Game On

With its "rock 'n' roll energy," GameRiot is one of the cutting-edge highlights of the upcoming New Orleans Media Experience.

by and

The statistics -- and common knowledge -- aren't on the side of the tired, cliche "Dungeon and Dragons" jokes. Video games are no longer an oasis reserved for socially awkward teenagers, conversationally challenged males or adults stuck in arrested development. In recent years, video games have been boosted in terms of popularity and appeal by rapidly advancing technology that links sparring games across oceans via the Internet and creates graphics of mind-blowing resemblance to reality. Surveys conducted by the Entertainment Software Association reveal that the average age of a video game purchaser is now 29 (with 92 percent of all games bought by people over age 18), and 39 percent of all buyers are women.

Video games are also big business, with 2002 sales estimated at around $6.9 billion, an increase of 8 percent over 2001, with similar strong growth predicted for the next few years. Such levels of profit certainly command attention -- hence video games' prominence in the inaugural New Orleans Media Experience, a gathering of industry professionals and fans of film, music, advertising and video games. Video games are discussed in numerous panels held during the week's activities (which officially begin Sunday, Oct. 26), industry experts covering topics such as video games' ability to market other media, especially film and music. Such examination fits perfectly into the New Orleans Media Experience's theme of "convergence," essentially an overlapping and blending of the relevant media, a feat facilitated even more by new technology.

And also meshing nicely with the Experience's emphasis of fun along with the serious, GameRiot -- a traveling exhibit of top-shelf video games that resembles a rave-spun nightclub more than some arcade in the mall -- sets up shop at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St.) 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, Oct. 31, and noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1.

"Video games are mainstream now," says New Orleans Media Experience founder Randy Winograd. "It's not a niche market, and it's not a subculture. One of the points (of the Experience) is to demystify video games and the industry as a whole, that they're not just for a certain type of person and a certain age group. The number of people playing video games is startling. We want to raise the profile of this industry so people recognize it as one of the major entertainment vehicles in our country, which it obviously is.

"We believe that any comprehensive discussion of the intertwined futures of technology, marketing and media must include video games."

Winograd, who cites the inclusion of attractions like GameRiot as what "sets our event apart," was one of the first people outside the GameRiot operation to view the installation before it debuted this summer on tour with Lollapalooza. The perennially popular music festival this summer featured big-draw acts such as rockers Jane's Addiction (whose frontman, Parry Farrell, founded the event), Queens of the Stone Act and rap artists Jurassic 5. To Winograd, that's not a strange mix. Saying his preview of GameRiot "far exceeded my expectations," Winograd uses adjectives of "energetic," "entertaining" and "amazing" to describe his initial reactions.

To GameRiot producer Matt Ringel, such response was common among the 3,000 gamers who entered GameRiot on a daily basis during Lollapalooza tour stops. "It's loud and raucous," Ringel, part of Games Media Properties, the company that produces GameRiot, says. "We focus a lot on production quality, in terms of both sound and lighting. The result is that it has a rock 'n' roll energy."

The make-up of the GameRiot in New Orleans will feature 55 total gaming stations, with Playstation2, Xbox and various personal computer models represented, all played on plasma-screen televisions. There's a stage that will house competitions, held every half-hour, with a slew of prizes awarded to the winners. Prizes include everything from T-shirts, software, game-related prizes such as an autographed Tony Hawk skateboard (tied to the "Tony Hawk's Underground" game made by Activision), and a VIP pass to the weekend's Voodoo Music Festival. (During Lollapalooza, the final competition of each, culled from hours of competition, was held on the main music stage before the headlining act, Jane's Addiction, performed.)

GameRiot Girls, sexy dancers that bounce and groove along to the high-energy music, add to the atmosphere. "The GameRiot Girls carry a lot of the show," Ringel says. "People love to get their picture taken with them, etc. They really work to make this a special environment, something really special. You can just sit by yourself at home in your basement and play video games, but never do you have a chance to experience the game like this."

Ringel illustrates this point with a quote submitted by a fan during one of the Lollapalooza stops this summer, who wrote: "I walked into the (GameRiot) tent, and my jaw dropped. ...Video games and dancing girls? How do they know my wildest fantasy?"

