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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
Games suffer from 'geek stereotype'
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

Video games are never going to be as popular as films or music unless the people who make them concentrate on making them fun, says a leading game expert.

Women playing video games
Games still seen as largely a male pastime
The blunt message was delivered by Laura Fryer, director of the Xbox Advanced Technology Group, to a meeting of game developers in London.

She told her audience that games had the potential to change people's lives, offering them the chance to experience a wide range of emotions in a safe environment.

Despite growing sales of video games, there was still a problem of perception, said Ms Fryer, with games still seen as something for "geeks and guys".

Last year, Britons spent more money on games than on renting a video or going to the cinema.

But this is largely due to the high price of a game, around 40. compared to the cost of video rentals or a cinema ticket.

Cathartic experience

Although games are growing in popularity, they are still lagging behind TV, films and music. Ms Fryer laid the blame for this on the people making the games.

"Games are still too difficult for a mass audience," she told the Game Developers Conference, held at London's Earls Court last week. "People don't focus on gameplay. Instead they make a beautiful game that is no fun."

One of the main obstacles was the complicated controls of many of today's games, as well as tough levels which left many players frustrated.

People playing video games
Music: 2,016m
Games: 1,081m
Cinema: 755m
Video rentals: 476m
Source: Elspa

"You want a game that is challenging but never frustrating," said Ms Fryer.

She urged game makers to come up with titles that would appeal to a hardcore 15-year-old gamer as well as someone older who just wants to have fun.

As a self-confessed avid gamer herself, Ms Fryer sees real value in video games, arguing they have a key role to play in people's lives.

"People need drama in their lives. Games fulfil emotional and mental needs that cannot be fulfilled any other way," she explained.

"When people talk about 'it's only a game', they're cheapening the value of games. It trivialises the time people spend playing a game and time is the most precious thing people have."

The Xbox executive said video games offered people a chance to flex their mental muscles, as many titles involved planning, strategy and decision-making.

"When you make choices, it reveals something about yourself. People reveal who they really are when they can try things in a safe environment."

The Game Developers Conference was held last week as part of London Games Week, which brought together a range of industry and consumer events around the capital.

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