Video Games May Become A New Teaching Tool
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Studies are showing that even the most graphic video games can provide lessons in critical thinking and problem solving.Researchers say it's a theory that could blow away traditional ways of teaching and learning.Assistant professor Curt Squire has been working with professors at MIT as the designer of a game depicting the Revolutionary War.The game is a historically accurate view of colonial Williamsburg.Players learn the history by taking on roles."In this particular game, I'm a gunsmith," said Squire.Squire says the game is supplemented with reading and other learning materials.It will be tested in history classes this spring as a potentially more effective way to learn.While it may seem as complicated as sophisticated video games, the concept is simple, integrating fun into learning.Which is why professors turned a once boring lab into a virtual game room, to test theories on what and how people learn best.For example, a simple Japanese-designed video game teaches the player to roll around a ball trying to pick up as many objects as possible in a limited time.The player does it, instead of hearing or reading about the skills needed to do it.The research is a game of what this could mean for teachers. It could play on the traditional role of the teacher as the sole information giver.It could possibly be an effective player in the education game of the future.Researchers say the same theories hold true in business settings. Games can also be used to teach and improve skills in the workplace.
Fake Video Games Are A Waste Of Money
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Consumers may be wasting their money on counterfeit video games without realizing they're not buying the real thing. A Cleveland OH, mall kiosk sold packages of classic video games for $59.95. Along with the dozens of games came something advertised as a Ninetendo 64 console. The games look like familiar titles such as Pac-Man, but they have different names. The Pac-Man look-alike is called Mr. Maze, for example.Another problem: The box of games lists no company, no address and no point of origin.The legality of this retail gambit is unclear, but a Nintendo representative said the company has received hundreds of complaints about the consoles. Unfortunately, it can't help service the devices, because it didn't make them.The company is writing to malls across the country, asking them to prevent the sales of these fake controllers.Matarese reported that consumers would not run afoul of the law for purchasing these counterfeit games, but there may be no way to return the game controller if it breaks.
No Strong Link Seen Between Violent Video Games and Aggression
August 11, 2005
Results from the first long-term study of online videogame playing may be surprising. Contrary to popular opinion and most previous research, the new study found that players' "robust exposure" to a highly violent online game did not cause any substantial real-world aggression.
After an average playtime of 56 hours over the course of a month with “Asheron’s Call 2,” a popular MMRPG, or “massively multi-layer online role-playing game,” researchers found “no strong effects associated with aggression caused by this violent game,” said Dmitri Williams, the lead author of the study. Players were not statistically different from the non-playing control group in their beliefs on aggression after playing the game than they were before playing, Williams said. Nor was game play a predictor of aggressive behaviors. Compared with the control group, the players neither increased their argumentative behaviors after game play nor were significantly more likely to argue with their friends and partners. “I’m not saying some games don’t lead to aggression, but I am saying the data are not there yet,” Williams said. “Until we have more long-term studies, I don’t think we should make strong predictions about long-term effects, especially given this finding.” Williams, a professor of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is an expert on the effects of online video-game play. He conducted the study with Marko Skoric, a lecturer at the School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Their findings appear in the June issue of Communication Monographs in an article titled “Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game.” According to Williams, researchers have suspected a strong linkage between games and aggression “but, with the exception of relatively short-term effects on young adults and children, they have yet to demonstrate this link.” Williams and Skoric undertook the first longitudinal study of a game to see whether they could determine a link. Because most video game research has been conducted in the laboratory or by observation in the field – methods “not representing the social context of game play” – they had their participants play the game in normal environments, like home. The results of the new study, Williams said, support the contention of those who suggest that some violent games do not necessarily lead to increased real-world aggression. But he and Skoric concede that other types of games and contexts might have negative impacts. “This game featured fantasy violence, while others featuring outer space or even everyday urban violence may yield different outcomes.” Williams and Skoric also concede that because their study didn’t concentrate solely on younger teenagers, “we cannot say that teenagers might not experience different effects.” Still, and interestingly, older players in their study were “perhaps more strongly influenced by game play and argued with friends more than their younger counterparts.” The new study involved two groups of participants: players – a “treatment” group of 75 people who had no prior MMRPG play and who played AC2 for the first time; and a control group of 138, who did not play. The participants were solicited through online