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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. This week our subject is video and computer games in the United States.
Millions of Americans play video and computer games. The reasons are no mystery. The games can provide fun, action and, in some cases, education.
Players can lead their favorite sports team to victory. They can imagine they are secret agents like James Bond. They can form a nation and lead it through thousands of years of war and peace. They can develop their skills at card games like poker.
Game players may improve their reaction time and thinking skills. They may improve their ability to direct their thoughts, or learn word and number skills.
Some experts worry about the possible harm to children who play video games that contain a lot of sex and violence. Yet some young people now study electronic games in college. In Los Angeles, for example, the University of Southern California has classes in game design. Other students there can learn about games as part of modern culture.
Industry officials say the United States had more than seven thousand million dollars in sales of video and computer games last year. It was an increase of four percent from the year before.
Electronic games will be a popular gift during the winter holidays this month.
One recent night, some people lined up at stores at midnight. They waited to buy the new Xbox Three-Sixty game system by Microsoft. The Xbox Three-Sixty can play digital video discs and music. It can even handle conference calls.
Some players have returned the new system because of technical problems. But Microsoft said the rate of return was below the three to five percent that is normal with electronic products.
Sony leads the industry in worldwide sales of game systems. Microsoft is second, followed by Nintendo.
But Microsoft is the first to release its next-generation game system. Sony announced in May that it was preparing to launch its PlayStation Three in the spring of two thousand six. Next year is also when Nintendo plans to release its new system, called Revolution.
Children are not the only ones who play electronic games. The Entertainment Software Association says almost one-fifth of Americans over the age of fifty played video games last year.
In fact, it says the average player is thirty years old. The players who buy the most games are an average age of thirty-seven.
The group also reports that forty-three percent of players are women.
Some people play games on a personal computer. They use the keyboard to play. Or they connect a guiding device called a joystick.
Other people play on a video game system called a console which they connect to their television. Still others like to play games on small, handheld devices. Or they go to arcades to play on free-standing game machines.
The world of video games combines special effects, music, language and images. The best games have clear, colorful graphics. The images move at high speed with a depth similar to real life. Some have first-person perspective. This means you experience the action as though living it yourself.
Some people play games online. They might compete over the Internet against players on the other side of the world.
Some people play electronic games for money. More than seven hundred international gamers recently took part in the final competition of the World Cyber Games in Singapore. They played for a share of the four hundred thirty-five thousand dollars in prize money.
Many players like games based on sports. The Madden series, for example, is very popular. These are named for television football commentator John Madden, a former coach.
And players have been known to spend hours playing games developed from spy films like the James Bond movies.
People who like frightening movies may also like a game series called “Resident Evil.” Players say the games make them feel like they are living inside their own horror film. In fact, two films have already been based on the series. "Resident Evil" became popular with a storyline about a company that makes a virus. Victims infected with the virus turn into the undead and eat other people.
Many gamers are buying the newly released “Peter Jackson’s King Kong." In this game, the huge gorilla terrorizes humans just as he will in the new "King Kong" movie directed by Peter Jackson. It opens nationwide on December fourteenth.
A popular shooting-game series called “Doom” led to an action film that opened in November. The movie "Doom" stars Dwayne Johnson, the professional wrestler and actor known as “The Rock.”
But the video game that sold best in two thousand four was “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” It was strongly criticized, however, because of hidden sexual images. Stores temporarily removed the game from sale. Now only adults can buy the version that still has those images, but not many stores are selling it.
The National Institute on Media and the Family is a private research group. Several years ago, it found that almost eighty percent of American children played video games. Research last year found that girls played video games an average of about five hours weekly. Boys played an average of thirteen hours.
Another group, Children Now, says almost half of video games contain serious violence. And it says about half the violence shown in the games would injure or kill people in real life.
Many doctors, educators and policy makers express concern about the effects of violent games. They point to studies that show that playing games with repeated violence is often linked to increases in aggressive thoughts, feelings and actions.
Where are the parents? The Entertainment Software Association says parents are present ninety-two percent of the time when games are bought or rented.
Even so, the group just announced that the Sony PlayStation Three will include parental controls. These controls let parents limit the kinds of games their children can play. The PlayStation Portable system released earlier this year already has that technology.
So does the new Xbox Three-Sixty from Microsoft. And Nintendo recently announced that its new system will also include parental controls.
The technology is based on ratings by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. This group has rated games for families since nineteen ninety-four. The industry says eighty-three percent of all games sold last year were rated "E" for Everyone or "T" for Teen.
But some critics argue that self-rating by the industry is far from satisfactory.
Some states want to stop sales of violent games to people seventeen and younger. On November ninth, a federal judge in Detroit blocked an attempt by the state of Michigan, at least temporarily. The judge acted on a request by the Entertainment Software Association.
Opponents of sales restrictions say the measures violate free speech rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
All this action and debate shows how important electronic games have become.
Some games developed from traditional board games like backgammon or chess. Others grew from word games or from card games like solitaire and bridge. In eighteen eighty-nine, a playing-card company opened in Japan. The company led to Nintendo.
In nineteen fifty-eight, a scientist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York State developed a game he called "Tennis for Two." William Higinbotham played it on a scientific device called an oscilloscope. The scientist did not see that such a game could become widely popular. But others did.
By the early nineteen seventies, people were playing a video game called “Pong.” Two people would sit at a game machine and control a paddle to hit an electronic ball back and forth. Soon millions of people were playing "Pong." Many other games followed.
Today, as computers keep improving, people keep designing new games. And the public keeps buying them. As games become more and more realistic, we can only imagine what the future will look like in this electronic world.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember. Internet users can read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Please join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.