Illustration by Katie Hamill

Rise of the Gamers

This is the age of the video game. Once consigned to youth and a subset of hardcore enthusiasts, gaming has spent four decades growing and spreading its reach to become a bona fide part of mainstream culture. In the ever-competitive scramble for entertainment dollars—a space once dominated by music and movie sales—video games are dominating. This year’s highest grossing film so far, Jurassic World, netted a little over $208 million at the box office in its opening weekend, the biggest ever. In 2013, Grand Theft Auto V made more than $1 billion in the first three days after the video game’s release.

If you’re under 45, you grew up while video games matured as art and commerce, and they have evolved in accessibility and ambition over the generations, from the simplistic back-and-forth movement of Pong to the hyper-realistic, open-world gameplay of the newest Metal Gear Solid. They were once novelty attractions of penny arcades; now a vast selection of games are available everywhere—on home computers, laptops, tablets, phones, game consoles, websites, and televisions. And in an appropriate full-circle development, they serve as the centerpieces of trendy bars with in-house arcades.

In Columbus, these so-called “barcades” are the most prominent examples of the widespread popularity of video games, the digitized noise acting like a beacon for diehard gamers, curious bar-hoppers, and those seeking nostalgia in the soft glow of the screens. In only a couple years, the city has gone from hosting zero barcades to witnessing the opening of the fifth one sometime this fall. They each provide cultural touchstones, from the early years of Ms. Pac Man to the adolescence of NBA Jam to current titles like Killer Queen.

In this section, you’ll find an article on Killer Queen, a rare and highly addictive arcade game that combines old-school aesthetic design with a 10-player, competitive-collaborative system, bringing people together for an experience that’s as much about socializing as it is about the game itself. The man who brought it to Columbus, John Geiger, has been at the heart of the arcade movement for 20 years, and his array of arcade cabinets are a short walk down a cramped corridor from his software business, Tracermedia Interactive. Just up the hall from there, Chris Volpe and his cohort at Multivarious Games are trying to champion Columbus as the next hotbed of game development. The gaming scene here is still nascent, but our city is home to plenty of talent—a popular host of video game tournaments, the ninth-place finisher in the Nintendo World Championships, and the 10th-best pinball player in the world—in addition to MLG.tv Arena, the nation’s first stadium dedicated to professional video gaming.

Meanwhile, in the ongoing effort to take the pixilated games of the past and build evermore realistic versions, developers have created ultra-powerful game engines that can also be applied to real world problems, from healthcare therapies to education to hazmat training. When these software systems are combined with new hardware that provides physical interaction and an immersive digital universe, suddenly it no longer feels like we’re discussing games at all.

Not to imply that they aren’t still a means of childlike fun and entertainment—developers continue to make games about cartoons eating coins while monsters chase them around the screen, probably as much as ever. But it’s expanded beyond that; we all grew up, so the video games have, too. Or, as Chris Volpe put it, Games aren’t a kids thing anymore. They are something else now, something bigger.


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