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Virtual Tournament draws Arlington Gamers

New game draws mixed reviews.

Torched metal, smoking tires and overturned cars, it was virtual mayhem at Devry University as local video gamers tested “Flat Out,” the latest off-road racing simulation for PCs from Empire Interactive, in a tournament Friday and Saturday. Gamers sped over ramps, through half-pipes and around dangerous obstacles to compete for a new computer and the chance to race in a national competition with a $20,000 prize.

The tournament is part of Empire’s survey of American gamers before “Flat Out”’s release this summer. It is already available in Europe, according to referee Andrea Jagh. In its first two hours Friday, the tournament saw more than 30 gamers take the controls to drive an array of cars. The game got mixed reviews from players.

“It’s good for competition,” said high school student Fernando Terrazas.

Terrazas and his fellow students, for whom video games are an almost daily source of entertainment, said “Flat Out” is for competitive players.

“It’s not something you can play on your own,” said Jack Zabounian. “You need a bunch of people to play against.”

Others found the game-play lacking.

“It wasn’t great,” said Chris Richards. “It was a fun game but I don’t know if I would buy it.”

Gamers at 17 Devry campuses nationwide took part in the tournament. The event is a fitting one for the school, which recently launched a new program in video game and simulation design. The major is only now available at three of its locations, but, according to spokeswoman Laverne Gosling, the popularity of video games and the growing demographic of adult players mean heightened interest in the field among technology students.

“We’re looking at expanding the program,” she said.

STATISTICS FROM the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reveal that a generation raised on Atari and Nintendo games grew up but didn’t outgrow playing video games. The average age of a video game player in America is 30. An ESA survey states that 53 percent of current players believe they will still be pushing buttons and joysticks for fun 10 years from now. And, contrary to popular belief, women account for a high number of players, 39 percent. Women over the age of 18, in fact, account for more of the video game-playing population in America, 28 percent, than boys between the ages of 6 and 17, 21 percent. The average American adult spends more than seven hours playing video games each week.

But all those hours in front of a screen don’t keep gamers from other activities. According to the study, 93 percent of game players also report reading books or daily newspapers on a regular basis, while 62 percent consistently attend cultural events, such as concerts, museums or the theater. Fifty percent of gamers report regular involvement in creative pursuits such as painting, writing or playing an instrument. Ninety-four percent of gamers report following news and current events, with 78 percent reporting that they vote in most of the elections for which they are eligible.