Computer and video games

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This article is about computer and video games. For the magazine see Computer and Video Games (magazine).
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Technically, a computer game is a game composed of a computer-controlled virtual universe that players may interact with in order to achieve a goal (or set of goals). A video game is a computer game where a video display is the primary feedback device. Since nearly all computer games use some sort of visual display, these terms are usually considered interchangeable, and are frequently used as umbrella terms for interactive game software. The phrase interactive entertainment is the formal reference to computer and video games. To avoid ambiguity, this game software is referred to as "computer and video games" throughout this article.

However, in common usage, "computer game" refers more specifically to games played on a personal computer, while "video game" (or "videogame") actually refers to both, and "[console name] game" refers specifically to games played on a particular console.




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The first primitive computer and video games were developed in the 1950s and 1960s and ran on platforms such as oscilloscopes, university mainframes and EDSAC computers. Arcade games were developed in the 1970s and led to the so-called "Golden Age of Arcade Games". One of the most well-known of these games is Pong.

The 1970s also saw the release of the first home video game consoles. The late 1970s to early 1980s brought about the improvement of home consoles and the release of the Atari 2600, Intellivision and Colecovision. The video game crash of 1983, however, produced a dark age in the market that was not filled until the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) reached North America in 1985. The last two decades of game history have been marked by separate markets for games on video game consoles, home computers and handhelds. See the article on Console wars for additional information on that facet of game history.

The future of console gaming

The end of 2005 and first and second quarters of 2006 will see the next generation of console gaming in the form of continuing advances in processor technology, graphics technology, design innovation, and even platform specific gaming community infrastructure. Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft are all participating in this coming year's "technology race". The second generation Microsoft offering, the Xbox 360, will be powered by a multi-core CPU, the PlayStation 3 will be powered by Cell processor technology, and the Nintendo Revolution will allow the gamer to interact with the game via a wireless motion sensing controller, although full technical specifications are yet to be revealed.


Main article: Gameplay

In computer and video gaming, gameplay (sometimes called "Game mechanics") is a general term that describes player interaction with a game. It includes direct interaction, such as controls and interface, but also design aspects of the game, such as levels.

Although the use of this term is often disputed, as it is considered too vague for the range of concepts it describes, it is currently the most commonly used and accepted term for this purpose when describing video games.


Main article: Computer and video game genres

Games, like most other forms of media, may be categorized into genres based on gameplay, atmosphere, and various other factors.

Any individual gamer is likely to favor some types of gameplay over others, these are refered to as video game genres. The most common genres in use today include platformers, adventure, role-playing games (RPGs), first person shooters (FPS), third person shooter (sometimes called shoot 'em ups), sports, racing, fighting (sometimes called beat 'em ups), action (although this term is abused), puzzle, simulation, and real time strategy (RTS), to name a few. It is rare that a game will fall purely into one genre, most games are a combination of two or more genres (e.g action/RPG). Although most genres have 2D counterparts, they are for the most part considered entirely different genres because of the differences in the way 2D and 3D games are played (e.g. Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64).

The increase in the popularity of online gaming has also resulted in new sub-genres being formed, such as the massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

Gaming platforms

Image:Gta3-pc-stealing.jpeg Today there are many different devices that games may be played on. Personal computers, consoles, handheld systems, and arcade machines are all common. There is an extremely thin line between games played on the computer and those on the console, which is a standardized computer with little or no setup.

Many games intended for computer are now just as prevalent on consoles, both of which have many of the same titles. This is due to the fact that video game consoles have drastically increased in computing power and capabilities over the last few years to the point that they can handle games that were formerly only playable with comparatively higher-end computers. During the last generation of gaming, most major computer game releases have coincided with the release of console versions, and titles initially developed for a single platform are often ported to others if they prove to be successful.

Personal Computer

Main article: Personal Computer Games

Personal computer games are commonly referred to as "computer games" or "PC games". They are played on the personal computer with standard computer interface devices such as the keyboard and mouse, or additional peripherals, such as joysticks. Video feedback is received by the user through the computer screen, sound through speakers or headphones. Computer games are often more powerful than console games because of early market releases of their external architecture and graphics cards.

