STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Consumer spending may be slumping, but one industry is not feeling the pain. Video games may be playing the role that movies once filled in hard economic times. Here's NPR's Laura Sydell.
LAURA SYDELL: During the Great Depression, Americans went to movies to escape...
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "DAMES")
M: (As Jimmy Higgens) (Singing) They all disappear from view, and I only have eyes for you...
M: They went to melodramas, they went to romance and musical films, Busby Berkeley dance films, all singing, all dancing films.
SYDELL: That's Gary Handman, the director of the Media Resources Center at UC Berkeley. When times were tough in the 1930s and during the Second World War, Americans could get their minds off their troubles for a nickel a night.
M: You got two features, sometimes you got two features and a newsreel, and then in the Depression, sometimes you got two features and a newsreel and a raffle for Depression-ware china.
SYDELL: But the way Americans escape today's hard economic times seems less melodic.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME "MADDEN NFL '09")
SYDELL: (Singing) Bang, bang, hammers in my head. Bang, bang, hammers in my head...
SYDELL: That's the football game "Madden NFL '09." Since its release on August 12th, fans have purchased over two million copies of the game, according to the NPD Group. Overall video game sales are up 43 percent - that's 43 percent from last year at this time - whereas the number of movie tickets sold has remained about the same for a decade, even though revenues are up just a little. David Riley of the NPD Group says part of the reason is that a movie only lasts a couple of hours.
M: The difference obviously between a movie and a video game is the amount of time that you get, the bang for your buck, if you will.
SYDELL: On a recent Sunday at a busy Best Buy in San Francisco, game fans echoed Riley's words. Malou Taylor (ph) says she's more likely to play a game than go to a movie.
M: I'd rather spend money on a video game than go to a movie and see a pop - look at us (unintelligible), that's expensive. I might as well use the money on a game that I can have for a longer time.
SYDELL: Some couples even like to stay home together and play. Take Benjamin Gerald and Char Williams (ph).
M: Last night, we spent, like, six hours. Char was playing the game, and I'm sitting on the couch - actually to be, like, oh, no, go, you know, do the - no, I can get totally involved, even though I'm not even playing the thing.
SYDELL: Gerald says if they do watch movies, they often rent DVDs and stay home instead. But Gary Handman of the Media Resources Center at UC Berkeley remains skeptical that games are really like the movies were in the Depression.
M: I don't think video games will ever be as demographically diverse as the movies are or movies were.
SYDELL: There is no video game equivalent of Shirley Temple, who lifted the spirits of Americans when she sang and tap-danced. And it may be that there is no longer one entertainment escape, but if the price of gas keeps going up, staying home in the living room will grow increasingly more appealing. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.
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