Not all fun and games

Baldur’s Gate, Unreal Tournament and Dance Dance Revolution are so 20th century. Casual gaming stepped up a few notches in the Noughties—starting with PopCap’s 2001 browser-based game, Bejeweled. Way more engaging than Solitaire and Minesweeper, the addictive puzzler hooked cubicle monkeys everywhere and, with 150-million downloads, showed that you didn’t have to be an obsessive fanboy to enjoy video games.
Instead, you could take your gaming in 10-minute doses over a cup of tea.

Meanwhile, World of Warcraft, the world’s most massively subscribed multiplayer online role-playing game became the drug of choice for gaming addicts, who invested serious time and money; some estimate that sales of virtual items in online gaming—such as enchanted weapons or virtual gold—is worth almost R3-billion in real cash.

Half-Life 2 wasn’t just a shooter: it invited players to interact with everything in the environment. You could pick up cans, push swings and open any door. After that, playing games where you couldn’t interact with your surroundings just felt so last century.

In 2003 even casual gamers became engrossed in the virtual world of Second Life where, for a small fee, your virtual self can watch a play, attend church, visit the Maldives Embassy or even earn real money. Heck, you can even play games.

Nintendo, the dark horse in this decade’s console war, cracked the untapped market of non-gamers with the release of the Wii in late 2006. It achieved success by making gameplay easy—and a communal activity. Wii Sports persuaded couch potatoes, kids and grannies to get on to their feet and literally swing into action.

Guitar Hero made everyone feel like a rock star and sparked a paraphernalia craze. As well as the original guitar controller, there are now drum kits, microphones and even turntables for the spin-off, DJ Hero, to bring out your inner rocker.

Gears of War emphasised team game play and cover tactics, while last year’s sequel, Gears of War 2, brought us the often imitated Horde multiplayer format, where players team up to fight an ever-increasing army of enemies. Gone are the days when multiplayer meant every man for himself. Today good multiplayer gaming demands team strategising, coordinated action and constant communication. It’s simple: if you don’t work together, you die.

With suspense, mystery and its eerie dystopian setting, BioShock brought scary back to gaming.

A plot twist of Sixth Sense proportions midway through the game required players to reevaluate the main character and brought meaning to the morality-based storyline.

It subverted our assumptions about the way role-playing games work and showed that games could be both complex and
thought-provoking.

Recently released Avatar, based on the James Cameron movie, is the first game in stereoscopic 3D. With the upsurge in 3D movies and the increasing availability of 3D TVs, stereoscopic gaming might just be the next frontier.

In November Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 demolished records for sales. With 4,7-million copies sold and R2,2-billion in global sales generated in the first 24 hours, it became one of the ­biggest launches in the history of entertainment.

So what’s next? Besides bigger worlds, more engaging stories and more multiplayer, if early glimpses of Microsoft’s Project Natal are anything to go by, the controller could soon be a thing of the past. The future of gaming, it seems, is hands-free and 3D.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker

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