message boards and ranged in age from 14 to 68, the average age being 27.7 years. Self-reported questionnaires were completed pre- and post-test online and included a range of demographic, behavioral and personality variables. Aggression-related beliefs were measured with L.R. Huesmann’s Normative Beliefs in Aggression (NOBAGS) scale. Aggressive social interactions were measured with two behavioral questions: in the past month, did the participant have a serious argument with a friend, and in the same time period, did they have a serious argument with a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. Because of the study’s design, only moderate or large effects caused by exposure to the game were capable of being detected. Today, more than 60 percent of Americans play some form of interactive game on a regular basis, while 32 percent of the game-playing population is now over 35 years of age. Fears about the games’ social and health impacts have risen with these numbers, Williams said, with politicians, pundits and media outlets fanning some of the flames. Games are becoming increasingly violent, as shown by content analyses, Williams said. One reason is that “the first generation of game players has aged and its tastes and expectations have been more likely to include mature fair.” Still, the extent of knowledge about what games do to or for people is limited, and there is “even less understanding about the range of content.” “If the content, context, and play length have some bearing on the effects, policy-makers should seek a greater understanding of the games they are debating. It may be that both the attackers and defenders of the industry’s products are operating without enough information, and are instead both arguing for blanket approaches to what is likely a more complicated phenomenon.” Nor do researchers know much about the positive effects of gaming, Williams said. “Based on my research, some of the potential gains are in meeting a lot of new people and crossing social boundaries. That’s important in a society where we are increasingly insulated from one another.” Some game researchers believe that video-gaming leads to substantial gains in learning teamwork, managing groups and most important, Williams said, problem solving. “How often can someone direct and coordinate a group of eight or 40 real people to accomplish a complex task, as they do in these role-playing games? That’s a real skill. “Games are about solving problems, and it should tell us something that kids race home from school where they are often bored to get on games and solve problems. Clearly we need to capture that lightning in a bottle.” Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Namco Launches International Mobile Gaming Tournament with European i-mode(TM)
Press release supplied by Games Press 11:48 17/08/2005
London, UK. August 17th. Namco today announced the world's first international cross-network operator mobile games tournament.
The tournament is open to every i-mode phone owner, on all of the mobile networks in Europe where Namco offers its PAC-MANTMARCADE site. This includes Bouygues Telecom (France), COSMOTE (Greece), e-plus (Germany), and KPN (Netherlands).
The tournament is based around Namco's brand new high-score version of PAC-MAN, which allows users to upload their highest scores from the mobile version of PAC-MAN to compare it with other users, locally and internationally.
The competition will run from 4-6 weeks, starting in mid August. The player in each territory with the highest score will continue onto the Grand Final in the UK in November, where they will compete live and head-to-head with the other winners on an original PAC-MAN arcade machine at the famous Namco Station entertainment centre at County Hall, in the heart of London.
The overall winner will become PAC-MAN European Champion 2005, and walk away with a rare and exclusive 25th anniversary branded PAC-MAN arcade machine, featuring three classic Namco arcade titles – the original PAC-MAN, Ms.PAC-MANTM and GalagaTM.
i-mode subscribers can enter the competition by downloading the game from Namco's recently re-designed PAC-MAN ARCADE i-mode site.
Mr. Takeshi Natsuno, Senior Vice President,Managing Director, Multimedia Services, NTT DoCoMo, Inc., said, "Since i-mode was first introduced to the European market in 2002, it has proven very successful, offering access to a wide range of innovative services. Namco has been an excellent partner during this time and has offered i-mode customers fun and entertaining content from the very beginning. By taking part in the PAC-MAN Tournament with Namco, we hope to show mobile game fans all over Europe just how exciting i-mode can be."
Tadashi Fukumoto, the Vice President for Namco Limited's Web & Mobile Content division, said, "In Namco's 50th anniversary year, we are very proud to be hosting Europe's first international cross-network operator tournament alongside DoCoMo Europe and our operator partners. Here in Japan, we launched our i-mode service back in 1999 and through working very closely with DoCoMo, we have learned a great deal about how to successfully run our own sites. This is the first of many exciting and innovative projects we have planned for the future."
"PAC-MAN", "Ms. PAC-MAN" and "Galaga" are registered trademarks of Namco Ltd. in Japan and other countries.
i-mode and the i-mode logo are registered trademarks of NT DoCoMO, Inc. in Japan and other countries.
Flipnic Is Pinball Paradise
By: John Breeden GiN Chief Editor
In the movie Cop Land, there is a great line where Sylvester Stallone, who plays pinball in the movie, is told that there are two types of people in the world: video game people and pinball people. And furthermore, the two don’t mix.
I forget most of that movie other than Stallone was fat and took way to long to go crazy and shoot those other dirty cops. But I do remember that line. I was probably the only one in the theater who laughed out loud for almost a minute afterwards.