The most popular genres of Computer games are First-Person Shooters, Real-Time Strategy, Simulations, and MMOGs, given the long-standing nature of Internet access and online play. First Person Shooters benefit highly from using the keyboard and mouse to give very fine control over player movement that is still not matched on the consoles.

Today, most PC games require the Windows operating system to be installed on the computer. There is, however, a continuing movement to get the most popular games to run under the Mac and Linux operating systems.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, console games have outsold computer games roughly four units to one in 2003 and 2004 [1]. For more information, see sales.

One possible explanation for the declining sales of personal computer games in relation to that of consoles can be found within the PC itself: a computer must meet certain minimum requirements (listed on retail box of the title) such as CPU speed, memory, video card memory, hard drive space, operating system, Internet connection speed (for online games) and other criteria. Without the proper hardware, the game may perform poorly or not run at all.


Main article: Internet gaming

Online Games are those which either require or benefit from a connection to the Internet to play. Online gaming began with PC games, but has over time expanded to include most moder consoles. It is now a key feature of modern games, with the inclusion of Internet connectivity in consoles such as the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and in mobile/cellular phones. Online games need to allow several people to play at the same time, so not all genres are suitable; the most popular genres include MMORPG's, FPS's, racing/driving games, strategy games, and sports titles.

The Internet is also host to thousands of small Flash and Java games, named after the programming language in which they are written. These games generally do not share the same magnitude of development costs, depth, or seriousness of PC and console games, and are generally quick to complete by comparison. Some of these games, such as Runescape, however, have expanded far beyond this, and can often be considered on the same level as "mainstream" PC games.


Main article: Console games

Console games are played video game console, a specialized computer specifically designed to play games of a certain format. The player usually interacts with the game through a controller, and video and sound are typically delivered to the player via a television, although most modern consoles support additional outputs, such as surround sound setups.

Consoles themselves branched off from personal computers around two decades ago, a fact which is still evident not only in the name, but also in many of the peripherals available for many consoles, like the keyboard and mouse peripherals released for the Sony PlayStation 2 and the Sega Dreamcast.


Main article: Handheld video games

Handheld games are played on handheld game consoles, such as the Nintendo Gameboy, Nintendo DS, and Sony PSP. Handheld consoles act as their own controllers, which the player uses to interact with the game, as well as having in-built display and audio output devices. Because they are designed to be played on the go, they are usually small enough to fit into an average pocket (the virtual boy is an exception to this), but due to their small size, haldheld consoles have reduced processing power compared to larger consoles, meaning that games are shorter, and until the release of the DS, were limited to 2D.

Mobile Phone

Main article: Mobile/Cellular Phone Games

Most mobile phones now have games built into them, and others are available for download, or can be bought for a small amount of money. These games are more restricted than traditional handheld games, and usually play more like arcade games.


Main article: Arcade Games

Arcade games, traditionally, are "coin-operated games", played on a standalone device originally leased to commercial entertainment venues. These are programmed, equipped, and decorated for a specific game, consisting of a video display, a set of controls, and the coin slot. Controls are similar to those available for many consoles (albeit usually as peripherals) and range from the classic joystick and buttons, to light guns, to pads on the ground that sense pressure. Arcade games that are no longer profitable to lease can be purchased by private individuals, many of whom then explore the game dynamics by altering the programs.

This term has now expanded to include any game that has more direct action, with fewer long term objectives and, for the most part, shorter in-game levels.


What rock and roll was to the youth of the Sixties, gaming is to the youth of today. — Killol Bhuta, brand manager, Ford Motor Company [2]

The popularity of computer and video games, as a whole, has been increasing steadily ever since the 1984-1987 dropoff caused by the video game crash of 1983, and the popularity appears to be continuing to increase. The average age of the video game player is now 29 [3], belying the myth that video games are largely a diversion for teenagers.


Image:Videogameretaildisplay.jpg The four largest markets for computer and video games are the United States, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom. Other significant markets include Spain, Germany, South Korea, France, and Italy. China is not considered a significant market, most likely because an estimated 95% of video games sold in the country are pirated. [4]

Sales of different types of games vary widely between these markets due to local preferences. Japanese consumers avoid computer games and instead buy video games, with a strong preference for games created in Japan, that run on Japanese consoles. In South Korea, computer games are preferred, especially MMORPG games and real-time strategy games; there are over 20,000 PC bang Internet cafes where computer games can be played for an hourly charge.

