Flexing their thumbs, Elis await next generation of games

For Andy Detty ’09, nothing alleviates the stress of a long day at Yale like a good killing spree.

“I play games to get away from the real world,” said Detty, an avid fan of war games. “I think games like Halo lend themselves to playing with your friends and talking smack. They’re the sorts of things that beg to be played with friends. We play it every day, and it has just become a part of the daily routine.”

Flexing their thumbs, Elis await next generation  of games. SCI TECH LEAD PHOTO FOR VIDEOGAME STORY.
Ryan Galisewski
Flexing their thumbs, Elis await next generation of games. SCI TECH LEAD PHOTO FOR VIDEOGAME STORY.

Detty, like countless other Yale students, has incorporated gaming into his schedule as a distraction from the inescapable pressures of work, meetings and practices. And with the upcoming release of Wii, an interactive video game system from Nintendo, the options available to gamers at Yale and elsewhere will continue to expand almost as quickly as the range of customers to which they cater.

Nintendo hopes to draw in students such as Detty, a self-described “hard-core gamer.” But more importantly, Wii may be an attempt to bring video games further into the mainstream. Many students who play at Yale prefer social, party-friendly games, and Nintendo appears to be courting this demographic most enthusiastically.

The sleek white console, which will be released in the United States on Sunday and will sell for $250, includes a Bluetooth-enabled wireless controller shaped like a remote control. Its function changes from game to game — users can wield the controller as anything from a sword to a tennis racquet — and the games themselves encourage as much interaction as possible.

But Yalies likely will not be camping out Saturday night to get their hands on the first device. Instead, most said they are either traditional gamers wary of the new technology or casual participants who might eventually wander into the Wii market.

Nevertheless, a gaming culture exists at Yale just as it does at universities around the country. Video games are increasingly used as a social tool through either direct competition or remote, Internet-enabled cooperative play.

A Halo tournament held last year, which brought together players from every residential college in a competition for a new Xbox 360, showed just how pervasive video games are. Organized by the Yale College Council and sponsored by YTV, the tournament drew rave reviews from its participants and capitalized on the inherent competitiveness of Yale students, competitor Ilya Byzov ’09 said.

But Byzov added that gaming remains a stigmatized activity on campus that is frowned upon by most.

“There definitely are stereotypes, especially now that we’re getting older,” he said. “There are better things to do. There are other social opportunities out there that don’t involve getting satisfaction from a machine.”

Nintendo’s new product could bring casual gamers into the market because of its comparatively low price. Cash-strapped Yalies may be more likely to spring for the $250 Wii than the $500 and $600 Playstation 3 models, which will be released this Friday.

Sang Lee ’07 said the Wii will be able to target many different gamers by providing a more interactive experience and avoiding the astronomical price tags that accompany other systems.

“The cool thing about the Wii is how cheap it is, so they’re emphasizing a bigger range of gamers,” he said. “I think the console will be able to have the hard-core gamers, but you’ll still have the casual people who play just every once in a while.”

All the levels of gamers targeted by Nintendo can be found on the Yale campus. There are the hard core, those who play every night and neglect other pursuits. Of these, there are simple gaming devotees and the more stereotyped abusers of role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft, the hi-tech equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons.

Those outside the relatively small circle of devoted role players said they wonder what exactly fuels the desire to spend hours at a time slaying mythical beasts or wandering Allakhazam’s Magical Realm.

“You just see it suck away people’s entire lives to dedicate themselves to playing the game,” Detty said.

Matt Delgado ’09 said there is a rift between those who play intensely and those who prefer gaming in a social setting. Often those playing role-playing games will act out situations they cannot access in real life, he said. At least 80 percent of RPG players are male, Delgado said, but more than 50 percent of the characters they play are female.

Yale’s party gamers lie below the hard-core line and typically care little about graphics and depth of story line. These are the promoters of such classics as Nintendo’s Goldeneye, MarioKart and Super Smash Brothers, which rely more on social interaction than technical beauty. Casual players hang on the bottom rung of the gaming hierarchy, playing only occasionally.

Recently released consoles have sought to mesh the various gaming divisions into one market, focusing on keeping games gorgeous while expanding their social capabilities. Xbox 360, featuring the most powerful graphics currently on the market, capitalized on the promise of Internet gaming and has found success with students at Yale looking to compete with friends living nearby. By connecting to the Internet, it allows users to wage war against competitors in another country or simply a neighboring residential college, attempting to destroy the stereotype of the video game hermit and replace it with an image of a competitive, social being. Wii will also have Internet capabilities.

Wii’s design, compared to that of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, emphasizes aesthetics and ease of use over graphics and complex play. It is the next in a line of electronics that have looked to mimic Apple’s success as a beautiful, iconic brand known for its simplistic interface — a strategy that Apple has found especially successful with young people, including college students.

“I’ve heard a lot of video game publications say [Wii] is trying to become the iPod of gaming,” Detty said. “It is so sleek, and it’s trying to be something that’s different and is an alternative gaming style.”

An alternative gaming culture to match this alternative style, however, appears to be fading. The stereotypical male nerd, tapping on a grey rectangular Nintendo controller for hours on end, has been replaced by the average fun-seeker, both at Yale and elsewhere. But Wii will still have to break some perceptions that non-gamers have of those with an affinity for virtual gameplay, and its ability to transcend into the mainstream will be its biggest test. Rosa Ayala ’09 said she remains unconvinced Wii will bridge the gap.

“It’s like [gamers] are making up for what they don’t have in real life,” she said. “They choose a player on the game that’s big and tough, and behind the ‘video game name’ there’s a little nerdy guy.”

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