Let the Games Begin

We’ve been noticing a lot of press about video games lately. Grand Theft Auto IV is flying off the shelves. It sold 60 million copies in the first week. Other games, like Guitar Hero and games for Nintendo’s Wii gaming system, continue to increase in popularity. At, we’re interested in video games as one more way to reach people with important HIV/AIDS messages and possibly influence their behaviors. So, this week we begin a two-part series on the subject.

Screen shot of Pos or Not online game

Photo courtesy of Kaiser Family Foundation

Pos or Not online game

To learn more, we spoke with Tina Hoff, Vice President and Director of Entertainment Media Partnerships Exit Disclaimer at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Marguerita Lightfoot Exit Disclaimer of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and David Galiel, a new media expert with experience in game development.

David told us that video games can be divided into games played on game consoles (such as Wii Exit Disclaimer, XBox Exit Disclaimer, and Playstation Exit Disclaimer) and games played on personal computers.

Screen shot of Project Light video game

Photo courtesy of Marguerita Lightfoot

Project Light video game

Another distinction is single player games (one person versus the computer), social (or multiplayer) games (where several players play with and against one another, over a local network or the Internet), and massively-multiplayer online games (MMO), where large numbers of participants play together over the Internet.

Who is using video games?

Video games are no longer the exclusive realm of children. According to the Entertainment Software Association Exit Disclaimer:

  • The average video game player today is 33 years old and has been playing games for 12 years.
  • Sixty-seven percent of heads of households play video games.
  • Forty percent of players are women; in fact, adult women represent a larger proportion of the total game playing public (33 percent) than boys 17 or younger (18 percent).
  • Twenty-six percent of players are over 50.
  • More than a third of parents play video and computer games.
  • The average adult plays more than seven hours a week.
Photo of Tina Hoff

Tina Hoff, Kaiser Family Foundation

That said, there are still many young people who are playing video games. Tina explained, "New media platforms, especially those that engage the audience and leverage the viral marketing opportunities Exit Disclaimer of the Web, such as Pos or Not Exit Disclaimer (an online game that challenges stereotypes about HIV/AIDS), are very popular with our target audience of young people. We have always believed the best communication strategy is to go where our audience goes."

When Marguerita was a high-school counselor in a low-income area of Los Angeles, she observed that nearly all of her students had video games. "These were young people who dealt with violence and poverty on a daily basis," she explained. "Yet video games [and technology] were part of who they are. If we ignore these tools, we are missing opportunities to reach young people and promote behavior change."

Ultimately, a growing percentage of the population spends more and more time playing video games of all kinds.

Why video games?

What all video games have in common is a participatory quality. Unlike traditional forms of entertainment (literature, theater, film, television), players become part of the action, not just passive observers. Their actions determine outcomes, and every step requires decision-making that affects the rest of the player’s experience.

According to David, "When people play a game, they tend to be more receptive to new information, particularly if the game is structured in a way that makes the information important to success. Well-constructed video games immerse players in a state of ‘flow’ that is conducive to constructivist/constructionist learning, and that is where the educational, public-service potential of video games comes into play. Players learn by doing, and in multiplayer and MMO games, by teaching others."

At, we’re curious how video games can and are being used in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Tune in next week as Marguerita, Tina, and David help us answer that question.