A video game made history last week.
You could be forgiven for missing the headline if you (mistakenly) think video games are just for kids, but Grand Theft Auto V, the latest instalment in one of the most (in)famous and successful game franchises in history, became the single fastest-selling entertainment product in history, hitting US$1 billion in sales in just three days.
To put that in context, The Avengers (2012) was the fastest film in history to hit $1 billion, and it took 19 days. James Cameron’s Avatar took about the same amount of time, with a world-wide release.
With around US$260m spent making Grand Theft Auto V – a moderate blockbuster movie budget – game developers Rockstar have made quite a return on their investment.
What makes the figure even more surprising is that GTAV is a game for adults, with an R18 rating due to graphic violence, drug use, sexual themes… pretty much everything on the censor’s checklist.
Games like GTAV may attract the headlines for their controversial subject matter, but there’s a vast range of games out there suitable for just about any demographic.
From family-friendly consoles and tablet games like Angry Birds, through to ‘casual gaming’ on Facebook for all ages, increasing numbers of people are choosing games as an alternative to fully passive entertainment like TV or movies.
Some games even have genuine creative and educational components. If you’re a parent of an <16 child, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of Minecraft. This game is like virtual Lego, giving players a range of components and materials with which to build structures, machines and other inventions limited only by their imagination.
At the more ‘serious’ end of the gaming spectrum are games like EVE Online, with massive, persistent online game worlds complex enough to support entire virtual economies, not to mention real-world politics and strategy among player factions (often leading to massive fights involving hundreds or thousands of players). This is not the sort of game you can dip into for 20 minutes at a time; many EVE players have years invested in their in-game skills and assets.
Other games are closer to regular team sports, with tournaments and scheduled matches between close-knit teams of players who will practice their techniques, tactics and communication ahead of time.
Whatever your level of interest, video games have come a long way since the days of Pacman and Pong. Gaming is now a giant (and still growing) industry, and represents many people’s first choice when it comes to entertainment.