A video game (or videogame) is a game that typically involves user/player interaction with a controller interface to generate visual feedback on a video screen. It also generally has some system of reward presented to the user in return for meeting certain accomplishments within the framework of a given ruleset. The various types of electronic devices that video games are played on are known as platforms and examples of these are personal computers and video game consoles. Video games also exist across a full range of technology ranging from large computers such as mainframes down to smaller hand-held devices (like cell phones and PDAs). There are very specialized video games such as Arcade games, which while extremely common at one point have seen their use decline over the years. Many players identify their platform of choice as a distinct form of video gaming apart from the rest. The main separations between the many platforms within a generation are interface options, and level of social interaction inherent to the majority of games found them. The quantitative value of these separations has shifted over the years, though.
Video games are generally manipulated by a control interface of some sort, and these vary across all platforms. For instance, a dedicated console controller might consist of only a button and a joystick or feature upwards of a dozen buttons and one or more joysticks all on the same controller. Early computer based games historically relied on the availability of a keyboard for gameplay, or more commonly expected the user to purchase a separate joystick with at least one button to play. Many modern PC games allow the player to use a keyboard and mouse simultaneously.
Beyond the common element of video based feedback, video games have also utilized many other systems to provide interaction and information to a player. Chief examples of these include various audio playback devices (speakers) and an array of haptic interactive peripherals (i.e., vibration or force feedback).
The history of video games traces to 1948, where the idea of a video game was conceived and patented by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann. In 1958, the first video game was introduced to the public, William Higinbotham’s Tennis for Two. Later in 1972, the Magnavox Odyssey was released, the first consumer-available video game console.
In common usage a “PC game” refers to a game that is played on a personal computer connected to a high-resolution video monitor. A “console game” historically has referred to a specialized single purpose electronic device that connects to a standard television set or composite video monitor. A “hand-held” game is a self contained electronic device or miniature computer and monitor combination that is portable and can be held in a user’s hands. “Arcade game” generally refers to 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 platform. There are also platforms that have non video game variations such as in the case of electro-mechanically based arcade games.
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, and watches.
In general practice, a platform is a distinct class of interfaces and expected experiences combined to provide a consistent experience to the user/player.
Due to many reasons, be it loose definition standards both among the fans, the journalistic community at large, or even the constant simplification of language when communicating, many users frequently misapply genres as platforms. 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.
Games have often been easier to classify by genre due to the technical constraints of various platforms, and commercial pressures like one would experience in any hit driven, entertainment market. As the production values of video games have increased over the years both in visual appearance and depth of story telling, the demand for more creative talent has driven game companies to bring in artists from outside of what one would traditionally call the video game industry.
The reuse of genres is most clearly seen in the trend by publishers to establish “franchises”, which often recycle the characters, situations, conflicts, gameplay mechanics, and/or themes over the course of any number of sequels.
Therefore, although many games may combine genres, very few exist outside the paradigms of previously established genres with notable exceptions, which when successful, generally define a new genre through subsequent imitation by competition. A game that launches a genre may also not be the first game of its kind. It may just be the first that was significantly commercially successful enough to drive other companies to try and replicate its success. Examples of this would be Super Mario 64 which launched the 3-D Platform genre for console gaming, and Doom which launched the First-person shooter genre for PC gaming.
There are many genres of video gaming and each appears across nearly all platforms, a sampling of common genres include:
First Person (FPS)
There are also even combinations of these genres such as with Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG)
It is also common to see higher level genre terms that are collective in nature across all other genres such as with Christian or Horror themed
Multiplayer video games
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 console game system to support multiple games (the Magnavox Odyssey), had two controller inputs.
Since that time, most console systems 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. In the early days, multi-player Coin-op games commonly featured hotseat play for at least two players. In later years it was more common to feature two-player simultaneous competitive play. Public business establishments which feature predominantly coin-op video games are generally referred to as arcades, and were widely popular during the golden age of arcade games.
Many early computer games for non IBM PC descendant based platforms featured multiplayer support. Personal computer systems from Atari and Commodore both regularly featured at least two game ports. 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 (300-1200bps), and the prohibitive cost involved with putting a computer online in such a way where multiple visitors could make use of it.
