Originally created 11/16/00

Not just a game



Abandoning every ounce of common sense and any trace of doubt, you lunge onto a stage of narrowing landscapes and veiled abysses. Your new environment rejects you. Legions of foes surround you.

Your purpose is unknown.

Well, no - actually, you know what your purpose is, and it's to shoot down anything that moves and make a lot of money doing it.

Just ask Terrell Garrett, an Augusta native who has won thousands of dollars in cash and assorted prizes by playing Quake III Arena (Q3A), the popular computer game with the virtual abysses and legions of foes touted on its box.

"I was playing for fun. I liked the competitive aspect of it," said the 21-year-old computer information systems major at Georgia State University. "When Quake III came out, I had pretty much stopped playing - I needed time to concentrate on studying. I wanted more of a social life. Then I saw a friend in Rolling Stone magazine - he'd won $10,000 playing. I thought `What the hell?' and got the game."

Welcome to the Arena.

To date, Mr. Garrett - who plays under the name "Matador" - has won $10,000 in cash and prizes. He has corporate sponsorships from MGON and Quest, both computer game companies, the first in Sweden, the second in St. Louis. He's part of a growing movement of computer gamers who are turning to high-stakes tournaments held all over the world and sponsored by high-profile companies that lay out cash and prizes for those who are gaming professionally.

That's right, professionally. Upcoming tournaments include prizes as high as $40,000 for the first-place winner. Sponsors include big names such as Microsoft.

"In my mind, the nearest comparison to another technological sport is auto racing," said Angel Munoz, a Texas businessman and president of the Cyberathletes Professional League, which organizes some of the tournaments. "Some people laughed at the idea that driving cars fast is a sport. There are a lot of the same qualities and skills you need to develop (for gaming) - concentration, strategy, hand-eye coordination."

Those skills and others are unseen advantages to computer gaming and cut directly against the stereotype of gamers as solitary geeks and dangerous loners, said Henry Jenkins, director of the Comparative Media Studies program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. The games, played in teams known as "clans," teach leadership, teamwork and competition.

"Those are all virtues we talk about instilling when we justify using money for the school system on the football team, which is a violent sport," Dr. Jenkins said. "Kids get hurt every year playing football. These computer games teach the same virtues as school athletics. But because this is unfamiliar technology - to parents - and more literal about the violence, it's not as accepted as football."

Outside of gaming culture, in fact, a reaction to the violence of the games is the first response most people give. Q3A is a "first-person shooter" or FPS, so dubbed because the player "sees" the game through the eyes of a character and shoots foes down accordingly. It was developed for Activision by id Software, which popularized the idea of "deathmatch," a duel to the virtual death, with the 1993 release of Doom - still considered a revolutionary product in gaming.

With the assault on violent media in the United States, computer games have been subjected to their fair share of finger-pointing. Some stores no longer carry games rated as "mature"; others require ID from the person buying them. Violent teen-agers are often characterized as computer gamers - despite the fact that the majority of teen-age boys in this country play computer games, Dr. Jenkins and Mr. Munoz pointed out.

"These are not losers playing in these tournaments," Mr. Munoz said. "These are successful people. They're flying in from all over the world to play - and their parents aren't paying for it."

The stereotypes of gamers keep many of them hidden, playing behind closed doors and leading "second lives," said Mr. Garrett, who only knew a few other computer gamers when he attended Evans High School and met most of his gaming peers through the Internet.

"I think there's the problem of stereotyping people who do this as violent people, people who never get outside, people who aren't athletic - and I think that's dangerous," Mr. Garrett said. "We're the complete opposite of being violent - we're just all normal people."

Playing for tens of thousands of dollars adds a veneer of respectability and seriousness to gaming. At the same time, the culture that surrounds gaming - the community created by the people who are involved - is still in the early stages of dealing with the influx of money and attention. The community that intrigued Mr. Garrett because he could actually interact with the top players in the world now has budding stars - and some divas.

"There are no rules yet for this type of thing," Mr. Garrett said. "People are having to define rules of conduct. I see some people who are starting to change the way they act when they start getting the media attention."

Virtual playtime

Quake III Arena, known as a "first-person shooter" game, is rated M (17+), for mature players. It is designed for "deathmatch" play, or a battle to the death of either the player or all opponents. It can be played individually against virtual opponents or as a multiplayer game, with live competitors controlling the opponents.

Web sites:

Official site: quake3arena.com features news and demos for download.

Planet Quake (news, forums, tips, mods): planetquake.com

Quake3World (news, files, forums): quake3world.com

Cheating Planet: cheatingplanet.com/cheats/pc/1135.shtml

CyberAthlete Professional League: cyberathlete.com/

osX (Mac gaming): planetunreal.com/osx

3DActionPlanet ("Everything I Know, I Learned from First-Person Shooters"): 3dactionplanet.com/features/articles/fpslessons

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.