The Next Generation of Video Games

If you play video or computer games, or if you know anybody who does, then you know how engrossing these games can be. Even very simple games, like Tetris and Pacman, can be extremely addictive. More complicated and involved games tend to be even more addictive; some people have even given the popular game EverQuest the nickname EverCrack. As technology advances, games are becoming increasingly interactive and, as a result, increasingly engaging, and virtual reality games are starting to become a reality. Some cutting edge games even provide solutions for serious physical and mental health problems.

According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2005 Sales, Demographics, and Usage Data, 75 percent of the heads of household play video or computer games. The average gamer spends 6.8 hours a week playing games. In 2004, computer and video game sales totaled 7.3 billion dollars. Video games were responsible for the majority (6.2 billion dollars) of the sales. Video games are now a major industry, and video game companies know that they need to continue to make technological advancements in order to keep up with the competition. This is great news for gamers.

The term “virtual reality” is interpreted differently by different people. According to the strictest definition, a virtual reality game would be one in which the player is completely immersed in a fabricated world that appeals to several senses, probably touch, sight, and sound, but possibly taste and smell as well. According to looser definitions, a virtual reality game could be any game in which the player acts out the game while pretending to be in a virtual world, even if the player does not appear to be completely surrounded by that world. Regardless of these differences in terminology, new games have been taking a step towards virtual reality by producing increasingly interactive and immersive games.

Some of the video games industry’s latest advancements can be seen at many arcades. Although the standard first shooter and racing games are still abundant, new games that are more interactive are becoming more common. Beach Head 2002 is a very popular virtual reality game in which the player dons a large helmet with goggles. The player then begins shooting enemy soldiers in order to defend a beach against invasion. The player needs to turn around 360 degrees and looks up and down in order to play. In other words, the game appears to be completely surrounding the player.

Other games require the player to physically act out the game they are playing. Dance Dance Revolution is an extremely popular game in which players stand on an electronic pad and dance according to the rhythm and instructions of the game. Some sports games require players to pedal, row, maintain balance, or jump in order to participate in a virtual race. Fight simulation games are also available. The moves of the players are detected either through the use of special gloves or other, more advanced sensors.

Although most of these new games are rather expensive and therefore not generally privately owned, some games are affordable. The Dance Dance Revolution game currently costs around $60 and pads start at around $30. Better quality pads can be significantly more expensive, in some cases costing over $1000, but these higher quality pads are not necessary to play. As interactive and virtual reality games become more common and popular, prices will likely go down.

In addition to being extremely fun, these interactive games have some practical uses as well. Obesity is a growing problem, partially due to eating habits and partially due to inactive lifestyles. The surgeon general recommends that children and adolescents spend one hour exercising most days of the week; many child fail to meet these goals, but at the same time, many children do spend this much time playing video games. Adults also tend to exercise less than they should, and many adults also play video games. Physically demanding video games provide a great opportunity for people, both children and adults, to exercise. The friendly competition and addictive qualities of these games ensure a long, strenuous workout.

The University of Washington Human Interface Technology Laboratory in Seattle has been using virtual reality to improve the quality of life for people. Virtual reality is being used to treat arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. People who are severely afraid of spiders can pet virtual spiders and gradually overcome their fears. This therapy is similar to exposure
therapy, in which patients confront their fears. However, in exposure therapy, patients would be exposed to real spiders; virtual spiders are less threatening, making the therapy much easier to handle. Other phobias could be treated in a similar manner.

Additionally, the University of Washington Human Interface Technology Laboratory, in collaboration with the Harborview Burn Center, has also been using virtual reality games to allay the pain felt by burn victims. So far, the results have been very promising; patients report significantly decreased pain levels.

New technology is making video games more fun and more practical. Due to the huge demand for video games, game technology is likely to improve. Now, people can use games to exercise, conquer their fears, and reduce their pain levels. Who knows what we will be able to do in the future?

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