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Cybernaut

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Some people don’t read movie reviews for the simple reason that if you read enough of them you’re bound to disagree profoundly on a number of choices. Freddy Got Fingered probably got the worst reviews of any movie ever made in the last 10 years, but I laughed so hard my ribs hurt. The Chronicles of Riddick was dismissed as a fair to middling sci-fi flick, but now it’s widely being hailed as one of the greatest movies of the genre. Most of the major critics liked Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith , but it left me as wooden as George Lucas’s ear for dialogue.

Rather than trusting a single review, I’ve been a fan of Rotten Tomatoes ( www.rottentomatoes.com ), which takes all the reviews for a movie (three and a half stars out of five, four reels out of four, two thumbs up) and comes up with an aggregate score on the Tomatometer of 100. Any movie with a score of 60 per cent and above is considered "fresh", and anything below is considered "rotten".

Even this system fails from time to time ( Freddy Got Fingered got a 10 per cent rating from an aggregate of 91 reviews), which proves once again that beauty is still in the eye of the beholder.

Still, when there are 10 new movies out one week and you don’t know where to invest your $12.50, sometimes a good review is all you have to go by.

That is, if you still go to movies at all.

Hollywood is reeling from a recent slump, with summer box office receipts dropping to a 20-year low. Movie revenues were down around seven per cent compared to 2004, while the number of people going to movies was down about 10 per cent. Things have recovered since Labour Day, but right now studios are scratching their heads trying to figure out why fewer people are going to the movies.

One seldom stated reason is that many would-be viewers are choosing to stay at home and play video games. As Hollywood’s revenues are shrinking, video game revenues continue to climb. They’re in a bit of a lull right now as gamers save up for PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Revolution, but revenues are still rivaling Hollywood. By 2009, the global video game industry is expected to be worth $55 billion a year, with continued double-digit growth. At the same time the global film industry has sales of $21.4 billion with far more modest predictions for growth.

So people are playing more video games – but with dozens of titles released each month for consoles, portable players and PCs, how are people deciding which games to rent and buy?

The answer of course is reviews. In recent years most news outlets and gaming websites have hired in-house video game reviewers to play new titles and give their opinions. And while it will be a while before the video game world has its Ebert and Roeper, video game reviewers are quickly building their own followings.

With the sheer number of titles out there, the fact that games cost three to four times as much as movies, and the fact that people often have more than one gaming system, reviews may be the best tool you have for determining what to buy.

Rotten Tomatoes game review section is new, but give it a look anyway at www.rottentomatoes.com/games/ .

A more experienced place to go for reviews is GameSpot ( www.gamespot.com ). All games are professionally reviewed, then assigned a score out of 10 based on an aggregate of reviews from actual players. There are also screen shots, movie trailers, interviews with game programmers, and more.

The reviews, although presented in a confusing way (why are Overall and Highest Ranking lists different?), are fairly comprehensive and you can usually find all the top selling titles at the top of the lists. You can also find almost any game title using the search engine.

Another key site to keep in mind is IGN.com ( www.ign.com ). This is a comprehensive entertainment site with movies, music and more, but video games have become the main focus. It’s a lot like GameSpot with a mix of professional reviews and reader reviews, and games are once again scored out of 10. There is also an Editor’s Choice section, message boards, and more.

For another Rotten Tomatoes-style approach, visit Game Rankings at www.gamerankings.com . Judging by the high rankings for soccer, this site probably has a large following in Great Britain.

A neat site to check out is The Video Game Critic at www.videogamecritic.com . Not only do they have reviews from all the current titles out there, they also have reviews for almost every video game ever created, going back as far as the Atari 2600.

The Onion’s AV Club also has a pretty comprehensive game review section at http://avclub.com/content/games . They only review a few titles each week, but you can always look back through the archive.

Other reviews can be found online at CNN ( http://edition.cnn.com/TECH/ in the Fun & Games section and The Globe and Mail website at www.globetechnology.com , as well as pretty much any other computer-related website like PC World ( www.pcworld.com ), Mac Addict ( www.macaddict.com ), or Cnet ( www.cnet.com ).

Have fun, but remember that too much gaming can be unhealthy…

Korea’s gaming problem

South Korea is the most wired, wireless, and computer savvy country in the world right now, with Internet gaming driving the rate of adoption. According to one statistic, the country has 17 million hardcore gamers, representing roughly 35 per cent of the entire population.

In fact, gaming is so popular that the country is concerned by its growing number of video game addicts. There are reports of people quitting jobs and dropping out of school to play games, with some gamers spending 15 hours a day at play. Recently a 28-year-old man died after playing for almost 50 hours in a row. In 2002 another man died after a marathon 86-hour session.

The number of people being treated for gaming addiction has soared from 2,243 in 2003 to 8,978 in 2004. In the first seven months of 2005, the number of people seeking treatment was already 7,649.