Video games grow up
By Andy Goldberg Oct 18, 2005, 12:02 GMT
Los Angeles - There were some unusual participants at last week's Los Angeles Office Roadshow, an annual advertising industry event that highlights exposure opportunities in film and television.
Holding their own with executives from the old media world were dozens of young marketing honchos from video game companies, explaining to advertisers why they should buy promotional spots integrated into games.
The presence of representatives from companies like Electronic Arts (EA) and Ubisoft was a powerful sign that the 10-billion-dollar a year U.S. electronic game industry is fast approaching the cachet of film and television - thanks to its millions of fanatically devoted, free-spending and largely young fans.
Coming at the same time as slumps for both box office sales and television ratings among the key demographics that advertisers love, the event's symbolism was amplified by other big news emanating from the film world - that Hollywood's most consistently successful director, Steven Spielberg, was to develop three video games in conjunction with EA.
EA promises that Spielberg will introduce high-tech innovations in all three games. Another promise is that combining Hollywood's master storyteller with the latest video game technologies will produce content that is more immersive and emotional than ever before.
'When was the last time a video game made you cry?' asked one EA executive. 'That is what we'll be trying to do with the Spielberg collaboration.'
They aren't the only ones with that bright idea. Another Oscar winning director, Peter Jackson, is working with Microsoft on future versions of its best-selling 'Halo' game franchise, and was deeply involved in the making of the video game that will be released in conjunction with his upcoming 'King Kong' remake.
The catalyst is partly financial. A popular video game like 'Halo' or 'Grand Theft Auto' can earn upward of 300 million dollars - a stratosphere reached by only the most widely successful Hollywood movies.
But it is also the result of the new game consoles that are due out starting next month, when Microsoft debuts its Xbox 360, followed in the spring by Sony's Playstation 3.
Both will feature powerful new processing systems capable of rendering graphics that are close to photo-realistic in real time - effectively allowing gamers to both star in and direct their own movies as they play.
That prospect may frighten opponents of the industry, who have long argued that the unrestrained violence inherent in many video games translates into real world aggression.
Their fears were backed up by research results released this week by scientists from Michigan State University and Aachen University in Germany, showing that playing violent video games stimulates areas of the brain associated with aggressive behaviour. <!--page-->
However, scientists are increasingly turning to games to foster the opposite behaviour as well. According to a report Sunday in the Washington Post, a team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon is developing a game in which players will have to solve the Middle East conflict by using a carefully calibrated set of diplomatic and military policies.
Even the United Nations has entered the fray with a game called 'Food Force', in which players must figure out how to feed thousands of people on a fictitious island. The online game, which aims to give players an insight into the U.N. Food Programme and other relief agencies, proved so successful that Internet portal Yahoo had to step in to host the game after the U.N.'s servers were overwhelmed by the response.
In a similar vein, the University of Southern California is sponsoring a a competition to develop a game that promotes international goodwill toward the United States.
Professor Edward Castronova of the University of Indiana, who has written a book about the dynamics of virtual worlds, urged the U.S. State Department to invest in an immersive game in which players could participate in an online world governed by democratic principles.
'It would just have one feature - live democracy. See what it's like when issues get resolved through peaceful voting and transition of power,' he said.
'Games give you the opportunity to live a culture. That is dramatically more powerful and persuasive than a million leaflets or 60,000 Peace Corps volunteers.'© dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur