year-old son, whose dinosaur parents are forever trying to pry him away from keyboard and screen.)

JD’s account offered a few words and a photo of Linden Labs’ Philip Rosedale, but a far more revealing account of its game, Second Life, can be found in a recent edition of the East Bay Express, a free weekly newspaper. To summarize a lengthy and fascinating article, thousands of people are exchanging real money to buy the game currency that is used to purchase the virtual artifacts that players create and exchange in their Second Life.

So I can see that gaming is an important and growing segment of the new media marketplace. Nevertheless I have a somewhat saurian view of the genre. To me it’s like watching sports. Both are popular activities, but I get more satisfaction out of cleaning the garage. My disdain for virtual games is influenced by my reading of Snow Crash, the science fiction novel in which author Neal Stephenson paints a dystopian view of two sick worlds, one real and the other virtual.

Meanwhile, in the face of technological, social and demographic trends beyond my control, all I can do is be the Tyrannosaurus Dad, who sees the late-night flicker of the WarCraft screen and roars: “Turn off that computer, now!”

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media