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Video game nation: Why so many play

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Why not? Yale professor Paul Bloom, author of "How Pleasure Works," points out that Americans find many products of the imagination – games, movies, TV – more interesting than real life.

"Why would individuals ... watch the television show 'Friends,' " he quotes one psychologist as saying, "rather than spending time with actual friends?"

Among other things, Dr. Bloom says, the adventures of fictional characters are usually "much more interesting" than ours.

Fries sees the relevance to games. "You can't walk around on giant tundra with a sword," he says about real life. "You can't swim next to a submarine. I could go skydiving, but I'm horribly afraid of heights. If I hit the ground in a game, I won't die."

Bloom offers another reason, quoting television and literary critic Clive James. "Fiction is life with the dull bits left out."

Nesmith confirms that. In real life, he says, "we often say nothing of consequence. You don't want that in a game."

When you ask what's unique to games, though, designers or players all mention one thing. "You get to interact," says Carofano. "There's something rewarding about that."

Clearly, interaction – choice – separates video games from other forms of storytelling. You don't just read about someone killing a dragon. You do it.

Howard offers yet another attraction. Wearing jeans and sneakers, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a remote, he is the keynote speaker at a conference in Las Vegas, which has named Skyrim "game of the year."

"What can games give you that nothing else can?" he asks.

Against a black screen behind him, the answer appears. PRIDE.

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