Video gaming goes beyond students’ dorms

When senior Tom Lotito came home for Christmas from a semester studying abroad in Japan, he found that his mom and sister were wishing for the same Christmas present that he wanted – the newly released Nintendo Wii. For Lotito, the president of the Nintendo Players Union on campus, getting a Wii was a no-brainer, but he was taken aback by the interest of his family members.

“I was pretty surprised to hear they wanted the Wii,” he said. “Even several of my mom’s friends play it when they’re over, and that’s not really the sort of thing you’d expect to hear.”

The expanding list of gamers in Lotito’s family is representative of a greater demographic trend in the gaming world. The introduction of new games such as the Halo series and Guitar Hero and consoles such as the Wii are attracting a wider set of gamers and are bringing games into the social setting.

A study produced by Pew Internet Research conducted at several colleges and universities in 2002 found that more women play computer and online games than men and about equal amounts of men and women play video games. The Entertainment Software Association reports that the average age of gamers is 33 with over a quarter of gamers being over the age of 50.

These statistics do not surprise Geoff Lorgus, who is a proctor for the GW Gaming League. “There is no indicating factor for who is a gamer,” he said, “everyone from geeky pocket-protector nerds to frat boys playing Halo to techy girls. It’s nondenominational.”

The introduction of the Nintendo Wii and Halo 3 show just how large the gaming community has become. The Wii sold more than 600,000 consoles in its first eight days and generated almost $190 million of sale. Halo 3 picked up $170 million dollars of sales within the first 24 hours on the market, rivaling the three-day sales of some blockbuster movies.

With the growing dimensions and intensity of games comes the worry that games are taking time away from study and class. A study produced by the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that students whose roommates brought a video game console to school studied an average of 40 minutes less per day and had slightly lower first semester grades than their peers. Lotito and Lorgus both acknowledge that playing games can be a great break from studying but warn that problems occur when it gets in the way of schoolwork.

“In high school, I wouldn’t care about homework,” Lorgus said. “Study biology or play Red Alert? But after one semester at college, I realized I couldn’t do that.”

That is not the kind of answer that Christopher Covington would like to hear. Covington, a graduate student, teaches computer game design and programming, which teaches students concepts integral to designing games, such as artificial intelligence, graphics rendering and user interfaces. Covington’s class is one of seven courses at GW that teach aspects of game design and is part of a larger trend of college campuses across the country bringing the fundamentals and ideas behind gaming into the classroom.

“We are actually seeing the beginning of a paradigm shift in the way that course material is being presented to students,” Covington said. “One way to make assignments more fun and engaging is to look at them from a gaming point of view. Video games are a large part of our society and it makes sense to look upon them for inspiration in academia.”

At least 50 schools offer some kind of course in video games with some schools incorporating gaming studies into major or minor programs. For James Hahn, who has a Ph.D. and is chair of the computer science department, bringing gaming ideas into the classroom is beneficial because it gets students interested and it incorporates a wide-range of disciplines.

“This is in line with what is required to make games now,” said Hahn, who first introduced the design class in 2002. “Not just computer graphics and computer science skills but also story-telling, design, human-computer interaction and, since the industry has evolved into the second-largest entertainment industry in the world, business.”

The gaming business is continuing to evolve with more high-profile releases set for the end of the year. Guitar Hero 3 will be released next month for PlayStation 2 and 3, Xbox 360 and the Wii. Nintendo will release a game called Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Wii in which different Nintendo characters can duke it out. An organization called GameFly has begun a Netflix-like trade-in video game rental service that is getting off the ground. In December, Nintendo will release Wii Fit in Japan. The console features a pressure-sensing mat on which gamers can play traditional games while also honing their yoga and aerobics skills.

Thanks to all the new games coming out in 2007, Lorgus, who builds his own computers specifically to play video games, said, “My wallet is going to be hurting.”

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