You see in my household I am a video game player. My wife really does not like to play them. Almost any game I bring home to show her peaks her interest for less than ten minutes. Only the Sims kept her playing for a while, and even that faded with time.
But pinball, that is something different. She loves pinball. When we go to an arcade like Dave and Busters, she will seek out the pinball games and spend all her time with them.
Now we don’t really have enough space in our house for a full size pinball game. But when I saw Flipnic arrive I thought perhaps I had found the answer. Flipnic runs on the PS2 and you only really use two keys on the controller. One works the left flipper and the other works the right. Pretty much anyone of any age can understand the concept. Its just like a real pinball game in that respect.
Now looking at the game I thought one of two things would happen. Either A) I would like the game and she would think it is too videogame-like or B) she would love it and I would think it was just a boring pinball game. And to tell the truth, I personally tend to think it follows more the option B, but it did peak my interest as well.
There are four main areas to play on in Flipnic. They are named Biology, Metallurgy, Optics and Geometry. There is also a secret Theology set of games that come up between the other levels.
Each area has a theme to it. Biology is probably the best if you ask me and takes place in a rain forest complete with waterfalls, butterflies, birds and crocodiles. Metallurgy is kind of space themed and has you fighting space ships. Optics looks like something out of a 1970’s disco lounge or perhaps the Vegas Strip. Geometry is basically a throwback to the Atari 2600 days complete with bitmap graphics and sound. And Theology is just plain weird where you (I think) do things like create life by playing a big pinball game in the sky. At least that is what I think I was doing. It’s hard to tell on those levels.
The game does some amazing things that no real pinball game ever could, which probably will appeal to the video game player. On the Biology level for example, you end up playing this mini game where you try to entice butterflies to land on your bumpers, but have to be careful because a lizard will eat them. If you get all the bumpers filled, the rainforest will freeze up and that really changes the entire gameplay. Lets see a real pinball game span the equivalent of four tables with live animals and running water and then see if freeze up on command.
Even with all the bells and whistles, this is still pinball at heart and the game never loses site of that. You can still do all your best pinball moves like catching the ball with the flipper or timing it just right so you can send the ball zooming up the right ramps. This is what appeals more to the pinball crowd.
Most video gamers might eventually get bored with the title. I mean I have castles to explore and lands to conquer in my virtual worlds. But I notice my wife going back to play almost every day. So while videogame people might enjoy the game, pinball people are really going to love it.
There are also several two player games where you go head to head against an opponent. These games are like air hockey or pong or basketball, and are rather fun if mindless diversions that two can tackle.
And the game is shipping as value software, which makes it a great buy at only 80 quarters for unlimited play.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.
IGDA Forms SIG to Examine Sexual Content in Games
It's ironic that the IGDA'S formation of a Sex Special Interest Group (Sex SIG) should come in the wake of the largely overblown GTA: San Andreas "Hot Coffee" scandal. Although a few M-rated games released prior to San Andreas feature more nudity than GTA's hidden-away sexual content, "Hot Coffee" is what brought the issue to a head. Sex SIG's foundation was laid well before the recent scandal, at the Game Developer's conference in March.GameDAILY BIZ spoke with Sex SIG chairperson Brenda Brathwaite (who is also Lead Designer on Playboy: The Mansion from Cyberlore Studios) about the group's goals, the timing of its formation, and how they intend to get involved politically. Adult Games for Adult GamersThe newly-formed group exists primarily to "discuss the unique issues, challenges and possibilities the adult content development community faces while sharing information with others hoping to enter the field," according to their website. The site is presented in a largely informal, blog-style format that encourages interaction and discourse. The site singles out three primary points of interest:1. The right of developers to work together to create sexually themed games free of censorship and regulation.2. A parent's need to be informed and oversee/control their children's access to content.3. The responsibility we as developers have to make sure that the content that's in the game is reflected in its rating and its rating descriptors.
