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Holiday Tech Guide: Video Games

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Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Mike Musgrove, author of the @play column, was online Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the top video game gifts for the holiday season.

Explore the video game database for two years of reviews from the Post's Weekend section.

The transcript follows.

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Jersey City, NJ: Are the development of more "interactive" games such as Wii sports and brain games with a more group centered gameplay a step forward or a step back in the effect of video games on the development of children in that while they require more physical and mental activity than previous video games they may be seen as a substitute for such healthy activities as playing baseball, trivial pursuit, or even reading; and cause children to spend even less time doing those activities that may contribute to their development?

In the same respects, many games, such as World of Warcraft, Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 focus almost exclusively multi-player around to the point where there is in-game voice chat. Has this type of multi-player world become a substitute for in person human interaction?

Mike Musgrove: Hi all -

Thanks for dropping by today's chat. This is a pretty good question/topic...

I have to think that very few people who play a Wii "sports" title are going to be fooled into thinking that they (or their kids) are getting as much activity as they'd be getting by doing the real-world equivalents of these activities. Still, seeing a bunch of folks jumping around & playing on the Wii pretty much beats seeing your kids or loved one sitting on the sofa like a couch potato.

Among my friends who play video games, I'd say that video games don't really eat away at the amount of time that would otherwise be spent doing "in-person interaction." However, video games do take away the time you'd otherwise be spending on other "winding down" activities at the end of a work or school day. Mainly, the folks I know who are gamers watch pretty much no television.

Most of the gamers I know also tend to have some pretty cool real-world activities as hobbies. (Alas, I don't....)

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Jon A, Arlington, Va.: Worst game(s) of the year to avoid?

Mike Musgrove: I can't think of anything this year that really inspired my hate and made me want to throw the game disc across the room. The game adaption of Spider-Man 3 was a big disappointment, mainly because the previous two were so good.

Anybody feel like pouring the hate on any of this year's games?

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Dallas, Texas: What are your recommendations for girls in the 6-11 age group? Seems everything is geared toward boys.

Mike Musgrove: The first thing that comes to mind for me is the Nintendo DS system, and games for that system that, for example, let you take care of virtual pets. There's Nintendogs, and a line of games with names like Catz, Horsez and so on. Also, the girls I know of in that range seem to like "Sims" games.

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Potomac, Md.: My son (college-age) loves video games, and was addicted to WOW last year. Now he has stopped playing it because he realized he couldn't turn it off--as he puts it, "when you leave, the game continues." Are there similar games that have more defined end- or stop-points, to give a similar experience but allow avid players to also have lives outside the game?

Mike Musgrove: Well, you're going to find this with any "massively multiplayer" game like World of Warcraft where you pay a monthly subscription and the main draw is to interact with other people/avatars in an online world.

But games that are not in that genre, you can pick up and put down whenever you like. You can play a game like Halo 3 and it has a campaign mode with a story arc that has a begining, middle and end. Or you can go online and play against other people -- but since those are often just quick matches, you can play or not play according to your schedule.

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Washington, D.C.: Worst game: HALO 3. For all the hype and potential, this was the shortest, easiest, simplest, and lamest sequel ever. That leads to my question: the media machine surrounding it seemed insurmountable and glowing, despite the fact that many gamers thought is was lame. Is promotion of such games so monstrous that so little attention is paid to actual content?

Mike Musgrove: Speaking of Halo 3...

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Fairfax, Va.: What's the trick to getting a Wii system? I would think that more than a year after release, you should be able to just pick one off the shelves. Are people having multiple Wiis in the same house? Will I have any better luck finding one AFTER the holidays?

Mike Musgrove: Nintnedo recently announced a "rain check" program. Pay for one today and your local retail store should get you one in January.

I haven't heard any reports yet of how that's going. Anyone?

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Chucky: Today's games are not violent enough - any recommendations for uber-violent games that really take advantage of latest gen graphics?

Mike Musgrove: OK, I'm sure this is a joke... but... Manhunt 2 is for you, Chucky. Get a modded PlayStation 2 and you can even check out a pirated, gorier version of the game than the one that appeared on retail shelves a month or two back. Still not a very good game, though.

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Georgetown: Thank you for your story about older people playing the Wii. It gave us the perfect gift idea for my in-laws. But then we could not find a Wii anywhere. Then we read your Web chat, which gave us a good lead on buying one. Now that's service! If you could give us some tips on new programs to buy for the Wii that are suitable for older people we would be completely indebted to the Washington Post. Our resubscription is on the way.

washingtonpost.com: Granny Got Game

Mike Musgrove: Many thanks.

