Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Pitfalls of Video-Gaming

Over the last few days, I was considering writing a review of the latest in the Guitar Hero series: Guitar Hero World Tour. It's a good game, even though it's more like Rock Band than Guitar Hero. Some of the songs on there aren't to my tastes, so I'm not in the least interested in perfecting my performance of them. But the same goes for everybody else that will play the game. The new finger-tapping is a good feature. I also like how the Career track is less linear than before. If there is a song, or a group of songs, you're not that into, you can in some instances skip them and go to the next set list. That's a nice feature, because no matter how into music you are, you're not going to like every random song some game developers picked for you to play. Finally, the song selection offers a nice mix of music from the last forty years.

I have some suggestions for the next installment:

Less songs featuring arpeggio. They're not fun to play. Think of songs with good riffs and blistering solos.

If you like the Guitar Hero series in general, you'll like this one.

Okay, with that out of the way, back to business. When I was researching for the post I didn't end up writing, i.e. reading the back of the Guitar Hero World Tour cover, I remembered that Activision co-produced the game. They brought us a little game called Pitfall!.

Twenty-seven years ago, Pitfall! was the game to play. If you owned an Atari, you owned Pitfall!. Probably in an attempt to cash in on the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Activision developed this game as a jungle adventure, in which our hero "Pitfall Harry" ran screen-to-screen in an attempt to collect all the treasures within a certain time period. Death waited for Harry on every screen in the form of snakes, scorpions, crocodiles, fire, tar pits, quicksand, rolling logs, and water. Yes, water. Harry was quite physically fit, adept at vine-swinging and jumping onto crocodiles, but he apparently never went to the pool at the Y while he was a member. Michael Phelps he was not.

To think that video games have gone from Pitfall! to Guitar Hero for as long as I've been alive is mind-blowing and a bit scary. Games like Pitfall! were designed as escapist fun. As a kid, I remember playing it and then going out into the backyard and running around like I was Pitfall Harry.

Nowadays, though, I don't think video games have the same effect. It seems like gamers would rather learn how to beat the expert level of Guitar Hero than learn how to play a guitar. When I was a wee lad, I couldn't travel to the jungles of South America, chase after treasure, and avoid death at every turn, so living those dreams vicariously (and safely) through Pitfall! made all the sense in the world. If I was a kid today and remotely interested in music, I think I would have begged and begged my parents for a guitar and some lessons rather than a video game.

On the other hand, video games are getting better in that they require players to be more active. I read somewhere that the Wii is a favorite among retirees, and some studies have shown its benefits in physical rehabilitation. People my age, who grew up on video games, are now purchasing the Wii Fit game as a way to exercise.

So there you have it. Video games can be bad and can be good, and they've changed a lot through twenty-seven years. I'll bet none of you knew that already.


Rita Vetere said...

Hey, Brian.

I saw your post and decided to come clean. I'm a closest gamer. I only play in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, which is often. Got hooked in the early 80's with the Leisure Suit Larry series. Then all the King's Quest games and Castlevania. But it wasn't until x-box came along that I became a true addict. Many a morning I went to work with bags under my eyes thanks to Halo 2. A couple years ago, I was really into Gotham Racing until I got into a HUGE fight with another player who sabotaged my winning race online. So ended my racing career. Still remember the guy's handle, too--Friggin' Carl. If you're reading this Friggin' Carl, I'm still mad.

I enjoy pretty much all the x-box 360 games, but Grand Theft Auto 4 still tops my list as far as gaming satisfaction. It just feels good to blow things up sometimes, plus Niko looks like Jason Statham.

And now the Wii... If only my family room weren't already wired from here to kingdom come. Still, soon as I make some room...

Brian O'Rourke said...

Hey Rita,

No shame in all that! I too played Leisure Suit Larry, even though I was much too young for it at the time :) Castlevania is a classic and still holds up today even though the game play is a bit rough.

Friggin' Carl sounds like an ---hole. If you're reading this Friggin' Carl, you deserve to burn in hell. Unless you buy Rita's book (and mine).

I had a roommate in law school who played GTA 2 or 3 (can't remember) for nearly 48 hours straight once. It was really cool, really pathetic, and really annoying all at the same time. And yes, he's a lawyer now too.

Jason Statham fan, heh? You'll have to get in line after my wife. She'd dump me in a heartbeat for the Transporter.

I hear you about the Wii. We would like to get one too, only they're tougher to find than the Northwest Passage.

We're a bit behind the times. We only have a PS2 right now. Oh, and we do still hook up the original Nintendo from time to time, and my wife did buy a lot of those old-school Atari joysticks that have five or ten classics on them. My dream is to own a Donkey Kong machine. Okay, it's not my only dream, but it's up there on the list.

Rita Vetere said...

I vote they make a Transporter video game--interactive of course. That Jason really knows how to bust a move. Jenna and I would buy it, right Jenna?

Brian O'Rourke said...

Even I have to admit he's a pretty cool guy. Check out The Bank Job if you haven't seen it; that's a good flick.

Rita Vetere said...

Oh, I saw the Bank Job the minute it was released! GREAT flick.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Yeah, that was a great flick. I'm hoping I find it in the previously viewed bin soon.

Jenna said...

Ah yes, Rita, I would certainly stand in line to be the first to purchase an interactive Jason Statham game. Wow.

Silly Brian asking if you had seen The Bank Job! Of course you had!