"People are pointing fingers instead of rolling up their sleeves, examining the issue and saying, 'What can [we] do here?'," Brenda Brathwaite, IGDA's Sex SIG chairperson
"The Sex SIG actually got its start, so to speak, at the 'Sexuality In Games: What's Appropriate' roundtable I hosted at the 2005 Game Developers Conference," Brathwaite told GameDAILY BIZ. "After three days of roundtables, I had a huge stack of business cards from people who were developing adult content or were interested in the topic. They wanted to stay connected and to discuss the issue further. That led to an IGDA mailing list a couple months later and, finally, the formation of the SIG. The necessary process was well underway by the time 'Hot Coffee' came out. The timing was pretty incredible." She continued, "If anything, the 'Hot Coffee' issue intensified the need for such a SIG. At the same time and equally important, as an industry, we are facing a tidal wave of legislation, which seeks to restrict our creative freedom. Imagine if you were making movies and someone told you that you couldn't have any love scenes, even in your R rated movie. No 'The Graduate,' no 'Sideways,' no 'Shakespeare in Love,' and those are a few Academy Award winners that go out the wind[ow]. As developers, it's our right to explore the full range of the human experience -- responsibly -- in our games." Potentially Politically OrientedWhile Brathwaite and council members Kelly Rued and Sheri Pocilujko agree that the SIG should exist to open up a dialogue among adult content developers, retailers, and other segments of the video game industry, another primary goal of the organization is political action."Our SIG hopes to work with parents, politicians and other interested parties. If fact, one of the first things we put on our blog was a resource for parents -- one click and they can see every game with sexual content in it sorted for their particular platform. Ultimately, we all want the same thing -- age appropriate content. However, we're all going about it in different, conflicting ways. People are pointing fingers instead of rolling up their sleeves, examining the issue and saying, 'What can [we] do here?'" Brathwaite said.Brathwaite pointed to existing legislation designed to facilitate parents in their efforts to keep inappropriate content out of their children's hands. She contends that these initiatives are more harmful than helpful, because they didn't come from within the industry, and that better communication between game makers and lawmakers will be necessary to take positive steps forward."I have seen the voluntary carding system working and working well in the IEMA (www.iema.org) member stores. Other stores have some work to do. Part of our effort as a SIG is to get these retailers to step up to the plate. Legislation or legal enforcement, however, is an extreme reaction and confuses the entire issue. Consider the Illinois 'fix': now, people need to label games 18+ if they contain, among other things, humans dying or humans hurting other humans. So, this means that The Sims series is now an 18+ violent video game and sports games that account for injures are pretty much wiped out, too," Brathwaite said"What's worse is that it's not clear to me who's making these decisions. I can go to two different stores and find video games labeled differently. That just confuses the hell out of parents. At the same time, I applaud the intent - but only the intent - of the Illinois legislator's efforts. Like me, they want to keep mature content out of kid's hands. However, this is not the way to do it. As an industry, we need to reach out to politicians and work together to achieve our common goal," she continued.
ATM's Double As Slot Machines
Toyko - Japanese people hoping their bank accounts carry a bit more cash could see their hopes come true with an ATM that doubles as a slot machine, a regional bank said on Wednesday.
Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank, based in Ogaki city some 300km west of Tokyo, will on August 8 introduce slot games that run during the wait as cash machines process transactions.
A user who hits three straight 7s using the "stop" button on the ATM screen will get ¥105 to cancel the customary fee for using the machine outside regular hours.
The bank customer can even strike a jackpot of ¥1 000 if the slot machine gives them a set of "gold" or "super gold" images, named after the accounts the bank has been offering.
To collect the prize, the winner has to come up to the bank counter.
"We want our customers to enjoy a little excitement during the waiting time when they operate an ATM," a bank spokesperson said.
"We also want people to come to our outlets as we have been offering various products and services," he said.
The slot game is not available during regular business hours when money withdrawal is free of charge.
Depositors with other banks' cards can also use the slot-game ATMs of Ogaki Kyoritsu - but will be charged a fee of ¥210.
The odds of winning are "good", according to the bank, being one in 10 for the ¥105 fee cancellation and one in 500 for the ¥1 000 cash prize.
Video Games Help Children At Florence Hospitals Manage Pain
Whaddya know? Video games can actually be good for you - in moderation.
That’s what health officials at Carolinas Hospital System and McLeod Regional Medical Center are finding out as they nurse some of their younger patients back to health, applying some electronic diversion therapy to help speed up their recovery.
It’s nothing new or unique to these or other medical institutions. Physicians and nurses across the country have discovered that a little Pac Man or SpongeBob can go a long way toward helping alleviate some of the pain that can be commonplace following surgery.
"It started when they were brought into the hospital just as a distraction," said Allana Zeigler, child-life specialist at McLeod Health. "Then people started noticing they could also be used for pain diversion."
McLeod tries to provide some variety to maintain an appeal for children with different gaming tastes. There are, of course, some children who are seeing this sort of thing for the first time.
