With the gaming industry changing so fast, it's nearly impossible to keep up -- so we're not even going to try. Instead, we enlisted the help of five gamers from completely different backgrounds to give us the 411.
The past decade has been great for video games. Thanks to the explosion of online gaming and innovations like the Nintendo Wii, it's a great time to be a gamer. Old-school Nintendo has never seemed so old. So before the next big innovation makes today's games feel ancient, there's no better time to look at the state of the industry. We'll tell you our favorite games, innovations and characters of the past decade while featuring a roundtable Q&A that covers a variety of video game topics. We sit down with high school sports stars Mack Brown and Annemarie Hickey, video game designer Phil Frazier, pro gamer Jacob Reiser and ESPN RISE lifestyle editor Jay Corbin.
What makes video games so addictive?
Jay Corbin: It depends. Sports games are addictive because you can play against anyone else. When it comes to the role-playing games, you kind of engulf yourself in that character and play out scenarios, which can become addictive.
Mack Brown: For sports games, it's the competition. We try to beat each other for real. Playing defense on Madden, you can hit as hard as you want. If you're losing to someone, you can hit the quarterback as hard as you want. It seems real to me.
Jacob Reiser: How competitive the game is helps a lot, and being able to play with so many different people. You don't have to go somewhere to play it. You can hop on the TV and Xbox and get going. It doesn't take a lot of effort. The more you play Halo and stuff, the better you can get.
Annemarie Hickey: Probably just that they keep building up suspense. Once you do something good, it unlocks so many more things. Then you want to figure out how to beat those new things. It's all about new challenges.
Phil Frazier: I'm a collector. I want to earn all of the different weapons and all of the perks that I can get. There are guys who are looking to immerse themselves in that experience. For any different person there's a reason. The experience of feeling like you're at the game, or for some people it's competition -- they want to be the best.
What's the best gaming innovation of the past 10 years?
Corbin: The first thing that came into my mind was wireless controllers. The engines and graphics are always going to advance, but wireless controllers changed the way you played the game.
Brown: The graphics on PlayStation 3. Super NES graphics didn't look that good. It looked like paper moving. The best animation on PS3 is in Grand Theft Auto. It's come a long way since GTA 1 and 2. Now it looks real.
Reiser: Xbox Live and the online capabilities. Being able to talk with a mic and have a friends list. Once you play Xbox Live, it's hard to play games without it. A lot of games have single player, but you can go online and play with a lot of players. It's a lot more fun with more players.
Hickey: Probably Rock Band. I know a lot of kids play that now. You can make your own band with friends. That's really popular because a lot of kids want to be in bands, and it's really fun to play with your friends.
Frazier: Online gaming in general. Being able to play a game like Madden or FIFA online and being able to play with hundreds of thousands of people across the world adds a lot of play time.
What's the best game of the past 10 years?
Corbin: The Call of Duty franchise. Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, it came up with more interesting storylines and gameplay. It's one of those games you rush out to buy or pre-order. I used to think it was Halo until I played Call of Duty.
Brown: Fight Night Round 4. It's good because of the people they got on the game this year. Also, the way you train in that game is like real life. I play with Ali all the time. I've won three belts -- the welterweight belt with Oscar De La Hoya, the middleweight belt with Bernard Hopkins and the heavyweight belt with Ali.
Reiser: The whole Halo series. Halo 1 got it out there, Halo 2 took it to another level and Halo 3 just continued it. It's a lot different. The way it plays is really competitive and makes it more fun.
Hickey: Guitar Hero. It's so cool to play with the guitar and you can do so many more things, like use Star Power to get more points, go at a faster pace, play with two players and challenge someone else. I have my friends come over and they always want to play that. We can just be goofy and have fun. It's definitely one of the big reasons more girls have gotten into video games.
Frazier: It's probably the Grand Theft Auto series. They did a lot of things right in their games. If you home in on the mechanics of the game -- that sandbox concept where you can interact with all of the players in their virtual world — it spawned a whole new genre of games. It's phenomenal. The controversy is centered around the subject matter and not the gameplay.
What's the most influential game of the past 10 years?
Corbin: Any game developed for the Wii. It took a basic event, like playing video games, and actually got people involved. It's the first video game system that bridged three generations. You've got grandparents, parents and kids playing Wii games. You can't think of any game that's done that.
Brown: Need For Speed. You can win cars and win money. You can race people online. In football, you can make yourself stronger on the field. In Need For Speed, you can make your car better. You can paint it. Add different spoilers and hoods. I had a Mitsubishi. I don't like getting the fastest car. I like getting an average car and making it faster. The paint job on it was solid black with a maroon trim (his football team's colors). It had 20-inch rims.
