The average player is in his, and now her, late 20s. And they're playing games that will shock you as well as move you. It's a virtual world where the lines between fantasy and reality are quickly disappearing. Bob Simon reports.
Along the way, these adults are fueling a business that rakes in billions. It's no wonder the richest man in the world wants a piece of the action. Bill Gates, and Microsoft, are now in the video game business.
"It's bigger than the movie industry," he says, noting that video game industry is worth around $7 or $8 billion. Microsoft is now making games and the machines to play them on. His game system is called the XBox.
"Video games are getting more realistic. But the key is that you have to bring that level of realism to a point where people forget they're playing a game. And the chips got good enough that we said we could come in and take gaming to a new level," Gates says.
To prove it, Gates, and the man in charge of Xbox, Jay Allard, played Simon in Fusion Frenzy, Bill's favorite. It was the first time Simon had ever played a video game.
As in business, Gates emerged victorious. But there was one game they didn't play - called "BMX XXX." The name says it all. It's part of the fastest growing segment of the video game business: mature titles aimed at people over 17.
Acclaim Entertainment on Long Island makes the game, which was created by Shawn Rosen and Ben Fischbach.
"We wanted to do something that was different, that hasn't been done before. You're going to see a hooker, you're going to run into a pimp, you're going to actually carry a hooker from one point in the game to another point in the game," says Fischbach.
When players gets enough reward points, they get to go into a virtual strip club.
That is what some people worry about.
"I mean, you're looking at, you're looking at women dancing on screen for a very short period of time," says Fischbach. "The reality today is that 60 percent of the gamers playing console games are over the age of 18. So, what we wanted to do, we wanted to create an entertainment experience on par with things like "Sopranos" or even "Sex and the City."
Wal-Mart and Toys 'R' Us won't sell the game. Sony will only allow a cleaned-up version for its PlayStation system. XBox allows adults to play the uncensored version of the game. Why? To sell more XBoxes, of course.
"Gaming has to broaden its audience," says Allard. "It's not just about kids anymore. And so what we're seeing is a broad diversity of content. We have over 200 games now on XBox. And they range from very young games to very mature games. And BMX-XXX is one of those examples."
Gates likes to point out that the XBox has a feature that allows parents to prevent kids from playing these mature games.
"I think it's key that you have the box be able to control exactly what kids are able to use and that the rating system makes it clear to an adult, a parent, you know, what are they going to be exposed to. That's one of the mature titles. And those titles- you know, some households will choose not to make those available," says Gates.
Racy titles like BMX-XXX or violent action thrillers are not the only games adults are buying these days. The vast majority of video games they play range from driving games to contact sports. And their appeal lies in how realistic they are. Kobe Bryant looks and plays like Kobe Bryant because he was actually involved in the creation of the game.
Acclaim makes a lot of these realistic games and invited Simon to see how it's done.
First step: a camera took a 360-degree photo of Simon's head. It's called a face scan.
"We could make you look a little bit younger but that will take a couple more days," Fischbach teased.
The goal was to put Simon into a baseball game. They put dozens of reflective ping- pong balls all over hisbody before walking him into what they called a motion capture studio. Here, 14 infrared cameras recorded his movements.
They even put the reflective balls on the bat he had to swing. A computer modeled his style. Later, they showed us the finished product. The Brooklyn Dodgers versus Yankee legends. Now batting: Simon.
The pitcher was none other than Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. Ford got two quick strikes. Then Simon let a ball pass. Then, another swing, and another strike. Simon had struck out.
Thanks, I mean you make me come out here, you dress me up silly and now you strike me out," Simon said to Fischbach, joking.
The games are getting more and more realistic all the time. "It's very close. It's all that suspension of disbelief. If you can walk by a monitor and watch one of our games and can't tell whether you are watching a real baseball game or a virtual baseball game, then we have succeeded at our job," says Fischbach. The line will be fully blurred in three or four years, he says.
Leading the charge into the future is Electronic Arts, or EA, the largest video game maker in the world. They make one of every four games being played today.
"I think our business is here to stay. It's growing," says EA president John Riccitiello. "For us, I think, and the people that work here, I think, it feels kind of like it might have felt to be in Hollywood back in the '20s. Things are getting started, a new industry is being born."
EA, which is based in San Francisco, is releasing 15 new titles this holiday season. Its output rivals that of major Hollywood studios. And it requires Hollywood-size investments. Games like their new James Bond title cost up to $15 million to develop and can take up to two years to complete. This Disney-like company shies away from mature games, focusing instead on Tiger Woods, John Madden Football, and Harry Potter.
Riccitiello says that video games already rival Hollywood. "I think everyone has the same dream. But it's just a different way of delivering it. People want to get lost in a story. Every single person that play a video games, when you get lost in that experience, you sweat, you almost cry. And, you know, that's what a good movie can do for you," he says.
Riccitiello hopes to sell $100 million worth of the new James Bond game by Christmas.
No game has made EA as much money as the best selling computer game of all time, The Sims. Unlike other video games, it's played mostly by women. In Sims Online, each player can create a cartoon character, and using the Web, enter a virtual world. It looks like the suburbs. The other characters are other players sitting at their computers somewhere else in the world. You can talk to them, live with them and even romance them. It's a digital parallel universe and according to its creators, Will Wright and Chris Trottier, people love to be somebody else.
"You're completely anonymous and and temporary, if you wish," says Trottier.
It is like a masked ball, says Wright: "This is like a masked life."
But how immersive is it? "You get amazingly immersed in this world. When you're sitting there in the house and having an interesting discussion with other players, you, you know, leave your body. I mean, you totally feel like you are in that environment," says Wright.
Says Trottier: "If they tickle you, you feel like you just got tickled. If you kiss someone, it's like, 'I just kissed this other someone.' It's pretty amazing how much you end up putting yourself into that sim. It feels like you're really doing it."
"The questions that come up honestly are fairly rich," Trottier continues. "I was flirting with someone in the game the other day and my boyfriend was sitting there and he said, 'I honestly don't know if I should be jealous about this.' There are some kind of interesting questions for the individual player to answer for themselves." How did she answer her boyfriend? She told her boyfriend not to be jealous.
The makers of the Sims allow parents to limit who their children can talk to. Fun for kids, scintillating for adults, it's a seductive world that can become very addictive. Wright says that the average Sim player plays 20 hours a week – half a work week.
Among those who plays is Riccitiello, who says he plays nearly every day. "In this game, I'm 30. I wish I were again. I'm awfully popular, got a lot of friends. Essentially I'm the equivalent of a New York nightclub owner," he says. "Now at a different time I was a 19-year-old waitress. Didn't quite work for me ,but you get into these experiences and you are who you say you are. Absolutely, and you invest in that character. That character is you. And it's going to change the way entertainment happens."