What is the appeal of Grand Theft Auto and other ‘serious’ games anyway?

I saw a couple of stories today about the Nintendo Wii.  You know, the little white console that ‘serious’ gamers-whoever they are-constantly put down and the tech press love to say that no one plays.  The two stories were about Nintendo lowering the price to $199 (US) and that an ‘HD’ version, presumably one with higher resolution graphics, will be out by 2011.  The thing that amazes me with Wii is that it still sells very well, three years after its introduction.  It does not have the abilities of the XBOX 360 or the PS3-two very over engineered consoles. Even so, both the XBOX and the PS3 are very nice pieces of hardware.  The PS3, especially, does quite a bit and you do get a lot of hardware for the money … now.  Sony recently lowered the price to a more palatable three hundred dollars.  Still expensive, but you get allot of hardware for that money.

This noise about gaming hardware got me thinking.  Thinking about the types of games I play and the types of games that we allow my son to play.  We are probably a bit too protective with him.  He is not allowed to play games like Grand Theft Auto and just about any of the first, second or third person shooter games.  He’s never really asked to play them.  We do have some of those games, for the PS2 and the original XBOX.  I don’t play them often and, when I do, it is generally when he is asleep or not home. Mostly, though, those games just sit and collect dust.  I don’t know quite know why I bought them, I guess just to see if were missing anything.  I’m not.  And there is my question:  why are these things so darn popular?  I do like to put in Quake or Doom 3 once in awhile to let loose some frustrations, but, mainly, I prefer thinking games.

I find myself playing games on my computer more than the consoles.  Rise of Nations, Age of Empires 3 and Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 get lots of play on my computer.  On my Wii, its Dr. Mario.  On the XBOX, it is NASCAR 2003 or one of the classic game collections.

My son loves to play Rise of Nations with me.  We play it using the LAN multiplayer option.  He also plays Animal Crossing allot.  He has it for the Wii, DS and GameCube.  He plays all but the GameCube version online with his friends.  We race each other allot with Mario Kart Wii.  We also play it online.  He is also a Rollercoaster Tycoon fan.  He plays all three, but mostly #2 because it is the best version.  We both get into old Atari games as well as a couple of Intellivision games. 

Thinking about all of these games and how much we enjoy them also brought to my attention the things they all have in common:  great gaming and state of the art graphics…state of the art years ago.  We don’t play any game that requires graphics ability much past what a GameCube can render (or, in PC terms, a direct x 9 video card.)  The games themselves are fun and, except for Rise of Nations’ war aspect, they relatively violence free.  Sure, the racing games allow some mayhem, but, the mayhem is not bloody violence and none of the games would embarrass me in as far as admitting I allow my son to play them.

So, just what is it about ‘serious’ gaming that I am missing?  What makes games like Grand Theft Auto and God of War more enjoyable than, say, a game like Age of Empires or any of the Sim City games (which we also have  a fondness for)?  Dr. Mario is quite addicting as is Rise of Nations.  Neither of these games have cutting edge graphics or involve carnage like God of War.  I can play them for hours.  So can my son.  What are we missing?

I’m in my mid-40’s now.  Maybe I am just too old to get it.  My son is 12.  Is he too young, still, to WANT to play these games?  

I’d love for someone to enlighten me.  What is the appeal of Grand Theft Auto, God of War or any of the ‘eye candy’ games?  They seem to lack any depth.  What is it?  I’d love to know.

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