The retirees that I talked to for that story last week were also fans of "Big Brain Academy" for the Wii. One fellow I talked to swore that the game has improved his memory, concentration, observation skills, etc. There were also fans of the games that come in a package called "Wii Play."

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Bethesda, Md.: Am I just getting old? I bought Zelda and the NYTimes Crossword Puzzle game the same day for my DS and I spent more time playing the latter. Throw in Brain Age for doing Sudoku and I hardly play any "normal" games.

Mike Musgrove: I didn't make it through Zelda, either, though I haven't tried the NYT crossword title.

It's amazing how many titles are out for the DS that aren't traditional "games" per se. I'm sort of intrigued by a recent DS game that purports to teach kids how to perform magic tricks, called "Master of Illusion."

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North Carolina: Two questions... Why will video game makers release PC versions of their pro sports titles (Madden, Live, etc.) but not their college sports titles? I have a PC--the wife won't let me have a video game system--and would really like to try out those college games (it's probably the only way my alma mater could win a national championship).

And, what's the best war game out there now? I'm not a big gamer, but I really enjoyed Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

Mike Musgrove: That's an interesting question -- and I have no idea what the answer is, my apologies. (Anyone out there know ?)

For your second question, Call of Duty 4 is where it's at -- and that is available on PC, in addition to the usual game consoles.

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For the Mom from Potomac: Your son may like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. It has a similarly large game world and design, but it is not an online game like WOW. It can be easier to put down, but still takes a while to complete. I think it is available on almost every system.

Mike Musgrove: Yes, I was thinking about mentioning Oblivion as a suggestion for the father of the WoW fan. Thanks for contributing this.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mike,

After your advice from the last session I went with the Commodore 64 over the TRS-80. (I found a sweet deal on Craigslist.) However, I've run into a problem: it won't play Halo 3. In fact, I can't even figure out how to load the game onto the computer. The game comes on a silver CD thingy, and the Commodore doesn't have a slot to accomodate it -- it only accepts cassette tapes.

I know they sell devices to convert cassettes and records into CDs, is there a converter out there that works that way in reverse? Maybe if I spun the CD backwards, or plugged in the power cord upside down?

I'm sort of in a bind here. Thanks for your help.

Mike Musgrove: Hey Andy... I think you might be out of luck. I'd say, just cram that cd in there.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm getting burnt out on World of Warcraft. The cartoony graphics are looking kind of dated. But I'm still hooked on MMORPGs. What would be a better choice for something to switch to?

Mike Musgrove: If I were you, I'd give Tabula Rasa a try. Also, from the same publisher (NCsoft), if you've never tried City of Heroes, I'd say maybe you should check the one out ?

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Motown: I am torn about getting Rock Band. I have a small apartment. How much does all the gear dominate the room? Can I leave it set up, but pushed against a wall and have most of the room free, or does it take over a room like full size rock band gear?

Mike Musgrove: It takes over a room like real-world rock gear.

The controllers are wired, not wireless. Plus, there's so much stuff, the kit even comes with a USB adapter. And that adapter has its own power cord.

So you end up with wires all over the place. The game is much fun, but I don't know that I would recommend it for a small apartment.

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Palm Bay, Fla.: The ex-WOW player might want to consider the Guild Wars series - it has a good plot and a lot of the immersiveness of an MMO, but unless you get very involved in a guild and spend lots of time in the arena, it's less time-intensive. It offers many of the MMO rewards, but it's far easier to walk away from.

Mike Musgrove: Passing this along...

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Baltimore, Md.: Violent games: Crysis is not as gory as Manhunt, but it has great violence. You can throttle enemies by the neck, toss them in the air and shoot them before they land. And it is THE state of the art in graphics.

Mike Musgrove: Absolutely true. I've been playing Crysis, but haven't gotten very far -- or tried this trick out yet...

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Waldorf, Md.: Is it just me or is video games a lot different than they used to be? I'm 26 years old and it doesn't seem like the video games are as much fun as they used to be there are mostly reality type games. I love the Mario and sonic games they were the best. I have purchased those games for my 6-year-old. But other than those titles, I can't seem to find any others like those. Any suggestions?

