I was introduced to the game Diablo when I was 10 years old. It was created by Blizzard Entertainment, one of the most well-known personal computer (PC) game companies today. Before that, I had spent my Saturday mornings watching cartoons and playing Super Nintendo with my brother. From that point on, I spent all of my time playing Diablo, mostly online. Fast forward 15 years to the present, and you will find the majority of my idle time spent on the computer; at least three nights a week you will find me playing World of Warcraft, Blizzard’s most successful game to date. Place me at home with my family, and you can be sure that you will find us good-naturedly hashing it out in Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Nintendo Wii.

I was introduced to video games at a young age, and with the technological advances of the past two decades, the options available simply continue to grow. My parents had Pong; my generation had the Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Brothers. The current generation not only has the current iterations of the games that my generation did, but available to them is a whole array of video game titles and multiple arenas to play them in. Video games have not only expanded to various consoles, such as the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3; PCs; and even portables such as the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and Nintendo DS, but game genres have also experienced an expansion. Popular genres include first-person shooters (FPS), role-playing games (RPG), adventure, simulation (SIM), strategy, puzzle, and gambling to name a few.

For every age and for almost every aspect of life, there is a game. Children today are being introduced to video games at even younger ages than my generation. 82% (55.7 million) of youth age 2 – 17 are gamers (NPD, 2009, Dec. 2), and households with kids 12 and under make up 45% of video game sales (NPD 2009, Sept 10). The average age to begin using the PC is 6 years old (NPD 2007, Oct 16), and 62% of children ages 2 to 12 use a computer (NPD 2009, Sept 10).

Video game sales in the United States is a growing industry, reaching $21.4 billion in 2008 (NPD 2010, Jan. 14). And they aren’t popular simply in the United States; game sales in countries like Australia and Canada have been increasing (NPD 2009, Jan 30 & Apr 1). Even with the current economy and sales dipping, “December [2009] sales broke all industry records and underscores the incredible value customers find in computer and video games even in a down economy” (quoted in NPD 2010, Jan 14).

Time spent playing video games is on the rise in the U.S., including by children and girls (NPD 2007, Oct 16; 2008, Sept 23; 2009, Jun 29), especially in the online arena (NPD 2010, Mar 2). This rise underscores the importance and influence of video games on American culture; they have become so ubiquitous that more Americans play video games than go to the movies (NPD 2009, May 20). I myself am an example of this shift in media focus: the last time I played a game online was two hours ago; the last time I went to the movies was over six months ago.

Video games, like other media, undoubtedly have effects on shaping people’s perspectives. Before commenting on some of these effects, it is necessary to address theories concerning other media, its effects, and how they apply to this latest iteration today. While there are multiple theories in regards to media and its effects, there are two of particular concern to this paper: cultivation theory, and uses and gratifications theory.

Diablo 3 Logo

Diablo III, RPG
©2011 Blizzard Entertainment

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft, MMORPG
©2011 Blizzard Entertainment

Legend of Zelda

Legend of Zelda, Action-adventure
©2002, 2003 Nintendo

Super Mario Brothers

Super Mario Brothers, Platforming
©2006 Nintendo