Reiser: Before Halo came out, there weren't a lot of kids who played all day. Halo really got competitive gaming started. That started with Halo 1.
Hickey: Probably one of the shooting games. I don't play them, but I know a lot of kids want to play those kind of games even though I don't think a lot of parents want them doing that.
Frazier: Again, I'll say Grand Theft Auto. There's been an entire genre of games built off that mechanic. The genre now has so many games that people don't realize where it came from. Within the sports base, Madden has been influential, absolutely. Madden 10 -- the one we just shipped -- got back to basics for us. It's great gameplay, great online experience, a great collection of experiences. If you look at a lot of sports games now, a lot of them have features that Madden pioneered, like Franchise Mode.
What would you change about the gaming industry?
Corbin: For them to be more sensitive to titles and their audience, sort of like the movie industry. Just like movies, video games are influential to the younger generation. If you notice, games have gotten gory over the last 10 years.
Brown: I think some games should be cheaper. Like $50 instead of $60. Like what they did with PS2 and Xbox.
Reiser: I'd change how people perceive video games. It's fun for everyone. Not everyone gets caught up in it and it's not as bad people make it out to be.
Hickey: For some of the shooting games, I wouldn't make them so gory. And for some Wii games, I would make it easier for people to play. The sensor can be really hard to find sometimes.
Frazier: There's still a little bit of a stigma to the gaming industry -- that it's a nerdy hobby, games are too violent, games promote violence in kids. It's a general negative stigma against the gaming industry, and I'd like to reverse that. Not all games are violent -- in fact not many of them are.
What game would you like to see turned into a TV show/movie?
Corbin: The most logical would probably be Halo. It has all the makings of a sci-fi hit.
Brown: Army of Two on Xbox 360. It's two men versus every army in the world. It's crazy.
Reiser: It would be interesting to see what they would do with Halo since it's a lot different.
Hickey: I don't know. I don't play any games like that.
Frazier: I don't think I want to see any game turned into TV show or movie. They aren't very good. I don't know what Hollywood does with concepts, but they're just miserable. I can't think of a good video game movie that's ever been made.
Can you use video games to help your sports performance?
Corbin: Absolutely. I know for a fact that video games are used by a lot of participants in NASCAR. It's probably the closest thing as a simulator for them. As for other sports, video games help your hand-eye coordination.
Brown: Not really. I use "SportsCenter" to help my performance.
Reiser: I wouldn't say a ton, but it can a little bit because it can help you with hand-eye coordination. I wouldn't say any more than that.
Hickey: I think it can because seeing the players on the video games can give them motivation to go out and do it in their real competition.
Frazier: My guess is we can't help with performance. What we can help with is awareness, and that's teaching you about concepts in the sport that you're playing because the playbooks and AI are set so good in the game. I knew nothing about football, but I started playing Madden 93 with my dad. By the time I started playing in high school, I didn't have to be taught those concepts.
If you could create a new video game from scratch, what would it be?
Corbin: It would be the most realistic game ever. You would hook up tiny electrodes to your body so if you fell in the game, you'd feel a sting or a shock.
Brown: I'd call it 'Striving to be the Best'. It would be a real-life football game. You'd start in high school, train yourself to be a Division 1 prospect and then go to college. You have to eat the right food, go buy your house and use money in stocks so you don't go broke.
Reiser: It would definitely be a first-person shooter. I'd try to make it different and try to make it competitive as possible. Those would be my guidelines for it. Kind of like how Halo is different.
Hickey: I would make a beach volleyball video game on the Wii. You can be in the sand and do other things, too, like surf with the remote.
Where will video games be in 10 years?
Corbin: It's probably going to be total 3D. Something where you put on a suit and visor and become totally engulfed in the game. They're going to have it so every movement has an impact.
Brown: It gets bigger and bigger every year. You might be able to walk into a video game in 10 years. I'd make virtual Madden. I'd try and go in there and run over the biggest linebacker in the game. Like the dude from the Niners -- Patrick Willis. I want him.
Reiser: They're going to keep getting bigger. There's no way they've reached their peak. People will think of new ideas, probably make online better, and more motion stuff like the Wii and the Microsoft full-body control. Those type of things could get big.
Hickey: I think they'll come up with more things for the Wii. More activities you can do with motion instead of the controller. I think they could have something where you're actually in the game and can control yourself in the game.
Frazier: You're going to see a lot of games transition away from what has been the standard "ship your game on $60 plastic disc" model and transition to a service model. Maybe somebody is buying not just a disc but a franchise, getting constant updates -- much like roster updates -- and user-driven content. These developers not only give you a game, they give you the same tools the engineers use to build that game. We saw the biggest graphics jump ever between the PS1 and PS2 eras, right around 1999, and I don't think you'll see a graphics jump that significant in a long time.