Computer and video games

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Computer & Video games

A computer game is a computer-controlled game where players interact with objects displayed on a screen for the sake of entertainment. A video game is essentially the same form of entertainment, but refers not only to games played on a personal computer, but also to games run by a console or arcade machine. The term "computer game" also includes games which display only text (and which can therefore theoretically be played on a teletypewriter) or which use other methods, such as sound or vibration, as their primary feedback device, or a controller ( console games), or a combination of any of the above. Also, more esoteric devices have been used for input (see also Game controller). Usually there are rules and goals, but in more open-ended games the player may be free to do whatever they like within the confines of the virtual universe.

The phrase interactive entertainment is the formal reference to computer and video games. To avoid ambiguity, game software is referred to as "computer and video games" throughout this article, which explores properties common to both types of game.

In common usage, a "computer game" or a " PC game" refers to a game that is played on a personal computer. " Console game" refers to one that is played on a device specifically designed for the use of such, while interfacing with a standard television set. "Video game" (or "videogame"), in places where the term is used, has evolved into a catchall phrase that encompasses the aforementioned along with any game made for any other device, including, but not limited to, mobile phones, PDAs, advanced calculators, etc.


In computer and video gaming, gameplay 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 and graphics, it also has various game difficulties in which the game gets harder or easier.

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.


Games, like most other forms of media, may be categorized into genres based on gameplay, atmosphere, and various other factors. In fact, games are often much easier to classify by genre than films, music, or books. Due to gaming's relatively short history, technical limitations, and the commercial pressures currently affecting the North American and Japanese markets, electronic games are ensconced in a period of extreme formalism. Recently, video games have begun to explode in popularity, a rise which coincides with an increase in production value, and thus, development cost. As gamers come to expect talented voice acting, enormous, meticulously-constructed worlds and Hollywood-quality sound effects, production costs rise, and owing to the tremendous investment required by publishers (who want to maximize profits), most choose to make games based upon "tried-and-true" ideas, borrowing heavily from previous games and concepts.

This is most evident in the fact that publishers' tend to establish "franchises", which often recycle the same characters, situations, conflicts, gameplay mechanics, and themes for any number of sequels. Therefore, though many games may combine genres, very few exist outside the paradigm of previously established genres, with notable exceptions.

The most common genres in use today include:

  • Platformer
  • Adventure
  • Role-playing game (RPG)
    • MMORPG
    • MMOSG
  • Sports
  • Racing
  • Action
    • Fighting
    • Shooting
      • First person shooter (FPS)
      • Third person shooter
  • Puzzle
  • Simulation
  • Strategy game
    • Turn-based
    • Real-time (RTS)
  • Stealth-based game

Most games nowadays are a combination of two or more genres; an action role-playing game, for example. There are also number of genres, which are mostly unpopular today, that were hybrid forms of other media, such as books or movies; the most familiar being interactive fiction and interactive movies.

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

Multiplayer video games

Multiplayer video games are video games that can be played either competitively or cooperatively online or by using multiple controllers through the console. Historically video games have gone up to four players, but since the release of Xbox and Xbox Live it is possible to play with up to 16 players either online or with linked Xbox consoles. Sega's Dreamcast video game system did a great job of providing games for multiple players either competitively or cooperatively. Multiplayer gaming can turn video games into a social experience as well as an entertaining one.

History of Multiplayer video games

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) allowed for 2 controllers to be plugged in simultaneously. Most games on this system used a "take turns" approach. Where player 1 (usually blue) would play until a life was lost and then player 2 (usually red) would play until the life was lost. Contra for NES was a game that allowed simultaneous cooperative multiplayer video gaming. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) allowed for 2 controllers to be plugged in as well and used a variety of multiplayer inclusion. The Super Multitap could be purchased separately which allowed up to 8 players. The Sony Playstation console itself provided for only 2 controller inputs. The "Multi-Tap" adapter could be purchased separately and allowed for an additional 4 players, with two "Multi-Tap"s bringing the total number of players to 8. The Nintendo 64 console provided 4 controller inputs off the bat. This in many people's opinions played a great role in the popularity of the James Bond game Goldeneye 007, as no extraneous adapters need be purchased. The Sega Dreamcast console provided 4 controller inputs. The Microsoft Xbox console provided 4 controller inputs. The Sony Playstation 2 followed the format of the original if you wanted more than 2 player gaming you would need to purchase "Multi-Tap" adapters. While many consoles in recent years have allowed four controllers to be used simultaneously, the number of games that take advantage of this capability has been somewhat limited. Even games that lend themselves to a multiplayer experience often don't take advantage of multiplayer capabilities.

