A few decades ago, video games were mostly a pastime for children. Now, though, more than 150 million Americans play video games of some kind regularly, over half the population of the country.
The top video games today have development and marketing budgets equal to Hollywood movies, and generate revenue on that level as well.
Video games are played via computer and dedicated console, and increasingly on phones, tablets and other mobile devices. People play by themselves or with their friends, or often with complete strangers. More and more, video games are an essential source of recreation and amusement for a large percentage of the populace.
A video game can be defined as a game created digitally and played via some form of electronic interactive device. Beyond that simple definition, there's a huge amount of variety and variability in the genre.
Popular sub-genres of games include Fighting Games, Sports Games, Role Playing Games, Simulation Games, Strategy Games, Horror Games, Sandbox Games and many others, and it's beyond the scope of this article to attempt to define them all.
Suffice it to say that if a person is looking to enjoy some kind of competitive (or even non-competitive) experience rendered through a digital device, it's likely that a video game exists to fill that desire.
For nearly as long as there have been mass marketed personal computers, there have been computer games, and people continue to play computer games with regularity. Today, the most likely platform for computer gaming is Steam.
Steam is a service that allows people to purchase games online and play them through the Steam client. Steam manages and tracks any games purchased by a user, as well as that game's initial download and any future updates.
Thousands of games, both old and new, are accessible on Steam. Steam doesn't only offer games designed by professional game design studios, as it's a host to a large number of amateur-created games, as well as a large community of people who make modifications of existing games.
The main alternative to PC video gaming is console gaming. A gaming console is essentially a computer whose only purpose is to allow the user to play games designed specifically for that console. Consoles typically hook up to a television to display graphics, although some hand-held consoles have their own display screens.
Nintendo (along with Atari) is one of the early titans of video gaming via console. Their Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), released to the US market in 1985, was the standalone console that introduced the world to the iconic Mario Brothers, among other classic early console video game series.
Since then, Nintendo has been one of the leading makers of standalone gaming consoles, though in later years Sony and Microsoft have become the top two console developers.
Sony entered the standalone gaming console market in 1994 with the Playstation, and became one of the bestselling series of consoles for the next two decades and more. During the mid 1990s and into the 2000s, Sony and Nintendo were the two clear leaders in console-based gaming.
Sony continues to produce consoles to this day, and their Playstation 4 is one of the two top gaming consoles currently.
Software giant Microsoft entered the console gaming market in 2001 with the Xbox, in many ways a comparable system to the Sony Playstation 2. Since then, Sony and Microsoft have waged a war for console market supremacy that continues to this day.
In the current gaming environment, a number of online games attract massive followings. People play these games incessantly, and even watch online streams of others playing the game. In fact, some online multiplayer games are so popular that professional eSport leagues exist where professional gamers play each other for large amounts of prize money.
Here are a few popular online games:
World of Warcraft: World of Warcraft (WoW) is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMORPG, a genre which has existed for around 20 years. WoW is by far the most successful game within the genre, and has been around since 2004. Players control characters who maneuver around a huge virtual world, fighting monsters and gaining powerful magical items.
League of Legends: A relatively new video game genre is the Multiplayer Online Battle Arene (MOBA), and League of Legends (LoL) is currently the most popular MOBA. In LoL, two small teams of players work cooperatively to do battle with the other team in a match that usually lasts roughly an hour. LoL and other MOBAs are particlarly popular for eSports.
Call of Duty: Another massive genre of online games is the First Person Shooter (FPS). Call of Duty (CoD) is the most popular and lucrative FPS, with total revenue for all CoD games exceeding $15 billion. In CoD, the core idea of the game is that players are gun-wielding combatants attempting to kill the other players in a large combat setting of some kind.
Overwatch: Another extremely popular FPS is Overwatch, which was created by the same video game designer who created WoW. In Overwatch, players work in small teams to battle other teams in a futuristic-themed gun battle.