The reaction from children across town at Carolinas is much the same. Dr. Coleman Floyd, a staff anesthesiologist there, said Gameboys rule among the 5-and-older crowd, but for younger patients there is the Leap Pad to provide entertainment.
"It helps to distract them while we do our thing," she said. "We try to avoid premedicating kids. That tends to hang on afterward and make them groggy. Most times the pain medication is given while they are asleep."
At the same time, there’s also an emphasis on trying to make certain that all this electronic nirvana doesn’t get to be too much of a good thing.
"There are the negative things associated with video games - sitting around, nonactivity - that are not an issue in the hospital," said Dr. Carl Chelen, a pediatric intensivist at McLeod. "Many of our kids can’t get active because they’re stuck in a hospital bed with fractures or just have had surgery."
Even so, a little moderation is applied, Zeigler said. Still, it has been recognized as an effective tool to help take some of the sting out of pain.
"A lot of our sickle cell patients play the video games and, later, when you ask them about their pain, it has gone down," she said. "When they’re looking at the screen they’re trying to concentrate on what’s going on with the little figures on there. They’re having all that hand-and-eye coordination and thinking more about the game than the pain."
One of the big challenges with young patients has always been determining the degree of pain they’re experiencing.
To help put a face on the hurt, they have adopted the Wong-Baker pain rating scale, which ranges from one to 10.
It consists of a series of tiny facial expressions that exhibit different emotional responses to existing pain.
The sadder the face, the greater the pain. But perception and reality in this realm can be two very different things, Chelen said.
"A stubbed toe may be a 10 for them, so we also have to look at other things when considering what their pain is," he said. "The ability to play video games means your pain has to be low enough to be able to concentrate."
It also proves to be a confidence builder as it shows children - and worried parents - that they’re capable of getting back into the game of life itself, which also goes a long way toward lessening pain and hastening recovery time.
Chelen said video games serve as an important component of the treatment process but are viewed as merely one element in the overall remedy.
"The overall goal of any diversion is to use the least amount of medication we can to make patients comfortable," he said.
Casinos Rake In Record Profits
UP AND UP
The two casinos' record-breaking months:
July 2005 slot machine win
Mohegan Sun: $80.1 million
Foxwoods: $80 million
25 percent shared with state: $40 million
July 2004 slot machine win
Mohegan Sun: $78.4 million
Foxwoods: $77.6 million
25 percent shared with state: $38.9 million
The winis the amount of money the casinos keep from the total slot machine handle. The handle is the total amount of monetary activity a slot machine gets. The casinos keep about 8 to 9 percent of the handle, and return the remaining percentage to the gambler.
In July 2005, the handle of all the slot machines in both casinos was nearly $1.9 billion.
Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun broke all-time slot revenue records in July.
The two casinos overcame a dismal spring tourist season with $160.1 million in total slot win last month -- $4 million more than last year's record. The win is revenue from slot machines after pay out of gambling winnings.
July's slot handle, the total amount bet in slot machines last month at both casinos, was $1.87 billion.
Ongoing promotions and five full weekends in the calendar month contributed to the record-breaking numbers, casino officials said.
Together, the casinos sent $40 million, or 25 percent of the month's win, to the state as part of the casinos' slot revenue sharing plan. They have sent $205 million to the state so far this year.
The two casinos' previous records were set last July, with slot machine wins of $156 million. The state received $38.9 million.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, owner of Foxwoods, reported $80 million in slot win revenue in July on 7,417 machines in play, a 3.2 percent growth in business from the same month last year. The casino's contribution to the state was $20 million.
May, July and August traditionally are the best months for the casinos. Foxwoods officials attributed the latest record -- $2.5 million increase over its previous record -- to a fully opened expansion, no road construction around the casino entrance and marketing. Foxwoods scheduled about 12 major entertainment acts in July and is aggressively promoting its rewards points gas program and weekly cash giveaways.
"The one thing we are seeing ... is we do have to entice the public to come to the casinos," Foxwoods CEO Bill Sherlock said. "The more we can promote the property, the more we see the customer with repeat visitation. We've had to work very hard to get the acts in to drive the incremental visits."
The Mohegan tribe's Mohegan Sun casino recorded an $80.1 million win on 6,205 machines, about $1.6 million more than last July. Mohegan Sun also sent $20 million to the state in July.
"We were pleased," Mohegan Sun COO Jeff Hartmann said. "I wouldn't say we were surprised, but we were pleased."
The two casinos' southeastern Connecticut location also isn't hurting business. Record high gas prices have not influenced the casinos' core customer base, as more vacationers are opting for nearby, one gas-tank getaways. Nearly half of Mohegan Sun's visitors are from in-state, and the rest come from around New England and New York.