Systems that allow for multiplayer gaming

  • The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
  • The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) [8 with adapters]
  • The Sony PlayStation (PS1 or PSone) [5 with one adapter, 8 with two adapters]
  • The Nintendo 64 (N64)
  • The Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2) [5 with one adapter, 8 with two adapters]
  • The Microsoft Xbox (Xbox)
  • The Nintendo GameCube (GCN)
  • The Microsoft Xbox 360 (Xbox 360)
  • The Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3)
  • The Nintendo Wii (Wii)
  • The Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP)
  • The Nintendo DS (NDS)
  • The Nintendo Game Boy line (GB, GBC, GBA)


The popularity of computer and video games, as a whole, has been increasing steadily ever since the 1984-1987 drop-off 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 33, belying the myth that video games are largely a diversion for teenagers.


A typical retail display (in Geneva, Switzerland) with a large selection of games for several major consoles
A typical retail display (in Geneva, Switzerland) with a large selection of games for several major consoles

The three largest markets for computer and video games are the United States (largest), Japan (2nd largest) and the United Kingdom (3rd) also in that order as the largest producers of video games . Other significant markets include Australia, Canada, Spain, Germany, South Korea, Mexico, France and Italy. Both India and the China are considered emerging markets in the video game industry and sales are expected to rise significantly in the coming years.

Sales of different types of games vary widely between these markets due to local preferences. Japanese consumers avoid computer games and instead buy console games, with a strong preference for games catering to local tastes. 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
  • Console and portable hardware and accessory sales: $3.7 billion, down 35% from 2003
  • PC game sales: $1.1 billion, down 15% from 2006

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.

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.

What the player gains

Perhaps the most visible values of computer and video gaming are simply its artistic and entertainment values. As a form of multimedia entertainment, modern video games contain a highly unique fusion of 3D art, CG effects, architecture, artificial intelligence, sound effects, dramatic performances, music, storytelling, and, most importantly, interactivity. This interactivity enables the player to explore what amounts to a stylized, artistic depiction and simulation of some three-dimensional environment (something no other form of entertainment can allow) with the actions of the player operating as a single, irreducible variable. In this respect, every game scenario will play out a slightly different way every time. Even if the game is highly scripted, this can still feel like a large amount of freedom to the person who is playing the game. Consider, for example, a game such as Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood, where the objective is often to eliminate Nazi squads by commanding a group of soldiers from a first-person perspective. Many aspects of the game are highly controlled — the number of Nazis and the places they originate from do not vary, nor does the strength and armament of friendly or enemy troops. The maps are meticulously designed in such a way as to provide clear paths and cover at key locations. And still, the overall strategy, the tactics, and the execution will vary every time. Within the rather broad boundaries of the game, the player is able to exercise far more freedom and control than in traditional forms of entertainment or art.

A related property is that of emergent behaviour. While many games including card games and sports rely on emergent principles, games are able to create simulated story worlds where emergent behaviour occurs within the context of this world. This also is very appealing to players. In discussing the issue, game designer Warren Spector has used the term "emergent narrative" to describe how, in a simulated environment, storyline can be created simply by "what happens to the player."

In Steven Johnson's book, " Everything Bad Is Good For You," he argues that video games in fact demand far more from a player than traditional games like Monopoly. In order to experience the game, the player must first determine the objectives, as well as how to complete them. They must then learn the game controls and how the human-machine interface works, including menus and HUDs. Beyond such skills, which after some time become quite fundamental and are taken for granted by many gamers, video games are based upon the player navigating (and eventually mastering) a highly complex system with many variables. This requires a strong analytical ability, as well as flexibility and adaptability. To emphasize the point, Johnson notes that the strategy guide for Grand Theft Auto III is 53,000 words long. He argues that the process of learning the boundaries, goals, and controls of a given game is often a highly demanding one that calls on many different areas of cognitive function. Indeed, most games require a great deal of patience and focus from the player, and, contrary to the popular perception that games provide instant gratification, games actually delay gratification far longer than other forms of entertainment such as film or even many books. Some research suggests video games may even increase player's attention capacities.

