- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) - Aaron Williams sat on a coffee table in his west-side Janesville home, controller in hand, his eyes transfixed on the television.

His 9-year-old son, Colby Williams, sat on the floor, his legs folded awkwardly. They were playing “Rocket League,” a competitive video game that falls somewhere between a demolition derby and a giant game of soccer. The Williamses were playing online against another random two-person team that could have been as close as next door or as far away as Australia, The Janesville Gazette (https://bit.ly/1sdnCUn ) reported.

Colby hooted and hollered and his dad laughed each time they scored. When the teams were tied 3-3 and the game went into overtime, the father-son duo got more serious.

After a few close calls, the other team eventually scored, ending the game. The Williamses didn’t care. What mattered was the time they had spent playing together.

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A video game is any electronic game in which players control images on a screen.

Andrew Reuter, a 32-year-old gamer, said what defines a game is its interactivity. While movies, television shows and novels are passive forms of entertainment, video games require action on the player’s part.

Arcade games of the 1970s were simpler than the blockbusters anyone can play in their living rooms today. Games began as tiny, two-dimensional pixels on a screen that players could control with simple remotes. These days, video games fill every play style and genre imaginable and can sometimes be mistaken for movies because of their lifelike graphics and lighting.

“They’re able to tell larger stories now,” Aaron Williams said. “Instead of just a guy running around shooting things, there can be a whole backstory of a person (and) history.”

The modern gaming industry rivals Hollywood. Worldwide video game revenues are projected to reach $107 billion by 2017, according to gamesindustry.biz. By comparison, global box office revenue in 2015 was $38 billion, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Anyone can play a video game. From simple phone apps that require only a finger to complex action games that use every digit and test players’ hand-eye coordination, there’s something for everyone, Reuter said.

“If you’re curious about getting into video games, you should try it,” he said.

A person who has never touched a video game console might not be able to jump into this year’s hottest action games right away, but beginners can find plenty of user-friendly games that will ease them into the hobby, Reuter said.

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When Reuter was in high school, video games had a reputation for attracting geeks and nerds, partially thanks to the media’s portrayal of them. Over the years, people have raised concerns that TV, comic books and video games promote violence and ruin kids’ brains, but those allegations are constantly proved wrong, Reuter said.

Such perceptions have changed over time as the industry has grown and games have become mainstream, he said.

Neither Reuter nor Aaron Williams feels out of place talking about video games with co-workers or acquaintances. Plenty of friends their age play games, they said.

“In my experience, I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t play games,” Williams said.

Even if Reuter doesn’t play the same games as his friends, they can still talk about games, he said.

Some might think that video game talk is a foreign language. That might largely be due to a generational gap. Folks who didn’t grow up playing games might never have felt compelled to pick them up in their adult years, but it’s never too late, Reuter said.

“I think anyone could find a game they could enjoy,” Williams said.

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The pros of video games outweigh the cons, Williams and Reuter said.

When it comes to children, video games can be a great learning tool. A popular game among kids is “Minecraft,” which is basically a digital form of Lego that allows players to build anything they want with virtual blocks.

Another lesser-known creative game is “Garry’s Mod,” which lets players manipulate and build objects in a virtual space.

“We let Colby play ‘Garry’s Mod’ just about any time he wants just because you’re learning to do different things, learning to create instead of just doing the same thing again and again,” Williams said.

There’s no substitute for going outside and creating things with your hands, but games such as “Minecraft” can complement kids’ learning, Williams said.

Parents who game with their kids see it as a satisfying bonding experience. As soon as Colby was physically able to pick up a controller around age 4, he and his father started gaming together.

“That’s one of the cool things about having a son is now I have someone in the house to play games whenever I want,” Williams said. “It isn’t something that he enjoys or I enjoy; we both enjoy playing the game and, more so, playing the game together.”

Reuter is the proud father of a baby boy, and he hopes to share his love of gaming with his son one day, too.

Being gamers gives Williams and Reuter a leg up when it comes to safety. They’re familiar with how online gaming works, so both are more knowledgeable when it comes to gaming safely.

For instance, whenever Williams and his son play online with strangers who are using microphones to communicate, only Williams will wear a headset so Colby doesn’t hear anything inappropriate.

Both men know what kinds of games are appropriate for kids. Some parents mistakenly buy mature games for their children because they don’t know what the games contain.

Gaming parents aren’t immune from mistakes, though. Colby once told his parents he was receiving inappropriate messages from players on a phone app game.

“It was something happening that I didn’t know about. I lost that control. That was kind of unknown territory for me,” Williams said.

Now Colby is better about who he befriends in online games, and his parents are more vigilant.

“I learned from it; he learned from it,” Williams said.

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Information from: The Janesville Gazette, https://www.gazetteextra.com


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