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Sci-tech: Video game frenzy

The future’s so bright, I gotta get another console Much is made of ‘soccer wives’ during the World Cup. These are the women all but abandoned by their pub-bound husbands for the whole month of football’s top championship. There are now even holidays that cater to women during World Cup season, promising a comparable escape …


The future’s so bright, I gotta get another console

Much is made of ‘soccer wives’ during the World Cup. These are the women all but abandoned by their pub-bound husbands for the whole month of football’s top championship. There are now even holidays that cater to women during World Cup season, promising a comparable escape for the ladies, often at European spas.

Less discussed but perhaps more pervasive are ‘video game wives’ – or, more likely, ‘video game girlfriends’, given the stereotype of the gamer as a young single guy, perhaps likely to grow into an older single guy. There are simply fewer women out there than men who will sigh with fond recollection at the sight of wireframe graphics, à la Star Wars the arcade game in the mid 80s, or feel the jubilance of finally defeating Ganondorf in The Legend of Zelda.

But as is the tendency among those Peter Pan types, let’s let the conversation drift not-so-slowly away from our womenfolk to – you guessed it – the gaming itself.

In all of its varieties, the video game can become a way of life. And in Egypt that means the Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2). Its penetration here could easily be estimated at capping 90 percent, mostly due to its being first on the market. The PS2 was available well before the Nintendo Gamecube and Microsoft’s Xbox, and the ease with which its games are copied and distributed has smelted its positioning in Egypt firmly at the top.

These three manufacturers are now leading us into the much-hyped next generation of video game consoles.

The next-generation Xbox, the Xbox 360, got a head start, launching this time last year. There were a few downsides to the roll-out, one being that there weren’t enough units to successfully handle the simultaneous launch in North America, Europe and Japan, and also because there were few new games. On the upside though, not only is the Xbox 360 the fastest selling console in history, but it’s also a binary processing powerhouse. It uses a three-core, IBM-designed processor that runs at 3.2 GHz that is protected by a water-cooled heatsink. Yes, water cooled.

Nintendo’s new one is the Wii, an admittedly dubious name, allegedly pronounced like the query “why rather than the children’s playground call “whee . Out since mid-November, it is the anti-next generation console, meaning no focus on powerhouse graphics or military-grade microchips. This has not stopped buyers though. During last week’s European launch, the Wii flew off the shelves, with reported stock outages in almost every country – in as little as 10 minutes, as in Paris. In total, more than 4 million Wiis will ship before the end of 2006; the Xbox 360 managed barely 600,000 in the same period of its launch in 2005.

The Wii has been much-touted because it’s replaced the standard joypad with a wireless motion-sensor controller, termed the Wiimote, which allows for innovative gameplay. You can be playing a golf video game and actually have to get your butt off the couch to do a proper swing, in essence imitating what you would do if you had a golf club – and you will bogey your way through every hole if you have a bad swing. For driving games, the controller is your steering wheel; for tennis, your racquet; for Zelda, it’s your sword. Couch-potato gamers the world over are quivering in their baggy, camouflaged cargo pants.

Sony’s imaginatively titled PlayStation 3 (PS3) also launched in November in Japan and America, with crowds so frenzied in the latter that shots broke out in a store line-up in Massachusetts. Marketed to the hardcore gamer, the PS3 has attempted to match if not top the Xbox 360’s processing power and has even had its Cell microprocessor licensed to the American military. What the PS3 lacks, however, is a cohesive direction for online services, whereas Microsoft’s focused Xbox Live online gaming service will let you do a great many things beyond playing games, better and easier than your regular computer can. The PS3 costs between $500 and $600 on the international market.

But it’s not technically available in Egypt. Sources say you can get PS3s for LE 8,500 to LE 11,000. These consoles aren’t being officially shipped to Egypt though, with Dubai as the only official Sony outlet in the region, so it’s not apparent how they’re getting in.

Those that play video games know their merits: thinking on your feet (literally in the case of the Wii), cerebral fortitude (the next games in the Resident Evil series will absolutely scare the color out of your cheeks), and strength of character (you will not be able to cut and run while playing Halo 3).

But much more than this is at stake: the video games industry is driving technology.

We gamers have been using HUDs (heads-up displays) long before Mercedes and BMW decided to put them on your windscreen. The realism and immersion of driving, flying and sporting simulations, that are now used to train people at the highest levels of the military and elsewhere, came out of video gaming. And let’s not forget that online communities started with people playing computer games over the Internet.

And ladies, you might not believe this, but most of us joystick-laden lads find ourselves secretly hoping that gaming will eventually evolve to lure you into its seductive hold.

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