Multiplayer games, which take advantage of the fact that computer games can use the internet, provide players with the opportunity to compete with other players from across the globe, something that is also unique to electronic gaming. MMORPG's take the concept much further with the establishment of vast, online communities existing in persistent, virtual worlds. Millions of players around the globe are attracted to video gaming simply because it offers such unprecedented ability to interact with large numbers of people engaged simultaneously in a structured environment where they are all involved in the same activity (playing the game).

Even simple games offer potential benefits to the player. Games like Tetris and Pac-man are well-designed games that are easy to pick up but difficult to master, in ways not unlike chess or even poker. Despite their simplicity, simple games may also feature online capabilities or powerful AI. Depending on the game, players can develop and test their techniques against an advanced computer player or online against other human players.

More obvious benefits to the player can come in the form education on the game's subject matter. For example, a RTS set during the American Civil War may feature the use of period armies engaging in historical battles, and outwitting an opponent such as Robert E. Lee.


Like related forms of media, computer and video games have been the subject of frequent controversy and censorship, due to the depiction of graphic violence, sexual themes, advertising, consumption of illegal drugs, consumption of alcohol or tobacco, propaganda, or profanity in some games. Among others, critics of video games sometimes include parents' groups, politicians, organized religion groups, and other special interest groups, even though all of these can be found in all forms of entertainment and media. Various games have been accused of causing addiction to such and even violent behaviour.

Video game censorship is defined as the use of state or group power to control the playing, distribution, purchase, or sale of video games or computer games. Video game controversy comes in many forms, and censorship is a controversial subject, as well as a popular topic of debate. Proponents and opponents of censorship are often very passionate about their individual views.

Historically, this type of controversy and criticism is not unique to video games. The same situation has been applied to Comic books, motion pictures and to some extent music. Moreover, it appears to be a question of age. Since these art forms have been around longer, the backlash against them occurred farther in the past, beyond the remembrance of today's youth. In both cases, the attempts at censorship in the United States were struck down as a violation of First Amendment rights, and they have gone on to become fully integrated facets of society.

Games that have sparked notable national controversy in the United States include Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, Doom, the Grand Theft Auto series and, most notably, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' infamous Hot Coffee mod fiasco which boosted the game's ESRB rating from M (Mature) to AO (Adults Only).


The November 2005 Nielsen Active Gamer study, taking a survey of 2,000 regular gamers, found that the U.S. games market is diversifying. The age group among male players is expanding significantly, into the 25-45 age group. For casual online puzzle-style and simple mobile cell phone games, the gender divide is more or less equal between males and females. Females are being significantly attracted to playing certain online multi-user video games that offer a more communal experience, and a small hardcore group of young females are playing aggressive games that are usually thought of as being 'traditionally male' games. The most loyal fan-base is reported to be for large role-playing games.


Video games are made by developers, who used to do this as individuals or small teams in the 80's. Now, development commonly requires a large team consisting of designers, graphic designers and other artists, programmers, sound designers, musicians, and other technicians; all of which are managed by producers. The visionary for any game may come from any of the roles outlined. Development by committee rarely works.

With the start of the 21st century we can see a major boom in the numbers of game developing teams and studios. This business, although tough and risky, proves to be a goldmine for the determined groups. Previous industry giants like EA Games, Valve, and Rockstar are slowly being displaced by newer studios with smaller budgets yet more determined and younger members who have developed a passion for video gaming throughout their whole lives. Most of these studios are modding existing engines and games until they get enough media attention and sponsors to start a new project from scratch. Prime examples of such teams are Dimension Studios and Turtle Rock Studios. Both of these provide content for already existing games and are making a fortune out of it. An older team, Gearbox Software, started out in a similar fashion by modding the original Half-Life engine; now it is one of the major video game developers.

Video games are developing fast in all areas, but the problem is of cost, and how developers intend to keep the costs low enough to attract publisher investment. 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.

Game modifications

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, Crytek and Epic ship their games with the very development tools used to make the game in the first place, along with documentation to assist mod developers, which allows for the kind of success seen by popular mods such as Counter-Strike.


Non-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). Gamers are quite happy to use the vague term "games", or "videogame/video game" to distinguish them from board games and card games when necessary. In the past, it was common for parents and/or elderly people, who were unfamiliar with video games, to refer to all of them as "Nintendo games" due to Nintendo's overwhelming popularity in the late 80's and 90's (this is an example of a genericized trademark). Computer and video games are a subset of interactive media, which includes virtual reality, flight and engineering simulation, multimedia and the World Wide Web.

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