The casinos are the region's largest attractions, drawing an average 73,000 visitors per day, according to the casinos' own foot-traffic counts.
"It doesn't surprise me, judging by the traffic you have to contend with," Bonnie Larkins of Norwich said as she was walking out of Mohegan Sun Monday night. Larkins and her husband try to attend all the WNBA's Connecticut Sun home games at the casino. "The buses that were here yesterday -- it was just a phenomenal amount of buses."
Earlier this year, tourism analysts watched summer get off to a slow start with bad weather and rising gas prices. But the casinos have since reversed somber predictions. According to Eastern Connecticut Tourism District numbers, local hotel occupancy rates were at 90 percent in July, an 11 percent increase over last year.
"I just think it's interesting to see it's turned out a lot better than we thought, because spring was so flat, and even down from summer '04," Eliza Cole, Eastern Connecticut Tourism District marketing manager, said. "One of the things I have noticed, if hotel occupancy is up and it's hot, they're hanging around the hotel and using the hotel properties and not venturing out."
Casino officials are confident the July spike will lead to solid business in August.
"We're seeing August is doing well, and we're pretty comfortable," Sherlock said.
Video Poker Specialty Site Releases 25 Free Games Plus Over $300 in Free Cash Offers
http://www.VideoPokerLover.com specializes in video poker and offers a guide to video poker terminology, free video poker games, free online gambling cash offers, and the history of video poker. Twenty-five FREE video poker games have just been released.
(PRWEB) July 23, 2005 --
Oregon City Allows Poker Games
SPRINGFIELD, Oregon – As reported by the Oregon Register-Guard: "…The Springfield City Council didn't quite go all in when it came time to vote Monday night, but enough members were willing to play along to make the city the latest to allow local bars and restaurants to host Texas hold 'em poker games. The final vote was 4-1, with Councilor Joe Pishioneri opposed.
"That means poker games can be dealt just as soon as local establishments and anyone they bring in to run the games get their required city licenses and background checks. Other than state lottery games, the ordinance marks the first time social gambling has been allowed in the city in more than 10 years.
"…Councilors seemed to have no problem with the idea of allowing Texas hold 'em, which has become a national craze. Business owners had petitioned for the ordinance to put them on equal footing with bars in Eugene and other area cities that already allow the game…"
Video Games May Not Be All That Bad
By Tara Parker-Pope / Wall Street Journal
Sex and violence in videogames have many parents considering pulling the plug on the console, but banning videogames from the home probably isn't the answer.
Science is far from conclusive on the impact of videogames on children, but there is some evidence that they aren't all bad.
To be sure, many popular games are packed with violence and gore. Most recently, the popular game "Grand Theft Auto" has been in the news after reports it contains graphic sex and violence. Studies have linked exposure to violent content in videogames with lower empathy and a more pro-violent attitude, notes Jeanne B. Funk, psychology professor at the University of Toledo. An emerging body of research also has found differences in brain-activation patterns when children play violent and nonviolent videogames. Whether those changes are meaningful or have any lasting impact isn't known.
In fact, real-world violence statistics don't signal a link between videogames and violence. From 1994 to 2001, when videogame use surged, the rate of juvenile arrests for violent crimes fell 44 percent to the lowest level since 1983, according to an article on media literacy and children in the July issue of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America.
Research shows videogames have become an important component of kids' play and socialization. One study of Japanese kindergartners found that children who played videogames together developed better social skills. A recent survey by Harvard researchers of more than 1,200 seventh- and eighth-graders found that only about 1 percent of children studied had never played videogames.
Until more is known, videogame researchers say parents can take steps to limit children's exposure to game violence.
• Move the games to a high-traffic area. Putting the game in a public place rather than in a child's room can influence how your children play. In a Harvard focus group of teenage boys, for instance, one child noted he wouldn't play a game with nudity because he was worried about his mother walking by.
• Look beyond the rating system. Parents can learn more about the game-rating system at http://www.esrb.com/, but ratings offer only general descriptions of the type of content. For instance, in the SWAT game series, the player gets the most points by arresting the bad guys and keeping everyone safe without violence. But that game has the same rating and description as a game such as "Manhunt," where the player can't progress unless he or she kills a lot of people, notes Harvard's Olson. Go to videogame Web sites such as http://www.gamespot.com/ to read reviews of games and watch videos that show you the type of graphics and content you can expect from a game. Another site, http://www.commonsensemedia.org/ offers reviews of games from parents and children, and practical insights on a game's content, such as the type of swear words used.
