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It's All Just Fun and Games

Video games and some kids at Fort Boise who play them

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The Atari generation has grown up. And they not only continue to play games, but have spawned game-loving kids and, in some cases, have gone into game-making careers. The result? A generation of 'tweens and teens—and game-playing adults—who have lots of gaming choices.

Recently in Boise, video games have infiltrated the dark and smoky corners of bars. Walk into the Bouquet in downtown Boise, and on the wall you'll see two "guitars." Not signed Fenders, not the ubiquitous red Gibson so popular with local shredders, not even a Korean knock-off acoustic. In fact, they aren't really guitars at all, but controllers for the very popular Guitar Hero franchise which can be played on the Nintendo Wii, the Playstation 3 or the Xbox 360 platforms, terms familiar to all but the most insulated teen—and, admittedly, to 20-, 30- and 40-somethings up on their of pop culture.

But adult gaming isn't just for the barflies. Music magazine Blender knows that its demographic may very well be gamers as well as music lovers. Each issue of the magazine lists several new video game releases, giving them a one- to five-star rating. The December issue, on stands now, gives the latest installment in the Guitar Hero franchise, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock four stars; Rock Band—which allows users to add on a drummer, bass guitar and microphone so the guitar player isn't always playing by himself—receives an almost unheard of four-and-a-half; Mass Effect gets four-and-a-half stars for its intellectual space-based theme; The Simpsons go from the small screen to the big screen and back to the small screen with a quirky hit-or-miss offering that gets three stars; Need for Speed: Pro Street is the latest in racing games and racks up three-and-a-half stars; Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a four-star Lara Croft look-alike; and Unreal Tournament III, the grandchild of one of the original online battle games, earns three stars. (Crysis, a first-person combat shooter receives four stars but it's only available for PC).

Gaming, however, comes at a price. Gaming systems start around $250, running as high as $500. The games themselves are anywhere from $29 to as high as $170 for the special edition of Rock Star. For a teen on a tight allowance, it can be a tough choice to either see three (or 17) movies, or purchase just one video game. But thanks to the Fort Boise Community Center and youth program specialist, Clay Lee, 12- to 17-year-old gamers in Boise can go see a couple of flicks and, one Saturday a month, pay $2 (which helps to cover the costs of pizza and soda available), hang out with like-minded teens and indulge in their gaming addiction, playing individually or in tournaments.

Lee, who spearheaded X-Treme Gamers Night, has been a Boise City employee for eight years, working in his current role since April of this year. According to Lee, the gamers' night has been a popular event for both kids and parents. As many as 40 kids have shown up at any one time and parents can be comfortable knowing their teens are in a safe, monitored environment and the only games allowed are rated E for everyone or T for teen. Kids sign in at the front desk, and then choose from a large number of games available for a number of different systems, all donated by Microsoft. Lee said Microsoft also started an employee-match program, in which money donated by city employees to the gaming program is matched. "That money is put into a heritage trust account," Lee said, "and that money can only be used for [game nights]."

Last week, during November's game night, around 20 kids signed in—only a few girls represented the fairer sex—and were in pockets around the center. The six or seven PCs were all in use, two boys sat in front of a TV readying for computer-generated battle, a few sat around the pool table while two boys racked up the balls, and in one large darkened room, a handful played Wii or Xbox 360, the game characters projected larger-than-life on to the walls.

Four boys, ages 13 to 17, who'd been standing around by the front desk while they waited for an Xbox 360 to open up, were typical of boys who spend a lot of time in front of computers: chatty, candid and clearly bright. When asked about their own video game and computer experiences, they talked over one another, happy to show off their knowledge. One of the group said he found an old Atari system at a Youth Ranch thrift shop and, re-wiring it himself, had it in near-perfect working order. Another said, he found a crushed Guitar Hero controller and was able to repair the broken whammy bar. They all said they like playing the very popular title, Halo 3, a futuristic first-person shooter. They also admitted to spending hours playing Rayman Raving Rabbids—a humorous Wii game in which oddly rendered rabbits are the enemy—and high-definition ping pong. When asked what the most embarrassing game they'd ever played was, one shyly confessed he'd played a Barbie title, but said quickly, "It was so stupid." The question, "If you could invent any game, what would it be about?" elicited a flurry of answers and discussion, but all four agreed it would have to have ninjas and maybe zombies.

As soon as the Xbox system was free, all questions were forgotten, and the next generation of game creators filed into the large projector room and were soon completely absorbed in a heated game of video table tennis.

The next X-treme Gamers Night is Dec. 5, 7-10 p.m., $2, Fort Boise Community Center, 700 Robbins Rd., 208-384-4486.

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