IBM PC (PC for short) based Computer games started out with a lower availability of multiplayer options, largely due to many games being dependent on keyboard or mouse based interactions, a single gaming port (if any) available, and network options that were limited. 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 of video gaming
Perhaps the most visible benefit of video gaming are its artistic and entertainment contributions. As a form of multimedia entertainment, modern video games contain a highly unique fusion 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) were 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 if the game. This is something that some gamers find appealing as it introduces a certain level of randomness to a game. In discussing the issue, game designer Warren Spector has used the term “emergent narrative” to describe how, in a simulated environment, storyline can be created simply by “what happens to the player.” Emergent behavior in video games date back to the earliest games though. Generally any place where you have event driven instructions for AI in a game, you will inevitably see this. For instance, take a racing game where 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. To emphasize the point, Johnson notes that the strategy guide for Grand Theft Auto III is 53,000 words long. 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 player’s attention capacities.
Multiplayer games, which take advantage of the fact that computer games can use the internet, provide players with the opportunity to compete with other players from across the globe, something that is also unique to electronic gaming. MMORPG’s take the concept much further 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 (playing the game).
Even simple games offer potential benefits to the player. Games like Tetris and Pac-man are well-designed games that are easy to pick up but difficult to master, much like chess or even 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.
More obvious benefits to the player can come in the form education on the game’s subject matter. For example, a RTS set during the American Civil War may feature the use of period armies engaging in historical battles, and outwitting an opponent such as Robert E. Lee.
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 illegal drugs, consumption of alcohol or tobacco, propaganda, or profanity in some games. Among others, critics of video games sometimes include parents’ groups, politicians, organized religion 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, as well as a popular topic of debate. 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 and to some extent music. Moreover, it appears to be a question of age. Since these art forms have been around longer, the backlash against them occurred farther 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.
Games that have sparked notable national controversy in the United States include Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, Doom, the Grand Theft Auto series and, most notably, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ infamous Hot Coffee mod fiasco which boosted the game’s ESRB rating from M (Mature) to AO (Adults Only).
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 is expanding 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 are being significantly attracted to playing certain online multi-user video games that offer a more communal experience, and a small hardcore group of young females are playing aggressive games that are usually thought of as being ‘traditionally male’ games. The most loyal fan-base is reported to be for large role-playing games.
According to the Entertainment Ratings Software Board (ESRB) almost 40% of video and PC gamers are women. Increasingly, women are some of the “best gamers out there”.
Video games are made by developers, who used to do this as individuals or small teams in the 80’s. Now, development commonly requires a large team consisting of designers, graphic designers and other artists, programmers, sound designers, musicians, and other technicians; all of which are managed by producers. The visionary for any game may come from any of the roles outlined. Development by committee rarely works.
Video games are developing fast in all areas, but the problem is of cost, and how developers intend to keep the costs low enough to attract publisher investment. Most video game console development teams number anywhere from 20 to 50 people, with some teams exceeding 100. The average team size as well as the average development time of a game have grown along with the size of the industry and the technology involved in creating games. This has led to regular occurrences of missed deadlines and unfinished products; Duke Nukem Forever is the quintessential example of these problems.
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, Valve, Crytek, Epic and especially 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 Counter-Strike.
Cheating in computer games may involve cheat codes implemented by the game developers for playtesting, modification of game code by third parties (by either cheat cartridge hardware or a software trainer), or players exploiting a software glitch.
Cheats usually make the game easier by providing an unlimited amount of some resource (lives, health or ammunition for example) but might provide an unusual or amusing feature, like reversed colors in a game.
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 save data or cause the game to malfunction.
Glitches in games for home computers, and now in consoles like the Xbox 360,PS3 and the Wii, may be later corrected if the developers’ release a patch.
The three largest markets for computer and video games are the United States (largest), Japan (2nd largest) and the United Kingdom (3rd) also in that order as the largest producers of video games. Other significant markets include Australia, Canada, Spain, Germany, South Korea, Mexico, France and Italy. Both India and the 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 avoid computer games and instead buy console 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 cafes 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 as of 2004:
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
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.
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.
Non-gamers use several umbrella terms for console, PC, arcade, handheld, and similar games since they do not agree on the best name. For many, either “computer game” or “video game” describes these games as a whole. Other commonly used terms include “entertainment software,” “interactive entertainment media,” “electronic interactive entertainment,” “electronic game,” “software game,” and “videogame” (as one word). Gamers are quite happy to use the vague term “games”, or “videogame/video game” to distinguish them from board games and card games when necessary. In the past, it was common for parents and/or elderly people, who were unfamiliar with video games, to refer to all of them as “Nintendo games” due to Nintendo’s overwhelming popularity in the late 80s and 90s (this is an example of a genericized trademark). Computer and video games are a subset of interactive media, which includes virtual reality, flight and engineering simulation, multimedia and the World Wide Web.