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Tokyo Game Show: Gamers go all out

In Japan, it's surreal reality meets virtual reality.

Tokyo gamer
A visitor plays a new 3D game on Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 motion-sensitive controller "Move" at Tokyo Game Show in Chiba, east of Tokyo Sept. 16, 2010. A total of 194 companies and organizations exhibited at the Tokyo Game Show 2010, which went through Sept. 19, 2010. (Yuriko Nakao/Reuters)

TOKYO, Japan — High atop a 30-foot tower built to showcase Microsoft's new Xbox360 Kinect, Japanese models kitted out in short-shorts, pigtails and sneakers scrambled to kick their virtual selves into high gear before a giant, cinema-sized screen.

As they jumped and ducked, and their on-screen icons — the popular skateboarders from Sega's new Sonic Free Riders game — raced and soared through the technicolor virtual landscape, it was hard to draw the line between the real and the surreal.

And all around the colossal tower, a horde of headsetted gamers shuffled to the hypnotic screens of blockbuster "franchises" like Halo, Assassin's Creed, Final Fantasy and Medal of Honor.

Welcome to the Tokyo Game Show, otherwise known as "TGS."

While you weren't paying attention, the global videogame industry has surpassed the movie business and the music business to become the highest-grossing entertainment industry in the world — bringing in about $20 billion a year.

That's right. The premier of a top title like Halo: Reach, the latest in a series of futuristic war games developed by a company called Bungie, is as big an event as the opening of a new flick from James Cameron or Steven Spielberg — both of whom have put their names behind top-flight game titles.

Tripling the opening weekend gross of Inception, Halo: Reach alone did $200 million in business on the first day of sales, which coincided with TGS, held Sept. 16-19 in Tokyo's Makuhari Messe.

And gaming console technologies like Microsoft Kinect's motion-sensitive game play (which makes Nintendo's Wii look like Pong) and Nintendo's glasses-free 3DS are actually pushing the cutting edge of computing.

But what's on display at TGS is not so much the technological advances in gaming — where the West has actually outstripped Japan in recent years, with biggies like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty coming out of Scotland and California.

What's on display here is the leading edge of virtual culture, where games go mainstream, and your average "salary man" blurs the lines between the everyday and the pixelated world.

TGS, which started way back in 1996, plays host to the biggest names in the game business, including publishers, developers and console makers like Capcom, Electronic Arts, Sony and Microsoft.

This year, more than 200,000 people attended the show, driving home the point that while Japan may be smaller in the gaming industry than it once was, the gaming industry is bigger than ever in Japan.