My oldest son turns seven years old this week. Yesterday, he achieved the primary objective in a video game for the first time in his life, defeating Kaos to complete the story line in Skylanders Giants.
He got the game less than a month ago for Christmas and is only allowed to play for an hour a day on weekends and a half-hour on school days. So, yeah, he pretty much raced right through it.
Having grown up with an old-school NES, my video gaming world was largely two-dimensional. Needless to say, the advances made in game play over the last 25 years have been quite remarkable. The Skylanders games, produced by Activision, are marketing genius, because even when you have the game in hand, you're not finished giving them money.
The game comes with three plastic characters and a "portal of power" that you plug into your gaming system. You place one of the characters on the portal of power, and that character becomes the character you use to play the game. If one of them is better suited in a particular area, or if they get low on energy, you can switch characters in the middle of the game.
While the "starter pack" comes with three characters, there are more than 40 available at anywhere from $10 to $25 a pop. Thankfully, all Skylanders purchases down the road are coming out of my son's allowance.
I know a lot of parents aren't all that keen on their kids playing video games, but I think there are a lot of skills video games can teach you.
When Charlie first started playing our Nintendo Wii, he would get incredibly frustrated. Last year, we had to put it away because he couldn't handle his emotions when he got stuck and couldn't figure out how to progress any farther. It was one of the worst cases of tilt I've ever seen.
He still gets frustrated, but he deals with it in a much more positive way now. And the fact that he's solving problems and achieving an objective without any outside help is a positive thing in my book.
In fact, I think my video gaming experience helped make me a better poker player. It taught me patience, when to take risks and how to deal with frustration. And while I've never made a bet on a video game, the platform is perfect for bets with friends. If you're looking for good video games to bet on, here's a top-10 list. (Note: This list is very Nintendo-heavy, because those are the only platforms I've owned.)
I can't tell you how much time I wasted my freshman year in college, sitting on my roommates' green couch, trying to beat the best time posted by other people in my dorm on a solo course in Excitebike. Racing games are tailor-made for betting, and this was one of the best.
A motocross race that featured several challenging courses, the key to Excitebike was learning how to control the momentum of the driver and maximize speed at every moment. We got so good that most races would be decided by hundredths of a second.
I didn't gamble much in college, but if I had, I'm pretty sure we all would have been putting a dollar or two on those races, because we were all equally talented and the intensity would have been through the roof.
9. EA Sports' NHL series
While my personal favorite hockey game remains Blades of Steel, there is no doubt that EA Sports' NHL franchise is by far the most successful hockey video game. You play with real NHL players and it has fairly realistic game play. Of course the fights are the most popular feature with many players, but I like incredibly life-like replays and having Gary Thorne doing the commentary.
If you have players of equal ability, you can square off for a game with a wager on the line. And the nice thing about the series is it also allows for a bit of handicapping, as a player who isn't as good can play with an all-star team, while a more-skilled player can play with a team like the Calgary Flames, or switch to a back-up goalie.
8. Dr. Mario
Dr. Mario is a great puzzle game, similar to Tetris. The game starts with a screen with different colored viruses on it and different colored pills start dropping from the sky. The objective of the game is to clear the viruses by getting four viruses and/or pills of the same color in a row or column.
One of the great innovations of Dr. Mario is heads-up play. If one player creates a cascading reaction, random pills drop down on the other player's screen, slowing them down and potentially making it much harder to clear the viruses. The first player to three wins takes the title.
The heads-up mode is great for betting, because not only do you have a race situation, but you also have the opportunity to mess with your opponent.
7. Delta Force
I'm not a big first-person shooter game player myself, so admittedly my expertise in this area is a bit limited. However, I can say that I spent a decent amount of time watching some of the guys in my fraternity play each other in this game during my senior year in college. No one was betting money – pride was clearly the motivating factor – but bets could have easily been made on the game.
The guys would form teams and work together to annihilate the other. Different tactics were employed, with one player driving my roommate nuts with his predicable sniping. One of the funniest moments of my college experience was watching my roommate creep up on the sniper, type "Turn around" on the chat, and laugh maniacally when he offed the other guy from close range. The swearing tirade that ensued from down the hall was epic.
6. Rock Band/Guitar Hero
The music genre of games has petered out a bit, as the rights fees for songs got to be too much for the Guitar Hero franchise to continue. Without great music, these games become meaningless. But the games are great fun, and perfect for betting. Play the same song, see who gets the higher score, and settle up at the end.
The only limiting factor here is that the matches can be quite unbalanced, depending on the experience level of the player. Be sure to handicap the match, if necessary.
5. Mike Tyson's Punchout
No, you can't have a heads-up boxing match in Mike Tyson's Punchout, but you can see who can beat Glass Joe the fastest. This is fun because with many characters, you just have to take what they will give you. King Hippo, for instance, can only be defeated when he barks; there's nothing you can do to speed that up, so you just have to be flawless when the moment is right. Others, like Piston Honda, present opportunities to take a chance and get some stars for super punches that can speed up the match. But that's a big risk/reward situation, as you might have your punch blocked, which means it will take longer to beat him.
4. Mario Kart
As stated earlier, racing games are perfect for betting, and there's no better simultaneous racing game than Mario Kart. The great thing about Mario Kart is that even if things aren't going well, there's an opportunity to catch up by getting Bullet Bill, or you can slow down your opponent with a lightning bolt. Any game where you can cause your opponent pain by hitting them with a turtle shell is perfect for a wager.
3. Madden NFL Football
Believe it or not, I've actually never played this game. I do remember playing a good deal of Tecmo Bowl, where Lawrence Taylor and Bo Jackson were simply unstoppable.
Football is a great game for betting, and not just in Vegas. In video game form, you have a play, then can argue about what just happened. Madden is the premier football video game franchise, and even though I wouldn't do well betting on it myself, I can guarantee that there has been plenty of money traded over the game in the past.
2. Just Dance
If your goal is to look ridiculous and bet a little money along the way, Just Dance is the perfect game for you. Last Christmas I laughed so hard at my brother's earnest attempts to nail "The Final Countdown" by Europe that I almost got as good a workout as he did. This is again a game where experience is key, so make sure the matchups are fair or handicap them appropriately.
1. Wii Sports
The Wii controller was revolutionary when it came out, as the players' motions with the controller determined what happened in the game. Wii Sports includes five different sports (bowling, boxing, baseball, tennis and golf), and they are perfect for trash talking and multi-player play. In other words, they're perfect for gambling.
A few years ago, the World Series of Poker set up a players' lounge for high-stakes pros, and there was a lot of high-stakes gambling on the game during breaks. The great thing about Wii sports is that, assuming you bring your "Mii" (your personal Wii character, transportable with your "Wiimote"), your skill rating is public knowledge, which makes handicapping much easier.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.