The NPD Group tracks computer and video game sales in the United States. It reported that as of 2004:

  • Console and portable software sales: $6.2 billion, up 8% from 2003 [5]
  • Console and portable hardware and accessory sales: $3.7 billion, down 35% from 2003 [6]
  • PC game sales: $1.1 billion, down 2% from 2003 [7]

These figures are sales in dollars, not units; unit shipments for each category were higher than the dollar sales numbers indicate, as more software and hardware was sold at reduced prices compared to 2003.

Retail PC game sales have been declining slightly each year since about 1998, but this fact should be taken with a grain of salt: the retail sales numbers from NPD do not include sales from online downloads, nor subscription revenue for games like MMORPGs.

There is a commonly repeated, mistaken belief that video game sales now exceed the revenues of the movie industry. This is untrue; in the United States, video game sales have exceeded the movies' total box office revenue each year since about 1996, but the movie studios trounce the video game publishers when the movies' "ancillary revenue" is counted, meaning sales of DVDs, sales to foreign distributors, and sales to cable TV, satellite TV, and broadcast television networks.

The game and film industries are also becoming increasingly intertwined, with companies like Sony having significant stakes in both. A large number of summer blockbuster films spawn a companion game, often launching at the same time in order to share the marketing costs.

Computer and video games in the broader culture

Computer games are huge business worldwide. Take for example South Korea. Developers there boast MMORPGs such as Lineage and Ragnarok Online with millions of subscribers and a third of the world's MMOG revenue. StarCraft gosu (expert players) are celebrities in a game that some have called the country's national sport. The success of computer and online gaming there is usually credited to South Korea's push for broadband Internet connections in the home and earlier bans on Japanese products (these restrictions were removed by the late 1990s).

Numerous websites and publications devoted solely to games have been created, including Official Xbox Magazine, Nintendo Power, Official Playstation Magazine, GamePro, GameSpot, GameSpy, IGN and GameFAQs.

Video gaming now ingrained in popular culture in the United States. Many T-shirts are available that directly reference video games, such as one with a picture of an NES controller with the text 'Know Your Roots.' Also, video games have also become a major part in cross marketing platforms, such as in Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh, where a child can watch the television show, buy the trading cards, and play the various video games available.

Video game properties have had mixed success when migrating to the movies. One of the first films based on a video game property was The Wizard, which some criticized as a 90-minute ad for Super Mario Brothers 3. In the mid-90s, films for Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, Wing Commander and Mortal Kombat were released. Reviews have generally been poor.

Despite the ultimately poor performance of these movies, many studios still want to turn big games into movies, hoping that the popularity of the game will help the movie. However, after the initial bunch, many projects materialized that were never finished, but the success of films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has led to more films materializing. Doom, a game which film makers were trying to cross over since the mid '90s, finally hit theatres 12 years after its initial release. John Woo is also producing a movie on the popular Nintendo game Metroid.

There is still debate in the movie industry on whether video games can consistently be turned into good, profitable movies. Films like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which has received mixed responses from audiences, with some saying it is a great movie, and others saying it is a very bad movie with excellent computer-generated imagery, but ultimately flopped in the box office, and Uwe Boll's House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark, which both ended up being horrible flops both in fan reactions and box office success and both ending up on the IMDB's bottom 100 movies, do not, in turn, give much confidence in whether these movies will be handled seriously. The recently released Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children may change some people's minds though, even though it's a straight to DVD affair.

On the other hand, video games get much more success when adapted into cartoons/animes. Some notables examples of major success includes the various Mario Bros. cartoons, Sonic SatAM, Captain N: The Game Master and Earthworm Jim while Sonic Underground, the American Mega Man cartoon and 4Kids' dubs (although this isn't limited to their video game-based dubs) are cited as being poor. Sometime, they even "help" more obscure/Japan-only games pick up popularity in America although rarely; To Heart would be the best example of such thing.

