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Video games

06/12/07 12:00AM By
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(HOST) Commentator Helen Labun Jordan attended her grandfather's birthday party this spring and came away with a new appreciation for video games.

(LABUN JORDAN) Recently, we celebrated my grandfather's 93rd birthday by giving him a Nintento Wii. It's the newest in video game technology, where motion sensors, not joysticks, control the characters on the screen. We bought it for the bowling program, so that grandpa could return to a version of the sport that he had to give up when he was ninety.

I haven't played a video game for a long time. I remember being fascinated with the videos of the late 1980's, the first to have complex stories and graphics that went far beyond the days of Pong. They weren't like any game anyone had seen before. But after that novelty wore off I started to believe that games really belong outside - in any weather - with possible exceptions for things like billiards or table tennis.

I realize that there are drawbacks to outdoor sports. I was a rugby player in college . . . or, as one physical therapist put it, I have a "history of aggressive, risk-taking behavior." And I'm still trying to fix injuries from those days. All of this in spite of the fact that I was a terrible rugby player; I spent most of my time running in the wrong direction. I can't imagine what damage would have been done if I ever got within a hundred feet of the ball.

I found very little risk of injury with video game bowling. I also found that, in spite of my far greater understanding of how video games work, my grandfather is a much better virtual bowler than I am. He bowls strikes and spares. I bowl. . . well, poorly. And suddenly, the idea of video games has become much more appealing. Not the losing to my grandfather part, but the idea that these games can even the playing field between a twenty-seven-year old and a ninety-three-year old contestant.

Removing the physical barriers to sport that age puts up creates an entirely new dynamic between young and old. As I move away from the young side of that equation, I'll be looking for advancements that go far beyond removing the weight of a bowling ball. Like virtual boxing with a handicap to account for slowed reflex time. Or sharp-shooting, that allows for failing vision. Maybe I could even take up rugby again.

We may turn to our grandfathers for advice from their accrued experience or to hear amusing anecdotes from an earlier time, but we don't usually face them in sports. Honest competition implies a type of equality that has never existed across the generations. At my grandfather's birthday party, I caught a glimpse of how video games could change this. Now, I'm imagining how technology may one day let me challenge my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to a duel, a biathlon, a football game or a wrestling match. In the meantime, whenever my grandfather trounces me on the virtual bowling lanes, I'll just consider it practice for claiming my own title - sometime around the year 2070.

Helen Labun Jordan works at the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

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