Video Game Industry: A Social Menace or Addictive Learning Tool?

A look into potential groups who would benefit the most from the industry in Canada

Shindu Parameswaran, Section Editor

Flickr by tehusagent






When most people imagine a serious “gamer”, it’s hard not to think of overweight teenagers with bags under their eyes from staring at a screen all night. This stereotype seems exaggerated, but how much truth is there to it?

The video gaming generation grew up with their parents complaining about these games being addictive, violent, and damaging to their children. Some even say that gaming creates a disconnection between the virtual world and the real world. While it is true that there have been cases of obesity, illnesses, and even deaths due to excessive gaming, exactly how damaging is this industry? Would society be better without it?

The Birth of a Generation

Can you imagine a world without your beloved FarmVille or Halo? In 2009, the video game business was estimated to be worth more than $60 billion. But when did this multi-billion industry originate?

It dates back to 1966 where Ralph Baer, a New Hampshire engineer who was employed by a military electronics contractor, sprang up with the idea in his living room.

As he was watching TV, he started thinking about what you could do with a television besides watching shows such as Bonanza and “My Three Sons?” He began to write a few-page reports on the matter – ultimately resulting in the beginning of the industry.

On the other hand, many people may argue that the true foundation of the industry was in California by a couple of young entrepreneurs – Nolan Bushnell, the founder of the company, and Al Alcorn, an engineer – launching Atari Incorporated. The two bought a black-and-white TV from a local drug store, created the first video game machine – naming it Pong – and installed the machine in a local bar. Within the first week, the game caught on with customers and the two entrepreneurs realized they had a winner on their hands.

Yet, debatably, the blockbuster, that may have made the video game industry prominent globally, happened halfway across the world – in Japan. Although, previous video games were developed from deep and immense thinking, the Pac -Man idea came about over a routine lunch. The team working on the Pac-Man project went out for pizza, and the team leader noticed that one slice of the pizza was missing. “He looked down and there was Pac-Man staring at him.” Arguably, Japan had started the fascination for video games.

[pullquote]Violent video games help in the improvement of visual-spatial skills.[/pullquote]

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Nintendo, another Japanese video game corporation, controlled 90 percent of the video game market. Their control over the industry increased once they introduced the Gameboy, a handheld video game. Nintendo derived its innovative idea for its Gameboy after the fall of the Soviet Union. The fall of the USSR allowed Nintendo to get their first glimpse at the popular game, Tetris – initiating the establishment of Nintendo’s Gameboy device.

By the mid-1990s though, Sony, a Japanese global electronic conglomerate, decided to infiltrate the video game industry by introducing the PlayStation. A few years after Sony had entered the trade and were about to introduce its second console, Microsoft also decided to enter the fray with its Xbox console. The two global corporations observed the profits of Nintendo and the potential of the industry for many years, finally eroding Nintendo’s grip of the industry.

The video game industry is persistently progressing in various ways: innovative methods to improve gameplay (i.e. through motion tracking or controls) and enhanced graphics. This enhancement in graphics have been witnessed through characters in video games resembling their real-life individuals (i.e. basketball stars, like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, are duplicated in games, such as NBA 2K11).

The improvement in gameplay has been seen through the Nintendo’s fifth console, the Wii, which has motion detectable controllers. Seeing the success that Nintendo has gained through the Wii, Microsoft and Sony have tried to replicate the success of Nintendo by recently releasing their own motion-sensing game controllers through the Kinect and Move.

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