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Wedding To Remember

Market targets over-30 gamers, but are they game?

According to a recent report on PBS, the market for video and computer games primarily targets adults over age 30. First-generation gamers continue to play into adulthood and account for the enormous sales boon in recent years.

There was no evidence of such a demographic at the Los Altos Library last month when teen services librarian Sarah Neeri shared her cache of PlayStation 2 games to an eager group of two - this reporter and a middle-aged man who hung around briefly.

Maybe it was a busy weeknight, maybe the word didn't get out, but despite the bleeps and churning guitars of the games, it felt like, well, another Wednesday night at the library.

Nonetheless, the heat was on. I sat in a chair, composed, as Neeri and fellow librarian Cynthia Wilson rocked out to the game "Guitar Hero" - a pseudo rock star's dream date with destiny. The goal is to hit the right colored notes on your mini-sized plastic guitar as they fly across the screen. It's all about hand-eye coordination; you don't have to have a musical bone in your body to strike mechanically. But that's the fun part. With a little practice, anyone can "master" their Gibson, win cash and play at sold-out arenas. I scrolled excitedly through the song list - "Guitar Hero" offers an expansive list of classic and contemporary rock and funk songs from artists like Queen, Bad Religion and David Bowie and axe-grinders like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Indie rock fans will embrace the Franz Ferdinand and Ramones tunes.

The game's electric bass and guitar sound is surprisingly clear, and you can face-off with an opponent, guitar versus bass. If you do well, you scale the levels from playing in dive bars to famous venues. It's deliciously interactive and there's something satisfying, even vicarious, about feeling like a bona fide glam rock star as the crowd roars.

Neeri handed over the controls and I stumbled my way through Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box." I failed - the game told me so - and I was booed offstage.

Recovering my pride, I moved on to "Dance Dance Revolution" the smashingly popular interactive dance game. Conceptually it's quite simple. You stand in the center of a dance pad with four arrows around you - up, down, left, right. When the arrows on the screen pass over the stationary arrows on an illustrated dance pad, you step on the corresponding arrow. But stepping to the general rhythm of a song - usually a dance or techno beat - is not always easy. If you're just learning, the stomping around bears little resemblance to actual dancing; the player instead may look akin to a horse doing a four-step or a glorified aerobics workout. It's probably best to practice before making your friends watch.

My hands-down favorite pick of the evening of "adult video games" - purely for its ingenious graphics and downright peculiarity - was the Japanese-inspired "Katamari Damacy."

The objective is bizarre but gleefully ambitious. As a tiny alien being, you are commanded by your father - the King of All Cosmos - to roll up Earth's objects. Barreling through the detritus of homes and cities, your mission isn't complete until the ball of rubbish is large enough to launch into the heavens to form a shining star.

Most appealing was the childlike concept of reckless abandon - allowing the player to wreak havoc on a colorful world of stuff - coins, candy, staplers, books, paintbrushes, animals and the occasional inanimate person. Charming, whimsical and often surprising, "Katamari Damacy" is equipped with a delightfully layered soundtrack of Japanese pop tunes, flecked with ska and cabaret. It's also significantly cheaper, at around $20, than the other two, which require more accessories.

At times, the control for maneuvering the ball, or katamari, can get a little unwieldy. As the katamari gains mass, it's hard to tell which objects it can safely roll over and which it will simply crash into and shed some of its necessary circumference.

Overall, it was the game's penchant for the unconventional and zany that surpassed the others. I actually felt a sense of wonder as I anxiously rolled my katamari over a dinner table, watching the clock tick away.

I'm not a traitor to my generation, but I grew up distrustful of such graphic fantasy worlds and had low expectations that night. It wasn't long ago that some of my college dormmates - all slated for medical school - rumbled the entire floor as they stomped maniacally to Dance Dance Revolution until 2 a.m.

I've since curbed my skepticism. All three games are designed with the older teen or adult in mind, combining savvy graphics, hip music and accessible, engaging concepts. I wouldn't be surprised if the next adult video game night saw a bigger turnout. It's well worth the trek.

For more information about future video game nights for teens and adults, call teen services librarian Sarah Neeri at 948-7683, ext. 3511, or visit www.scclib.org/losaltos/events.html.

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