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The appeal of games is centuries-old­ action, challenge and imagination. has always been based on the same elements: action, challenge and imagination. Those analysing video games use the term immersion, meaning a powerful psychological experience, diving into the game's virtual world. Since games are very active, immersion can easily become much more complex compared to film. When watching a movie, the viewer watches the hero, whereas in an electronic game he or she is the hero. For instance, in a sports game, anybody can be a top athlete like Swiss tennis star Roger Federer or English football player David Beckham. Each player can create a character of his or her own and play against the world's best. The action is focused on the player (or his alter ego), which makes the experience more intense. Although a movie can be a thrilling experience in many ways, it is still restricted to the screen. A game overcomes this border. The player is simultaneously in the game world and the real world. "The game's pleasure is based on the fact that its logic and its world are different from reality," observes Mäyrä. "Although the game may present the player with tough challenges, they are relaxing because they differ from those of everyday life." However, he points out, a game cannot replace a great book, opera or other cultural experiences, since they all offer different kinds of sensations. KINDRED SPIRITS The internet and high-speed broadband connections have spurred the explosive growth of electronic gaming. Nowadays nearly every game features both a solo version and a multiplayer version that can be played online with other owners of the same game. Whereas in the past the solo version was the heart and soul of the game, the situation is now starting to turn around. People prefer to play against one another rather than against artificial intelligence. The hottest gaming phenomenon at the moment are massively multiplayer online 58 BLUE WINGS APRIL 2009 games (MMOs), which can be played by as many as one million people around the world at the same time. The most popular ones are massively multiplayer online role-playing games, known by the unwieldy abbreviation of MMORPGs. Most internet games have fantasy or sci-fi themes. They often repeat a familiar theme: the battle between good and evil. When a player joins a game, he or she creates a character or avatar from one of many races or tribes, Virtual worlds and the real economy ALONG WITH online games, there are a myriad other virtual worlds on the internet. One of the most popular is Second Life, which now has some 14 million registered users. As in internet games, players create their own virtual characters. In virtual worlds you can do just about anything: go to a disco or a library, meet friends at a café, buy your own home and so on. Many real firms such as IBM, Nissan and Calvin Klein have set up shops on Second Life, selling virtual products. These can be bought with real money through an online bank or credit card. The amounts involved are hardly pocket money, as the value of these virtual markets is estimated at more than one billion dollars. Internet games have also spawned another major, lucrative industry, as players buy new characters or better equipment from others because, for instance, they don't have time to constantly develop their own character through the standard procedures. Some games also include a seemingly genuine internal economic system, where prices are set by supply and demand and inflation can be a problem. For instance the creators of EVE Online include real financial experts who continually track its market activity. Professor of digital culture and game studies Frans Mäyrä predicts that this development is proceeding toward a gaming society where online currency and virtual events such as internet concerts will become an everyday reality.

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