National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Virtual Tennis, Anyone?

Computer games come of age

BY Brother John Raymond

June 29-July 5, 2003 Issue | Posted 6/29/03 at 2:00 PM

 

Computers have reinvigorated the market for games. Actually, this is not a new development. I remember taking breaks while studying in school to play Minesweeper or Solitaire. These were included with all Windows packages.

Much later, a family visited our monastery and the children introduced me to the included pinball game as well. I was impressed by the realism of the game, having formerly played pinball machines in arcades. Everything was there — flippers, flashing lights, rings and buzzes. You even had an option for “nudging the table” like in the real game to get the ball to go your way.

If you have children, I'm sure you have many additional games loaded onto your computer. A couple of years ago, my brother-in-law told me he was having problems with his computer. It didn't take me long to discover the problem. One of his three sons had loaded up his hard drive with all the computer games it could handle.

Now it's not true that all computer games are purely recreational. Justin has a flight simulator that allows him to virtually pilot an airplane. He can specify all kinds of details — the type of plane to fly, airport designations for takeoff and landings, and so on. He sees and controls most of what a pilot would see in the cockpit of a real plane. And as Justin is “flying,” the scene out the cockpit window changes to reflect the airplane movements. He even hears the control tower talking to him.

To make things even more realistic, Justin acquired a force-feedback joystick so that he feels the vibration and resistance of plane movements through it. Justin may never become a real pilot, but he certainly is learning much about piloting.

Hollywood often spins off videogames from its most popular movies. In The Matrix Reloaded, Jada Pinkett Smith plays the supporting role of Niobe, a hovercraft pilot. In the video game spinoff Enter the Matrix, she is the star. Both game and movie were released at the same time in May, a first for Hollywood. Previously, a video game would require actors to reread a few lines or submit to a scan. Smith had to memorize game scripts several times longer than their film equivalents and endure six months of extra motion capture, face mapping and full-body scanning. She stars in an additional hour of the movie, which will appear not in a theater but as cutscene interludes in the game.

It turns out the creative force behind the Matrix juggernaut, the Wachowski brothers, are avid gamers. They're also shrewd merchandisers who know an ideal opportunity to cross-sell products when they see one.

The Internet has further expanded the use of computer games. Not only can you play games on the Internet, but you can also play against someone sitting at his or her computer anywhere in world. I read an article some time back about an Asian country, I believe Korea, where fans followed computer- game opponents like we follow our sports teams. And it seems this is starting to catch on in America as well.

In March, Samsung Corp. announced a series of 300-plus qualifying events around the United States to kick off the American portion of the Samsung World Cyber Games, the world's largest e-sports competition. Serious gamers can compete in qualifying competitions held at 20 CompUSA locations across the country from May through July. In the press release to promote the event, Samsung talks about bringing its World Cyber Games “closer to all of America's 140 million gamers.”

The national final will be held in August. Winners advance to the World Cyber Games 2003 Grand Final in Seoul, South Korea, set for Oct. 12-18. Don't think this is all fun and games — U.S. finalists will win a computer graphics card and monitor valued at $2,000 along with a free trip to Seoul. And the grand finalist will win a $400,000 prize pool, according to the competition Web site at wcgusa.org.

On our site, I have Brother John's Online Checker Match, Mouse Click Fun, Mystery Number, Paint a Picture and Five-in-a-Row games. My checker match draws people of all ages. I have rarely lost, even though I'm not really playing — it's totally automated. These games not only provide fun, but they also may be the avenue of leading people to other aspects of our site that are faith-building.

Some games I have modified for that very purpose are Patron Saints' Quiz, Sliding Tiler Thingy, Jigsaw Puzzle, Unhangman, Catechism Quiz, Random Gospel Passage and Crossword Puzzle.

I know some of my readers are just dying to check these games out — at least for curiosity's sake. Just go to our main page at monksofadoration. org and click on the Games/Stuff/Donations link. Don't worry — donations are not required to play (though they certainly are appreciated!).

Computer games, like the human need to play itself, are here to stay.

And the Internet has brought gaming to a new level. Perhaps playing is part of our being children of God. Will there be Scrabble in heaven? I'll let the theologians ponder that one. Right now I have a game to get back to.

Brother John Raymond, co-founder of the Monks of Adoration, writes from Venice, Florida.