But while the GameRiot Girls are clearly an attraction in their own right, for many of the hardcore gamers that GameRiot appeals to, as well as its creators, the focus is absolutely on games. According to Ringel, the week around Halloween is perfect timing for this event, as it marks the calendar point when major video game manufacturers release the latest titles (with a two-month push toward Christmas being the primary impetus). Media Experience founder Winograd concurs with Ringel that one of the strongest points to GameRiot is its exclusive showcasing of not-yet-released games. Presented in part by the company nVIDIA, makers of what Ringel describes as "the leading makers of graphics cards, the highest performance graphics," under the product name GeForce FX, a number of games will debut in New Orleans this week. Among the most-anticipated releases are Electronic Arts' "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," a game based on the J.R.R. Tolkien books and, more recently, the mega-grossing movie franchise.

Both Winograd and Ringel point to "The Return of the King" as a prime example of convergence, in which the mediums of film and video game merge. Further melding of the mediums is found in the game "Def Jam Vendetta," which pairs established and up-and-coming artists on the hip hop-based Def Jam record label in grudge matches, all set to an original soundtrack composed by those same rappers. "A lot of games coming out now are based on franchised properties, especially music and film," Ringel says. "And musical acts that compose original works for games, that's excellent exposure, often it's the fastest way to break a new act. The demographic is good for them, and when you have people playing these games for 60, 70 hours and hearing the music the whole time, then a lot of times they'll go out and buy that disc."

Other pined-for games include "America's Army," a game produced by the United States Army that's used as a recruiting tool for soldiers, Tecmo's "Ninja Garden," and a hilariously interactive "Karaoke Revolution," in which karaoke singers face a daunting artificial intelligence capable of booing them off the stage.

A strong suit of GameRiot, Ringel points out, is that the format works with titles, releases and new technologies of all the major players within the gaming industry, instead of being limited by a sponsorship that would hinder its offerings.

GameRiot kicks off the New Orleans Media Experience with its party-on mantra on display at Pulse, Oct. 28's affair sponsored by G4, cable's gaming television network. Held at the Contemporary Arts Center, Pulse features legendary Beastie Boy spinner DJ Mix Master Mike, along with rising Atlantic Records rockers, White Starr. A number of local and national celebrities are slated to make appearances as well.

A packed 2004 calendar has the burgeoning GameRiot making appearances during numerous summer music festivals, along with a two-month jaunt through college campuses and spring break havens during the late winter and early spring. Even with that to anticipate, Ringel says he's excited about the New Orleans Media Experience, saying the Halloween week vibe here is "a perfect match" for the type of energy GameRiot seeks to create.

"Given what the New Orleans Media Experience is working to achieve -- the coming together of music, film, video games and other mediums -- that convergence is something GameRiot really embodies," Ringel says. "That ethos is what we're all about."

As far as being responsible for GameRiot's inclusion into his ambitious scheme, Winograd shares Ringel's excitement. "What better way to give people a chance to experience what video games can fully provide than in a futuristic, high-energy environment?" Winograd asks. "(GameRiot) is already recognized as a leader in the industry. They have access to the best titles, half of which aren't even on the market yet.

"Plus, video games are an essential part of what we're trying to cover," Winograd adds. "You have a whole generation now whose entertainment matrix is deeply immersed in video games. It's a huge sector of the media landscape. And being fresh, exciting and cutting edge, it's one of the elements that makes the New Orleans Media Experience different from the other events like it. It sets us apart.


Greatest Hits
The inaugural New Orleans Media Experience is about as "multi" as multi-media can be.

Reel Desire Film Party
9 p.m. Monday Oct. 27

Club 360, 33rd floor, World Trade Center
This opening-night party for the New Orleans Media Experience kicks off the film portion of the festivities with a world-premiere screening of Hype Williams' 10-minute short film, Rain on Me, which stars Larenz Tate and R&B star Ashanti. Admission includes food and drink. Tickets $40.