• Look at bestseller lists. Parents can see what children are playing by looking at Web sites such as Amazon.com and gamespot.com that post lists of the most popular games. While games such as "Grand Theft Auto" are top sellers, so are sports games like the Madden series, where the player not only plays football but manages a team. Another popular series includes "Railroad Tycoon" and "Zoo Tycoon," complex games where players manage a railroad or zoo. "You can get your kids to do things that are mentally challenging without making them play educational titles," notes Steven Johnson, author of "Everything Bad is Good For You," a book about the increasing complexity of popular culture, including videogames
• Treat games like other media. While there isn't conclusive research about how much video playing is too much, researchers say parents should think about a child's entire media diet of television, movies, books and videogame playing, and set reasonable limits to encourage other types of play and family interaction. In surveys, first- and second-graders play videogames about nine hours a week for girls and 11 hours a week for boys. By the 8th and 9th grade, that changes to 13 hours a week for boys and five hours for girls.
• Play the games yourself. Parents who take the time to learn about the games children play will be surprised at how much skill it requires -- and how much children enjoy watching their parents struggle to play. "It's no different than anything else children do, a parent should be involved," says Dorothy Salonius-Pasternak, a Harvard research associate who has studied the impact of videogames on children. "And it can be a really positive experience for children to develop a level of mastery that their parents don't have."
Playing Video Games Is Work For Some
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Inside a nondescript office building, about a dozen young men in their 20s and 30s sit in darkened rooms before glowing computer screens, their workstations covered with superhero figurines, poker chips, cards, empty soda cans and artwork of scantily clad women.
One guy listens to music as he doodles. Another explores the surreal environment of a Sponge Bob Square Pants video game.
The boss, 35-year-old James Wheeler, walks the halls in his usual business attire -- T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops -- knowing that, despite appearances, his employees are hard at work.
Here at AWE Games, work is play.
It's one of a handful of local companies making a living from the nation's growing obsession with video games. The company's produced several based on various toy and movies, including SpongeBob, Shrek and Scooby-Doo. It's a tiny piece of a worldwide industry that rakes in $28 billion a year, according to the Entertainment Software Association.
To many college kids trying to figure out what career path they want to take, these are the real superheroes -- Peter Pans who make a living without leaving Neverland. Wheeler's own story sounds like a fairy tale. He says he started the company without any formal training after making some industry contacts while working at a video game store in a mall.
"I just wanted to make games and have fun," shrugs Wheeler, who started the company in 1997.
While Florida is by no means the technological capitol that is California, those gamers who call it home have reason to be optimistic about the future. Many industry analysts consider Orlando to be poised for a mini-boom.
Electronic Arts-Tiburon, an internationally known creative powerhouse based there that produced Madden NFL, announced plans this year to grow by hundreds of employees. On a more local level, Nival Interactive -- a game company from Russia known for such titles as Rage of Mages, Evil Islands and Etherlords -- just opened a small office in Fort Lauderdale with two employees and plans to expand to 20 by the end this year, says president Sergey Orlovskiy.
Most of the positions will deal with the business end of gaming, and following that, he says, many of their designers will relocate here.
"It will definitely add to the growing value of Florida as (a) high-tech entertainment industry center of attraction," Orlovskiy writes in an email.
Local colleges and technical schools have taken notice of the growing allure of the video game industry and now offer courses and even degrees in animation and game development.
The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale has new curriculum that allows students to design a video game using a software "engine" that brings artwork to life. Miami Dade College started a two-year video game design program this year. Florida Atlantic University has offered an animation track since 2002. Keiser College, ITT Technical Institute and Broward Community College also advertise game-related classes.
Qualified graduates who find jobs in the industry can expect long work hours but also sizable salaries, starting at $40,000 on the art and game design side and $50,000 for programming and production, according to a U.S. survey released this week by Game Developer magazine. Once employees have more than six years of experience, pay can jump to more than $70,000 for creative types and clear $100,000 for the top techies and those who take on executive roles. Women, who made up only 8 percent of those in the survey, made slightly less than their male peers.
"The video game industry itself is huge," says Francis McAfee, associate director for FAU's Center for Electronic Communication, which also offers a master's degree in computer arts and 3-D animation. "And that kind of money generates pretty good paychecks."
A lot of competition, too.
Marc Mencher, head of Fort Lauderdale-based www.GameRecruiter.com and a headhunter for the video game industry, cautions that there are not enough jobs in Florida to place all the students coming out of new video game/art programs. He advises that most graduates still have better luck if they head out to California. The salary survey also notes that, while Florida is growing in its game presence, industry salaries here are lower.
