It places otherwise intelligent, articulate people into a mummy-like trance marked by an inability to acknowledge anyone else in the room who isn’t also under its spell.
And because it is generally designed to allow only two people at any given time to participate in its frivolity, it represents only the most narrow form of shared experience. Anyone else in the vicinity might as well find a good book. The television is occupied and the players are transfixed in a game-induced coma that isn’t likely to break for several hours.
Consider, then, the novelty of a video game console designed specifically to encourage more social game play. Toronto-based ZAPiT Games'(www.zapitgames.com) Game Wave console ($150) shouldn’t really be mentioned in the same sentence as such powerhouses such as Xbox and PS2.
It offers none of the graphically astounding, action-packed games depicting Hollywood-like car chases, immersive war scenes or on-ice hockey checking.
Game Wave is the parcheesi of consoles with more modest competitions based on traditional board and card games. But while the DVD-based software is more humble, the hardware outdoes its competition in a meaningful way.
Game Wave comes with four colour-coded remote control devices. And you can add another pair (for $30) allowing up to six people to join in. That presents the unique possibility of an entire living room full of participants engaged in fierce or friendly rivalry at the same time – a more inclusive form of video game trance.
Not that there’s anything terribly entrancing about the ZAPiT games released so far. But that’s part of the point here. While video blackjack and trivia may not have mesmerizing, shock-and-awe graphics, they do offer a form of amusement more conducive to shared play.
For example, a game called “4 Degrees – The Arc of Trivia” lets up to six players answer multiple-choice questions and place real events on a time line as the clock ticks down. Players get four clues to each question which fall into categories such as arts, history, science, sports and geography.The game awards points based on speed and accuracy.
And because your competition is sitting right next to you, adrenaline inevitably makes an appearance. Before long, you will be engaged in healthy taunting, some trash talk and the occasional high five.
Such forms of communication, including the use of full sentences and clever quips, has never before been seen during video game play.
And while this isn’t Project Gotham, the quality of game production here is actually quite slick with a stunning array of news clips, photographs and graphics illustrating each question.
Among the other trivia offerings available on the Game Wave console – which doubles as a DVD player – are letter and dice games, a game that tests your knowledge of the Bible and “Rewind” which calls on players to recall and place events and headlines from the past while inspiring some thoughtful recollections in the minds of players old enough to remember.
Think of Game Wave’s card table titles such as blackjack as a modern update on an ancient idea – people sitting around a table engaged in a bit of healthy competition. The technology here simply moves the focus from the card table to the screen.
Whether that’s a positive shift is, of course, subjective.
But it does offer the advantage of an automatic – and studiously unimpassioned – dealer which may offer you better odds than what you’ll get from uncle George.
The smart money says Game Wave doesn’t have the makers of Xbox the least bit concerned. To be sure, the device’s distinct Canadian modesty will hold little allure for traditional video game diehards who have quit their day jobs to work full time on their Halo 2 skills.
But there are video gamers of a certain age, raised on Atari and Intellivision, for whom the notion of a more cerebral and communal form of gaming holds more allure than reaching level 12 of The Matrix.
Perhaps there is room for kinder, gentler, more socially responsible gaming.
Robert Cribb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org