Mario Bava Retrospective
10 p.m. Monday-Friday, Oct. 27-31
State Palace Theatre, 1108 Canal St., 522-4435

Influencing everyone from Martin Scorsese to Tim Burton, Mario Bava is considered by many one of the great international horror-movie masters; he was "slasher" before slasher was cool, pre-dating the '70s phenomenon with such works as Twitch of the Death Nerve. Sometimes dismissed as a B-movie auteur, Bava followed in his father's footsteps in becoming an expert cinematographer and used those skills in emphasizing image in his films. The documentary Mario Bava: Master of the Macabre kicks off a retrospective that will feature some of his most popular work: Baron Blood, Black Sunday, The Girl Who Knew Too Much (aka Evil Eye), Black Sabbath and Kidnapped. Longtime producer Alfredo Leone will be in attendance for the documentary. Visit www.neworleans for showtime and ticket information.

Pulse Videogame Party, featuring Whitestarr
Tuesday, Oct. 28
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3800

The warehouse space inside the CAC will be converted into a futuristic, video-game themed environment with tons of gaming and the music of Whitestarr. Tickets $40.

Rock the Vote Benefit Concert, featuring N*E*R*D, Spymob, Clipse
7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30
Morris F.X. Jeff Municipal Auditorium, Armstrong Park

Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, better known as the Neptunes -- one of the hottest hip-hop producing teams in the biz -- invented this performing offshoot as a side project when not making hits for Jay-Z, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, No Doubt and tons more pop acts. This is postmodernism at its silliest and most intriguing, genre-bending that has critics gushing, including Details' bon mot: "[N*E*R*D] ... steer into hip-hop's post-apocalyptic sunset, where Steely Dan and Queen combust with Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire. Confused? Don't worry: It's so funky, it doesn't have to make sense." That's a confusion we can get behind. Spymob and Clipse, who belong to the Neptunes' Star Track Entertainment, also will perform. Profits from the concert go to the Rock the Vote campaign designed to energize young voters. Tickets $30-$125.

Dog Soldiers
8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30
State Palace Theatre, 1108 Canal St., 522-4435

One of the bizarre pleasures of last year's New Orleans Film Festival was trying to pin down all the references that made Dog Soldiers -- which should definitely not be confused as a festival award winner -- such a hilariously bad derivative movie. Perhaps trying to be so bad it's good, Dog Soldiers feels like Southern Comfort meets The Thing From Outer Space, as soldiers on routine maneuvers are trapped in a house infested with some very nasty canines. Directed by Neil Marshall and featuring Rachel Weisz lookalike Emma Cleasby.

6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31
Prytania Theatre, 5339 Prytania St., 891-2787

Directed by Nick Willing, Hypnotic tells the story of a hypnotherapist (Goran Visnjic of TV's ER and The Deep End) who can see into his patients' minds and doesn't like what he sees. He must help a cop (Shirley Henderson) get information from the living victim of a serial killer before he strikes again. Because the killer left strange tattoo marks on the girl's arms, a shop owner familiar with the occult is brought along. Miranda Otto and Corin Redgrave co-star. A cocktail reception at 6 p.m. will precede the 7 p.m. screening, while Willing and some of the cast members are scheduled to appear afterward for a question-and-answer session with the audience.

Halloween Masquerade Ball, featuring Dita Von Teese
8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31
Gallier Hall, 545 St. Charles St.

This VIP-only event sponsored by In Style magazine features one of New Orleans' favorite special guests. Dita Von Teese is also one of the queens of burlesque, a pin-up fetish model and dancer whose return comes (sadly) after the close of the Shim Sham Club. Her performances with the Southern Jeze-Belles, however brief, were the stuff of legend, so this will be a welcome return. Marilyn Manson's favorite girl toy and Playboy pin-up has been profiled by everyone from People to Spin, but deserves credit not just for her sex-kitten image but also for recreating a cult of personality that used to be so crucial to the burlesque scene. For as popular as the burlesque revival has become, few true stars have been launched. Miss Dita is one of them.

The nightclub-like atmosphere of GameRiot -- a - traveling exhibit, competition and party centered - around video games -- underscores the importance - of video games in today's media market. - RAMON ESTRADA
  • Ramon Estrada
  • The nightclub-like atmosphere of GameRiot -- a traveling exhibit, competition and party centered around video games -- underscores the importance of video games in today's media market.

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