From the moment the Nintendo generation crawled to the control pad, its hazy glare fixed itself upon a Technicolor land of crusading plumbers, stalking mushroom heads and pale princesses awaiting rescue at the end of the eighth world. Nearly two decades later, many continue the quest, often proclaiming the mechanical melody of the Super Mario Brothers to be the anthem of their youth.
“You can’t beat old-school Mario. And Duck Hunt? Classic,” sophomore Mo Choudhury said. “The systems of today are more commercial. They’re not pure. But I’m just biased because I’m from the Ninja Turtles generation.”
Others reminisce of what has been deemed the “golden age of Nintendo,” all the while embracing and basking in a new era of improved graphics, greater complexity within story lines and a wealth of additional benefits that have inevitably come with improved technology.
Today, the video game industry mocks the bold proclamations of concerned adults of the 1970s who thought video gaming, in the form of arcade machines, would lead to nothing but an ill-conceived fad. In fact, 2001 revenue figures showed that video game expenditures had even surpassed those collected by Hollywood.
Cultural fascination has yet to falter due to the foundational essence of the medium, said Professor Mark Mullen, who has presided over several GW courses about the industry.
“The kind of visual experience a viewer can get in a video game is one they can’t get anywhere else. A lot of the best-selling games are the ones that are deliberately non-realistic,” Mullen said. “It’s not just about realism, but a different way of visually seeing the world. Also, the immersion factor of games made them much more powerful than anyone had anticipated.”
Coming to maturity along with the developing gaming systems, today’s college students represent a lucrative faction of the American population for video game corporations. According to a 2003 study conducted by the Washington-based Pew Internet and American Life Project, 70 percent of college students reported playing video, computer or online games every so often, while 65 percent reported being regular or occasional game players.
In stark contrast to the much-touted media representation of teenagers cutting themselves off from society in the solitary confines of their video dreams, the Pew Institute study also found that students cited gaming as a way to spend more time with friends. One of every five gaming students felt moderately or strongly that gaming helped them make new friends, as well as improve existing relationships.
In extensive conversations with local students, Mullen found the scenario to be significantly prevalent at GW.
“Video gaming is a very social mode of behavior in college life. College can be quite an alienating experience and games can be a way of reaching out to other people across campus,” Mullen said.
Emphasizing the point, GW sophomore Chris Hwalek grew tired of his solo Xbox endeavors and decided to enlist help earlier this year. The product was the Nintendo Player’s Union, a student organization comprised of 25 gaming aficionados who meet periodically in the Marvin Center.
“I know the reason I play is to get away to a different world away from school, away from exams,” Hwalek said. “College students need that sometimes.”
Those well-acquainted with such positive effects have grown frustrated with a news media they say has glossed over the truth in pursuit of the sensational, casting the gaming industry in a vicious light in the process.
“If you think about it, the teenager that plays a multiple-player online game is actually engaged in a more social activity than the teenager who is shut in their room reading a book for three hours. I don’t think it’s producing generations of lone gunmen, but a generation with very different forms of packaged social interaction,” Mullen said.
“There’s always a new kind of media that comes along that threatens society, the way people look at things, because it’s not the way they’ve looked at it before,” he added.
Hwalek agreed, saying the industry served as an adequate scapegoat for a society intent on finding the cause for the incomprehensible actions of “a couple of messed up kids” after the Columbine school shooting.
These negative attitudes instigated a rating system on the industry similar to the one used to categorize CDs. Many fear that the ratings, in addition to corporations unwilling to make costly business mistakes, have significantly watered down progress.
“I think new, innovative ideas are being passed over in order to cater to an audience that wants more of the same thing,” Hwalek said. “In terms of business it’s a great idea, but in terms of advancing the industry it’s not.”
Regardless of the momentary state of the gaming industry and the public perception of its constituents, the continual strain of time is slowly altering both.
“As we change and get older they needed to make the games different, they needed to make them more complex, look better, start having more mature themes. And they have,” Hwalek said. “We’re essentially adults and we’re still playing video games and I think that’s because the video game companies realize they need to change with the demographic. The people who are playing Grand Theft Auto today are the people who were playing Mario Brothers in the ’80s.”