A long way from pong | SierraSun.com

A long way from pong

Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun photo illustration

Chris Arth of Truckee waited in line at Wal-Mart to purchase the brand new Nintendo Wii for Christmas, a video gaming system featuring a handheld remote that detects motion so players can mimic the actions in the game.

Arth, however, isn’t your stereotypical couch-potato member of the gamer nation. He is a physician with North Lake Pediatrics.

“The video game system is something I could share with my 15-year-old daughter,” Arth says, “plus the interactive sports games appeal to me.”

For years, video games have gotten a bad rap: Players glued to televisions and computer monitors for hours on end moving nothing but their thumbs. But with the advent of interactive video games, there is a new spin on how people play the games.

The concept of adding physical activity to video games is a positive because it can entice people to exercise as opposed to gamers passively whiling away the hours, Arth says.

For Joe Callahan, 26, the video game called Guitar Hero on Sony Playstation 2, gives him and his friends a chance to “be the rock star you always wanted to be,” he says.

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The game allows players to strum along on a simulated guitar to music beats displayed on the screen.

“I happened to see Guitar Hero on a commercial and I was like, ‘My god, that looks amazing,'” Callahan says.

The social and interactive aspects of Guitar Hero are the only reasons Callahan plays the game, he says. On Thanksgiving he and his “crew” of about 15 friends had quite the “soiree,” playing the plastic guitar in tune to classic rock songs like Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and a little Ozzy Osbourne, Callahan says.

“After a night at the bars we’ll just rock it out for a couple hours,” says Callahan, a ski representative for Dynastar in Reno.

Although strumming a faux guitar is not physically demanding, interactive games bring about alternative means to exercise, Arth says.

Compared to video games of the ’80s, gaming has advanced significantly with the release of gaming systems like Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii, says Troy Trimble, 23, a Google software developer in San Francisco.

The world of video games is a $7 billion market in the United States. New high-tech gaming gear such as the 2006 release of Playstation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii have already sold millions of units in the U. S.

The Nintendo Wii has won the approval of hardcore gamers, Trimble says, and with a redesigned remote changing the way games are played, the console system is flying off of store shelves.

“I started playing Nintendo Entertainment System back in ’88 or ’89,” Trimble says, who admits to playing video games four hours a night five or six days a week. “I played the first Mario Brothers, Final Fantasy, and Legend of Zelda.”

But now those old school video games are being replaced by interactive gaming systems.

“We used to be little kids playing video games,” Trimble says. “Now we’re adults with money.”

Currently, there’s more of an effort from video game publishers to make games palatable to a wider audience, Trimble says. The people who were “nerdy” in high school ” into Dungeons and Dragons and Magic ” are no longer the stereotype. Now, Trimble says, you see “jocks playing Xbox.”

Appealing to sports fanatics, Nintendo Wii offers games such as tennis, baseball, golf, bowling and boxing. With EA Sports’ Madden NFL 07, gamers have a free motion control so they can “throw like the pros.”

The Nintendo Wii was given its moniker based on the symbolism of the double lowercase “ii,” to resemble two people standing side by side and because it sounds like “we,” which emphasizes the console is for everyone, according to Nintendo Wii’s Web site.

Hysteria over the release of new gaming consoles like Playstation 3 in November 2006 caused pushy crowds, most notably adults, at retail chains in the wee hours of the morning, with many stores quickly selling out of the $500 item.

“I’ve never shot anyone for a Playstation 3,” Trimble jokes. “I’ve stood in line before. A friend of mine was the last person to get a Nintendo Wii after waiting in line at Best Buy at 3:30 a.m.”

Beside the entertainment value of video games, is there something to be learned?

“I wouldn’t say I’m significantly smarter. I felt I developed a large amount of cognitive ability through video games. Reading a book is probably ten times better,” Trimble says. “I don’t like playing video games all the time, it’s depressing.”

More than 750 public schools in West Virginia became the first in 2006 to participate in a statewide program incorporating the popular dance video game, Dance Dance Revolution, into physical fitness classes. With Dance Dance Revolution gamers dance on a pad lined with sensors that time the steps to music prompted on screen.

“This fits [young people’s] lifestyle. It’s fun and it’s music they’re familiar with. The important thing is they’re having fun while working out,” Clara Gilbert, director of business partnerships for DDR publisher, Konami, told the San Francisco Chronicle in January 2006.

The Truckee-Tahoe isn’t much different than other parts of the country as far as children not getting adequate physical activity, Arth says. For some families, treating youngsters to winter activities like skiing and snowboarding can be costly. Although playing video games like Nintendo Wii doesn’t replace physical activity, it “can draw in the whole family,” says Truckee pediatrician Dr. Chris Arth.