All Hail to Space Invaders at Europe’s Biggest Games Show

spaceinvaders-gameplay.jpgBERLIN ~ Europe’s biggest games convention marked 30 years since Space Invaders this week with a homage to the alien “shoot-em-up” as well as 500 exhibitors showing how far the industry has come since then.

Space Invaders first hit gaming arcades in 1978, setting players the challenge of shooting a swarm of hostile extraterrestrials descending at an ever increasing pace – before they destroyed you.

The hugely popular game, released a year after the Star Wars movie, was “revolutionary,” according to organizers of the Leipzig GC Games Convention in Germany starting on Wednesday, and changed the nature of video games for ever.

“This might appear a simple feature to a modern audience but … from then on, you didn’t only play against the machine but also against human opponents,” the organizers said.

And according to the creator of the Invaders! interactive installation at the GC, French-US artist Douglas Edric Stanley, the game can even be seen as an “unusual … though obvious” metaphor for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Space Invaders, though, was not the main reason why some 200,000 people were expected to make the journey to the convention in the east German city of Leipzig between August 21 and August 24.

Held for the seventh time in Leipzig, 200 kilometers southwest of Berlin, the GC has exhibitors from more than 40 countries, including all the big names in the industry, except Nintendo, in four halls and an outdoor area.

According to the German tech industry association Bitkom, gamers in Germany alone are expected to spend 2.6 billion euros (US$3.8 billion) on consoles and games this year, 13 percent more than in 2007.

“Today the games market … is at least as important as other branches of the entertainment sector like film or music. With one difference: the games market is booming,” Bitkom said ahead of the convention.

And in Germany at least, the games industry is slowly gaining respect, making it out of teenagers’ bedrooms and overcoming criticism for being too violent to win widespread popularity.

Only last week, the German Cultural Council deigned to allow the country’s games development association GAME to become a member, thereby officially making the industry part of the country’s mainstream cultural establishment.

German MPs have even decided to create a special “Oscars” awards for video games, with 10 categories and 600,000 euros worth of prizes, starting in 2009.

“Of course some games are bloody and they should not be in the hands of children. But that does nothing to change their aesthetic qualities,” the Council’s head, Olaf Zimmermann, said.

The Grand Theft Auto series, which has sold about 70 million copies worldwide, is the most notorious, coming under fire for its graphic depiction of casual violence, drug dealing and prostitution.

Thai police even went as far as banning it earlier this month after a disturbed teenager allegedly killed a Bangkok taxi driver apparently inspired by the game in which players kill people and steal cars to win points.

Organizers of the GC will be hoping visitors will be more law-abiding.

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