Video game nation: Why so many play

Since its November release, Skyrim has won award after award and led reviewers to call it the “greatest role-playing video game ever made.” In its first month, it made $650 million, almost double the entire year’s gross in the United States for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” the bestselling movie of 2011.

Gamers know this. Why don’t you?

C’mon. You don’t. One surprising thing about the video game industry is that while adults play – in fact, 25 percent of players are over age 50 – most are unaware of how prevalent it has become in American culture.

For many parents, video games are what our kids love – and we fear. One antigame blogger describes an avid user this way: a kid who “rarely goes outside, showers, or interacts with the opposite sex.” The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warns that children playing violent games “can imitate the violence they see.”

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. – Video game nation: Why so many play