Video games have grown into a huge business, outpacing the movie industry and bulldozing childhood as we knew it. We adults are not safe, either. Whether they admit it or not, you probably have friends who can be found awake at 2 a.m. disemboweling orcs, foiling terrorist plots and scooping up fumbles and running them into end zones.
In two spots, though, Chaplin and Ruby really score. In their chapter on Mmorpgs, they sensitively profile David Reber, a 30-year-old Californian who spends every free moment chained to his computer, acting out a series of intense fantasy existences that provide him with the companionship and sense of achievement missing in his real life. Just as Castronova would predict, Reber withdraws from the real world as his fantasy life deepens - he has lapses at work and when Chaplin and Ruby last check in with him, he's moved back in with his mother.
The other winning portrait in "Smartbomb" is of Will Wright, the creator of SimCity, as well as its offshoot The Sims, and a new simulation called Spore in which players guide a new creature from its biological origin onward. In an industry that mimics Hollywood's craven predilection for cheap, gory theatrics, Wright stands apart as a humble philosopher in love with the potential of games to expand the human experience. Though Chaplin and Ruby don't have much to say themselves about the significance of video games, they wisely hand matters over to Wright, who foresees a future that might just keep us all staying up past 2 a.m. "I think one thing that's unique about video games is not only that they can respond to you but down the road they'll be able to adapt themselves to you. They'll learn your desires," he says. "It might just be that games become deeply personal artifacts - more like dreams."