Ever since video games decamped from arcades and set up shop in the nation's living rooms in the 1980s, they have been thought of as a pastime enjoyed mostly alone. The image of the antisocial, sunlight-deprived game geek is enshrined in the popular consciousness as deeply as any stereotype of recent decades.
That's changing. Online PC games in which thousands of players gab and explore together are attracting tens of millions of subscribers. Back in the living room, Nintendo's revolutionary Wii system has helped forge a new audience for gaming among families, women and older people, who had been turned off by the complex, violent and solitary adventures that once dominated the market. Paradoxically, at a moment when technology allows designers to create ever more complex and realistic single-player fantasies, the growth in the now $18 billion gaming market is in simple, user-friendly experiences that families and friends can enjoy together.