NEW YEAR REFLECTIONS ON THE CHANGING UNIVERSE OF GAMES

Colossal Cave AdventureThe passing of an old year and the start of a new makes us reflect a little.

For instance, last December was the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s lecture on the “General Theory of Relativity,” changing forever the way we see the Universe. On a somewhat lesser level, it was the 40th anniversary of “Colossal Cave Adventure,” usually called simply “Adventure.”

“Adventure,” which is still available in several versions (one of them, by Bill Gates) was the first role-playing game. It was created by Will Crowther and was only in text, no pictures. It was a huge hit and can still be played online. Now, role-playing games have real time motion complete with sound effects and background music. These games — Warcraft, Call of Duty, Halo, Bioshock and many others — totally dominate computer gaming. What is meant by “role playing” is that you, yourself, are a character in the action, nearly always the leading character.

We normally don’t cover games — haven’t done so in years. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. A new release of any of several leading games will produce sales that rival and frequently exceed a hit movie. And unlike a movie, the game will be played and enjoyed for hundreds of hours, not just a couple. Monthly magazines are devoted to analyzing strategy, recommending tactics, designing your avatar, etc.

It is generally assumed that only kids and teenagers play these games, but in fact the majority of players are in their mid twenties to late thirties. Game playing occupies about 25 percent of computer use, often even in work situations. This percentage hasn’t changed much in the decades we’ve been writing about technology. So, as historian Johannes Huizinga said in his famous essay, “Homo Ludens,” we are by nature game-playing animals. It’s maybe what makes us different.

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