What is it about video games, anyway?
Around thirty years ago you might have found me in my parents’ suburban rec room, eyes fixated on the TV screen, playing game number 3,461 of Pong.
Pong’s electronic version of table tennis wasn’t the first video game to hit the market but, primitive monochromic graphics notwithstanding, it was certainly the most popular. Sears struck a deal with Atari in time for the 1975 Christmas shopping season and video game culture had arrived in North America. My friends and I were in the target market, dead-centre.
In the years that followed, I graduated to Intellivision and in high school we spent far too much time and quarters on arcade versions of Asteroids, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.
The thing about it is that I was never really any good at any of those games. But in the same way a slot machine player is convinced that the big jackpot is one play away, video games have a way of appealing to the player’s imagination and the competitive drive.
My gamer days are over, but I understand the massive popularity of today’s video games. I’m fascinated by the evermore elaborate graphics and interactive capabilities, especially in terms of online competition and the way game systems like Wii involve the body as well as the mind.
Video games are the recreational byproduct of the personal computing era and just like computers have become more sophisticated, smaller, and more intuitive, so too have video games.
The realistic production values of today’s video games really are remarkable. What’s also remarkable is the talent and imagination that goes into creating them.
Reading about visual artist Michael Zak’s contributions to Halo 3 (our cover story, beginning on page 22), I was struck by his purely eclectic approach to life. For a guy who spends his working hours dreaming up and designing the futuristic playing fields of some of today’s most popular video game enterprises, he approaches his craft from the same sensibilities and tastes that first brought him to our university.
It’s also true that behind the computing power that has led from Pong to Halo, at the heart of it all is the human touch: the capacity to imagine, to create and to draw us in. For just one more game.