Movies have had far more success moving the other direction, onto video games. Most summer blockbuster films now have a simultaneous video game release; some of the most lucrative video games of recent times are based on movies, such as Electronic Arts' and Stormfront Studios' The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and the series of EA LotR games that followed it, and Activision's two Spider-Man movie games.

Even though movies have had more success in game conversion, not all movie games are popular amongst the gaming community. Some publishers believe that the success of the movie will help the game sell, and so may not have as lengthy a development schedule as needed to make a compelling game. Some examples of this are the Catwoman and King Arthur movie games.

Also, video games have found themselves on MTV2, in a popular show called Video Mod, where characters from popular video games perform songs from hit artists, such as characters from The Sims 2 performing the song "Stacy's Mom" by Fountains Of Wayne.

On the Internet, gaming has also become a popular subject of many webcomics. Currently there are two varieties. The first one is the sprite comic, such as 8 Bit Theatre, in which the artist uses sprites from the earlier Final Fantasy games to tell stories. Sometimes these are original stories, but are often parodies of the game in which the sprite came from. The other is a more traditional comic strip, containing original art, like Penny Arcade. Here, the storylines or jokes revolve around current events in video gaming. The success of Penny Arcade has attracted many people in the industry, including Ubisoft. Other parodies have come in the form of amateur videos, such as those of Mega 64.

In Germany, the TV channel NBC Europe broadcasts a show called GIGA, which turned more and more into a video and computer game show. In the show, new games are presented and reviewed. Lately, the show featured the esports scene a lot, by introducing professional players to the audience and broadcasting live competition matches.

Online shows are fast becoming the place to view live action gaming broadcasts such as gamespot's 'On the Spot'


Main article: Game development

Video games are made by developers, who used to do this as individuals in the 80's (Bedroom Coders) , but now are almost always a large team consisting of designers, graphic designers and other artists, programmers, sound designers, musicians, and other technicians. Video games are developing fast in all areas, but the problem is of price and how developers intend to keep the price where it is while incorporating better technology, that inevitably costs more. Most video game console development teams number anywhere from 20 to 50 people, with some teams exceeding 100. The average team size as well as the average development time of a game have grown along with the size of the industry and the technology involved in creating games. This has led to regular occurrences of missed deadlines and unfinished products; Duke Nukem Forever is the quintessential example of these problems. See also: video game industry practices. Visit for forums about videogames.

Game modifications

Main article: Mod (computer gaming)

Games running on a PC are often designed with end-user modifications in mind, and this consequently allows modern computer games to be modified by gamers without much difficulty. These mods can add an extra dimension of replayability and interest. The Internet provides an inexpensive medium to promote and distribute mods, and they have become an increasingly important factor in the commercial success of some games. Developers such as id, Valve, and Epic provide extensive tools and documentation to assist mod makers, allowing for the kind of success seen by popular mods such as Counter-Strike.

Popular mods are sometimes bought by the developers of the game. This is the case of Valve's Half-life. They bought a number of popular mods including Counter-strike and Day of defeat. After the release of Half-life 2 Valve developed these mods for the sequel and sold them through their digital distribution software Steam through the internet.

Recently, computer games have also been used as a digital art medium. See artistic computer game modification.


Gamers use several umbrella terms for console, PC, arcade, handheld, and similar games since they do not agree on the best name. For many, either "computer game" or "video game" describes these games as a whole. Other commonly used terms include, "entertainment software," "interactive entertainment media," "electronic interactive entertainment," "electronic game," "software game," and "videogame" (as one word).

Computer and video games may be considered a subset of interactive media, which includes virtual reality, flight and engineering simulation, multimedia and the World Wide Web.

See also


Computer and video game genres
Adventure | City building | Educational | Fighting | First-person shooter | Massively multiplayer | Music
Platform | Puzzle | Racing | Role-playing | Shoot 'em up | Simulation | Sports | Strategy | Third-person shooter

The Video Game Industry series
Activities Jobs Types of video games Companies
Game design
Game development
Game programming
Game producer
Game designer
Game programmer
Game artist
Game tester
Arcade game
Computer game
Console game
Handheld game
Video game
Video game developer
Video game publisher
List of developers
List of video games

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