Mike Musgrove: I tend to be a little repetitve on this topic, but I've enjoyed playing the Lego Star Wars games with my 6-year-old stepson. That's the only video game i've been able to play with him much. Other than that, it's mostly Mario, yes.

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Games for girls: On the PC, the Nancy Drew games are excellent for girls in the 8-13 age range.

Mike Musgrove: I should've mentioned this before.

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Wordy Games: I was a huge fan of games like Zork and love any game that puts you into a realistic situation (being President etc.) and allows you to make decisions and deal with consequences (complex simulations). Are there any new games in those arenas that I should check out? No FPS for me, thank you!

Mike Musgrove: I was interested in the "SimCity Societies" game which came out recently -- the twist on this version of SimCity is that you can influence the fabic of the society by making your township a religious dictatorship or an artistic commune or what have you. Sounds like it has some interesting possibilities, the sort of thing you're looking for, perhaps-- but the reviews have not been overly positive.

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Inside the squared circle: I'm guessing you have likely played the new WWE game, but have you played the amazingly-great Fire Pro Wrestling game yet?

For us old-timers, it's great to finally have a console game of Fire Pro put out in the US. No modding or buying Japanese imports this time, like we had to do for the PS1 and Dreamcast.

Mike Musgrove: I haven't played the amazingly great Fire Pro Wrestling, thanks for the recommendation.

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Claverack, N.Y.: I've seen the next-gen platforms in the stores, and man are they awesome. The thing is, in the store, they're always hooked up to high-def TVs. I do not own a high-def TV, and certainly won't have money to get one after blowing $400 on a next-gen system. How much will those mind-blowing graphics suffer on a regular screen?

Mike Musgrove: I don't know how to quantify that for you, but you better try plugging one of those consoles into the set you have at home before you buy one, if you can.

It is definitely a bit of a buzzkill to switch back to the old (and small) tube set if you're really in love with how those systems' graphics look in the stores.

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Herndon, Va.: I am torn between PS3 and 360. Which would you recommend?

Mike Musgrove: Well, I spend a lot more time on the 360 than on the PS3. At the moment, the 360 has a great range of games that you don't see on the PS3 as much. That could change down the road, but for now I'd go with the 360, personally.

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Richmond, Va.: Oblivion's a very good single-player alternative to traditional MMOs like WoW but it might just feel like WoW without all the other people!

A lot of the hype in the RPG community this year is about Mass Effect (Xbox 360) and The Witcher (PC) which don't have such huge worlds and freedom to roam (as I understand it) as Oblivion does but do have tighter storylines and fleshed out NPCs (supporting casts called Non-Player Characters). He might not feel so lonely playing 'em!

While I haven't personally played those I can vouch for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as a fascinating non-traditional roleplaying game. It's really more of a first person shooter stuck in the body of a big roleplaying world. Great setting, Chernobyl!, and original gameplay set it off from most other games.

But his best bet might just be Hellgate: London. It's very grindy, WoW-like, with both single and multiplayer modes. The gameplay is built around fairly short scenarios you can play in an hour or two by yourself or with friends online. There's really not the same huge drive to invest massive amounts of time with it as with WoW and WoW raiding. Bitesized but familiar territory to a WoW gamer. It's not as stable as it could be yet and the online component isn't as robust as an MMO but it could scratch a recovering addict's itch.

Mike Musgrove: Just passin' this along.

Stalker was some good stuff.

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Seattle: I'm an old diehard Sega video game system owner who hasn't played much since the Saturn died about a decade ago. However, I have played with the Wii and saw that Nights is being released for that system. I know picking up a Wii is near-impossible, but I'm thinking it might be doable after Christmas. Have you played the new Nights game? Any thoughts?

Mike Musgrove: My copy only just arrived today, so I don't know much about it, sorry.

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Nintendo DS repetitive motion injuries: I got a DS for my birthday in August which I love. I recently got an R4 card as an early Christmas gift and have gone from a modest number of mainly puzzle games to basically every game I've ever even heard of. I've been playing so much my hands hurt! That little stylus is a bit tough on older hands. What can I ask for to stop the pain but that will allow me to keep playing? Are there any good larger styli that you can recommend for older fingers?

Mike Musgrove: I know what you mean, I have to admit. I have sometimes just used a capped pen to scribble away on the Nintendo DS screen. Not sure if the company would endorse this approach, but I haven't scratched it yet.

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Mike Musgrove: Thanks for joining us. As always, sorry I didn't get to some of your questions.

Best,

Mike

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