by Ben Cater & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen I was about 8 years old, my game of choice was Pitfall on the Atari home system. One afternoon, I entered into a freakish Zen-like state where I am not sure I blinked in more than two hours. I was a child possessed.

Kids with obscenely high scores (like me!) could take pictures of their TV screens and mail them into Atari headquarters to be added to the Pitfall Hall of Fame.

Where was Mom's camera? Would I know how to use it? Eventually my game collapsed under the looming pressures of what would happen when it ended. I figured I had no more than 15 seconds to take the picture before the game reset and erased any record of my score.

Like a cheetah surging for an antelope, I raced for the camera. But I was too late. My score was gone. There would be no witnesses to my spellbinding exchange with the Pitfall Gods.

"It's just a game, Benji," were the words I heard from the other room as I stared hopelessly at the screen. But even then, I knew those words were just crazy talk. Videogames are more than just competition -- they are excellence itself.

For years, gamers competed by battling the artificial intelligence of arcade games for the chance to register three letters on the top-score screen. But hardcore gamers will tell you that playing against a computer is a far easier proposition than battling against another human.

The natural evolution towards multi-player gaming has been spring-boarded by the continuing growth of online gaming. Players no longer have to gather at a friend's house to enjoy a four-player game. Today, even a friend's sudden trip to Iceland cannot deter an online gaming rivalry. More and more, gaming has become something of a social activity, albeit gathering online for a videogame sort of stretches the definition of being social.

It's rare that online gamers are ever in the physical presence of each other. Things will be different for Spokane's inaugural GameFest, which begins Friday at the Spokane Convention Center. The event is designed to encompass all facets of the videogame industry with featured speakers on its history, its new directions in software technology and its growth in global markets.

But most of all, the event is cleverly designed to celebrate and capture the essence of videogame culture by offering multiple tournament-style competitions using different games and videogame mediums.

Games you can compete on the Playstation2 include Madden, March Madness and MVP. Games available for the PC will be Unreal 2004, Half-life 2 and Counterstrike!. A Halo 2 tournament will be held for the Xbox. There's even a competition for all of you ghost-munching maniacs using the classic arcade game format.

It will be interesting to see how it will all play out. GameFest will be drawing gamers away from the comforts of their normal base of operations. How will gamers cope with being removed from their natural habitat? In other words, you might not be so welcome at the Convention Center this weekend if you insist on playing Madden in your tighty-whities while munching on Cheetos.

I assume there have been some rivalries already developed in the Spokane online gaming community. Will it be a casual experience, or will emotions take over when gamers come face to face with the guy who sank their battleship? Will the 5-foot, 135-pound male with the gamer call sign "Mad Dog Killer" be nervous about the gamer community realizing the truth about his lack of real-life stature?

There will also be a host of booths representing various colleges and institutions, including one by U.S. Army recruiters who will be promoting the new game America's Army while they seek out fresh troops for Iraq.

With the game's incredible life-like graphics, we can now stay comfortably in our own living rooms and blow stuff up. Unless, of course, somebody organizes a huge GameFest or something.

GameFest Spokane will take place at the Spokane Convention Center, 332 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., from Friday, April 14, at 8 am until Saturday, April 15, at 1 pm. Cost: $25; $40, at the door. Visit

Summer Parkways @ South Hill

Through June 20
  • or