Rap and Video Games in the 'Dog Pound'

Video games and hip-hop have taken more than a few black eyes in recent years, some deserved and, depending on your point of view, others maybe not so much.

But if you believe they share a kinship in the image problems both face despite their ubiquity -- Martha Stewart got a rap lesson from P. Diddy on her morning show last year and Julia Roberts has admitted that she plays the smash-hit Xbox game, "Halo" -- then the idea of fusing the two shouldn't surprise you.

"If you're a rapper, everybody knows that when you get your first advance one of the first things you have to get in your tricked-out Escalade, is you need to install your PS2 [Playstation 2] or now the Xbox 360," joked Rolling Stone senior editor Nathan Brackett.

The Hip-Hop Gaming League offers fans a chance to see their favorite hip-hop and pro-sport personalities compete against one another in all-out video game warfare.

With Snoop Dogg -- hip-hop's original dirty dog turned straight-edge dad -- as the front man, and aided by a group of 16 pro athletes and rappers, the HHGL appeals to a niche some may be surprised even exists: hip-hop-loving video gamers.

Good for Gaming and Hip-Hop?

"I think it's really good for the image [of gaming]," said Reyes. "It shows that it's not just geeks and freaks and little kids playing games, it's really entered the national conscience -- at least in the U.S."

As proof that not all video gamers live in their parents' basements and eat Twinkie crumbs off their "Punisher" T-shirts, the HHGL is bringing together what may seem like oil and water to an outsider, but is a natural fit from the inside looking out.

"We wanted to create something for the mainstream and it doesn't get any more mainstream than video gaming," said Ted Owen, chairman and co-founder of the Global Gaming League, creators of HHGL. "From my perspective, this is the holy grail because we get to combine video gaming with music, video through the Internet, and combine that with ... significant star power."

The GGL is a professional video game league that also includes gaming "channels" online where fans of any particular niche can satiate their appetite for gaming as spectators. They will not be able to compete in the HHGL.

Fans will be able to find bios on the league's players and video of their matches and trash talking for free.

They'll only have to endure the typical advertisements and commercials Web users have become accustomed to when accessing entertainment content online.

Although Owen says there are channels coming that will be geared toward girl gamers and even gamers in the military, the fact that something like the HHGL exists, has an audience, and can attract big stars like Snoop, is evidence of how far gaming has come.

"It shows that it's not just geeks and freaks and little kids playing games," said Francesca Reyes, editor in chief of Official Xbox magazine. "It's really entered the national conscience -- at least in the U.S."

Reyes sees the marriage of hip-hop and gaming as a perfect fit, considering the music form's natural inclination toward gadgetry and the perception of gaming as a counterculture in and of itself.

"I think it'll catch the eye of a lot of gamers out there as well as showing the people who do it more casually that this is a 'cool' thing," she explained. "It's become something that people can bring out of their bedrooms and into their living rooms."

Brackett agrees that using a big-name star who's also very open about his love of gaming to promote HHGL, shows just how much video and computer games are in the mainstream.

"It's a public thing that shows a well-known person that appears in commercials with Lee Iacocca playing video games," he joked. "A lot of people play video games -- I think Robin Williams is a big PC gamer -- but you don't see him in video game leagues."

He points out that long before HHGL, hip-hop artists and labels were making games like "Def Jam Vendetta" and the 50 Cent game "50 Cent: Bulletproof."

Heroes or Villains?

The inherent danger in creating the HHGL is that it could perpetuate the negative images of both industries.

But Owen dismisses this argument, saying that not only have organizers chosen sports games for competition that are unlikely to offend anyone, but that they were very particular about who could participate.

"These guys are all squeaky clean. They do a great deal of community work, and I'll tell you Snoop made us -- as part of the contract for him to be involved in this -- give to his local charities," Owen said. "They've been checked out and we think rather than being a negative impact on society, are actually a positive one and we're going to highlight that."

The HHGL is broken up into four teams and features a roster that's a veritable who's who of celebrity talent.

The teams are dubbed the Legends, Icons, All-Stars and Bosses, and include Cypress Hill founding member B-Real; musician, actor and model Tyrese; pro-basketball players Jalen Rose and Carmelo Anthony; and Wu-Tang Clan member Method Man.

And of course the league's commissioner, front man and public face is Snoop Dogg -- sans the gin and juice.

"We're not gonna have 50 Cent on there," Owen joked. "Not that we're saying anything bad about 50 Cent, but I don't want to be around when the bullets start flying."

Though Owen's portrayal of the league's members as upstanding and productive members of society may be true, it's in stark contrast to the perception some of them have left behind from their earlier and possibly rowdier days.

Snoop himself was an admitted marijuana smoker and has rapped extensively about using the drug, as has Method Man. And one of Cypress Hill's biggest hits was a song called "I Wanna Get High," a less-than-cryptic ode to smoking pot.

The Elder Gamer

Whether the HHGL has any effect on people's perceptions of gamers and hip-hop enthusiasts remains to be seen.

But Reyes and Owen agree that focusing on a niche in either market just a few years ago would have seemed impossible. Thanks to Father Time though, the gaming community is growing -- and aging.

"The generation that grew up on arcade games and Pac-Man, now they have kids and some of them even have grandkids," Reyes said.