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was a teenage armchair TV tennis addict. Chronologically it was only twelve years ago. but technologically that crude game with the paddles and the little dot and the irritating bleeps might as well be the Dark Ages. A new generation of bleary-eyed teens is hooked on a heroic Italian plumber and handyman called Mario who spends his time plucking vegetables from the ground. hurling them at assorted mutant creatures and collecting treasures along the way (and no. you don‘t have to spend twenty quid on a dodgy tab of E to experience this). A recent survey revealed that Super Mario was more recognisable to US youth than President Bush, which isn‘t saying much. More impressively. he has become a youth icon as potent as Bart Simpson or those Turtles and appears on TV screens with far greater frequency.

In this country. the computer console game has conquered the nation‘s youth to the extent that last Christmas. stocks of games and hardware failed miserably to keep up with demand and reports came in of fights in Dixons over the last Mega Drive in the shop. They‘ve even got their own TV Show. Channel 4‘s Gamesmaster. presented by the eccentric 22-year-old Scot Dominik Diamond. has been a hit beyond its producers‘ most optimistic expectations. regularly pulling in over three million viewers at Tuesday teatime. The phoneline after the show for viewers interested in joining the Gamesmasrer club was jammed by an estimated 100.000 calls on the first night.

The result is a youth-led consumer craze that has left the twentysomethings. traditionally the vanguard of any new techological revolution. in the dark and groping around blindly for guidance. The NME calls Nintendo ‘The new Motown‘ and Techno bands are queuing up to record

5 The List 13 26 March 1992


soundtracks for games. yet the average consumer remains the embarrassing middle-class speccy kid with too much pocket money. Bigger than punk rock and rave culture put together. computer games are a youth phenomenon whose influence has yet to greatly encroach on the real moneybags generation. but still managed a UK turnover ofsome £300 million last year. That‘s all about to change though as the two Japanese games giants Sega and Nintendo move on from the already hooked youth

The teeling is that the kids have had their tun, and now it’s time torthem to Ietthe grown-ups in onthe act.

market to target the affluent. fashion- conscious adult sector. The feeling is that the kids have had their fun. and now it's time for them to let the grown-ups in on the act. Computer games are not an entirely new phenomenon ofcourse. We‘ve all played Space Invaders or Defender in the pub. and arcade games have been around for years. It is only in the last two years. though. that a minority pastime has become a mass craze. Andy Craig of the games department of Virgin Megastore. one of Scotland‘s largest computer games outlets. sees signs that it won‘t be confined to kids for much longer. ‘With the mainstream Nintendo and Sega games. it‘s limited to the younger players. but that‘s not the case with the Sega MegaDrive. With its better quality and more complex games. you find that there are people in their mid-twenties beginning to buy them. and with the hand-held games. they‘ve become such a fashion item that everyone under thirty is buying one.‘ Ofcourse the grown-ups can‘t keep things simple. The trend is now going back towards

more detailed and complex games to play on the PC. Such software is not subject to strict corporate control. leading to the availability of some fairly sleazy or tasteless games as well as the more worthy simulations. ‘Asa

Patrick Moore. the-oracle in Channel 4‘s Gamesmaster

whole. computer games do about 20 per cent . ofthe store‘s turnover.‘ says Craig. ‘PC sales

have picked up a lot in the last year. In

London it’s become the most popular area of -

computer games and it‘s getting a lot more popular up here. With the PC games the age group can range from 10 to 65. there‘s no real core group.‘

Anticipating this trend. both Sega and Nintendo have counter-attacked. with sophisticated equipment oftheir own being made available in this country over the summer. Nintendo‘soffering is a 16-bit console with arcade quality graphics and high specification game play. Sega hit back with a CD—based system. ‘You can get 100 times the information on the screen by using a CD rather than a normal games cartridge.‘ says Craig. ‘so the games can be a lot more complex. In some cases it‘s becoming like taking part in a film.‘

Like any youth pursuit that is commercialised and entertaining. computer games have brought the gloom and doom merchants out of the woodwork to claim that it is responsible for everything from sore thumbs to social inadequacy. Spending six hours at a stretch blowing away alien life-forms can‘t be good for you surely? Certainly it‘s a hobby that attracts obsessives (and estimates suggest that 90 per cent ofthem are male) but the same could be said for bird-watching or train—spotting. both of which are accepted as harmless. Other critics suggest that game-players find it difficult to differentiate between reality

and the games worlds. Come to think of it. I I

did see a plumber walking down the street

ladies. . .

the other day chucking mushrooms at old