We have esthetic complaints, too. A few years ago film critic Roger Ebert infuriated gamers by arguing that video games "can never be art."
Skyrim is a useful starting point to examine that view precisely because it has won so much praise.
"We design worlds," says industry legend and Skyrim director Todd Howard.
Mr. Howard means that instead of giving players the simple, gobble-up-the-bad-guys goal of the 32-year-old video game icon Pac-Man, games like Skyrim allow players to explore richly textured worlds, full of choice.
Well, the video game industry is itself a world worth exploring. Just how big is it? How many play? What makes games so popular? Can they do harm? Are they useful? Or – as a Wall Street Journal headline put it – "Are Violent Videogames a Threat to Society? Or Works of Art?"
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First, the big picture. In 2011, the American video game industry says it:
•Recorded $25 billion in sales.
•Accounted for about 120,000 American jobs directly or indirectly.
Since 2005, the industry has grown eight times faster than the US economy. This is enough to have earned it the ultimate status symbol in Washington: a bipartisan congressional caucus to support games.
Undergirding these numbers is a zealous and global fan base. According to game designer and writer Jane McGonigal, a half-billion people on earth play video games an "hour a day," of whom 183 million are American. In fact, 97 percent of American young people ages 12 to 17 play video games. Five million Americans play at least 40 hours a week.