Those working at Shadows In Darkness, a design house located just a few doors down from AWE Games in Sunrise, have decided to stick it out in the Sunshine State. Their office resembles a high-tech cave with snaking wires and life-size game character cutouts lurking in corners. One of the partners, Devon Browne, 28, lounges in a big, black recliner pulled up to his screen. Comfort is important, his co-workers joke, because he rarely goes home.
"As fun as this job is, sometimes it's pure hell," Browne admits, explaining that he recently worked four days straight with no sleep to meet an animation project deadline.
Both Shadows In Darkness, which has been in business about three years, and AWE Games, which has been around for seven, have weathered several ups and downs: projects being canceled, a Miami publisher that fed them work going under and increasing demand for detailed games that are more expensive to produce.
So, how do these two neighboring companies stay afloat so far from most of their peers in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley?
A lower cost of living helps, but not as much as the Internet.
"Having the ability to work remotely makes this possible," says Rick Daniels, 36, who oversees a staff of both local and global freelance artists for Shadows in Darkness. "We have people we work with in Austria, Canada, Germany."
The first challenge facing smaller gaming companies in Florida is finding steady work in an industry that is project driven, where months can lapse between projects. The second is finding talent. Experienced workers from out of state are expensive. Local students, while plentiful, are often unprepared, they say.
"If we get 10 demo tapes a week, nine and a half are pathetic," says Wheeler, who wonders if schools are just trying to make money instead of quality graduates. "You don't want to laugh at the kid, but you can't hire him."
Their advice for game designer hopefuls: Get a broad-based education that stresses critical thinking and artistic skills. Don't focus on one particular computer program or game engine because technology is constantly changing. And before picking a school, check out the professors' resumes to see if they've actually worked in the industry.
Even more important than choosing a good school, Wheeler and Daniels both say, is making video game design a personal passion.
That's what many students attending the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale say drives them.
In a classroom on a recent Friday, students are designing their own video games. One has created a virtual world with crypts, hanging corpses that rattle when shot at, and a headstone that reads, "RIP Jennifer Lopez." Another shows off a character he built: a blonde bombshell in a black bustier, silver thong and knee-high boots.
Near him, a girl with pink hair stands out not only for gender -- she's the only female student in the class -- but for her sunny, Japanimation-inspired cityscape that contrasts with the dark, gritty environments created by many of her other classmates.
"I think it gives me an edge," says Nikol Stein, 22, referring to her style. "(I) have a different perspective."
In the same week that video games rubbed shoulders with theatre and visual art at the Edinburgh festival, a US teenager was convicted for murders he claimed were inspired by Grand Theft Auto. Jenifer Johnston examines the fiercely contested social effects of an industry which now rivals Hollywood
Dangerous. Addictive. Degrading. Immoral. This was the vocabulary of parents and politicians in 1976, when hit-and-run video game Death Race started to grab the attention of teenagers across America. The game featured indistinguishable white “gremlins” being run over by a white “car” on a black background, with each hit marked with a small white cross.
The morality of the game was enough to inspire a spot on the flagship US current affairs programme 60 Minutes, and spark a global debate about the content of a new genre of entertainment – gaming.
Today is the final day of the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival, considered the Cannes of the gaming world. It is testament to how far video games have travelled culturally that they are now part of the largest arts festival in the world. Equally telling is their business status, rivalling Hollywood for revenues and reach.
But one aspect of the genre has remained stubbornly in 1976. Nearly 30 years on from Death Race and the same vocabulary is being used about the same issue – that computer games are dangerous, inspire aggression, fuel addictive personalities and instil images of violence into the minds of impressionable children.
Last week, just as the EIEF festival was opening its doors to industry experts and excited players, 20-year-old Devin Moore was convicted in America of the murder of two police officers and a civilian. His failed defence had been partly based on the effects of playing games in the Grand Theft Auto series, created by Scottish-based developers Rockstar North. He reportedly told police after his arrest: “Life is a video game, everybody has to die sometime.”
The arguments over gaming appear cyclical, with each generation featuring a game that becomes the focus of heated debate. In 1983 it was Custer’s Revenge, a short-lived game for the Atari 2600, which was released to protests from women’s groups because a female Native American character appeared to be raped in it.
Night Trap, released in 1992, was singled out for mass criticism (and subsequently enjoyed a healthy rise in sales) for containing scenes of attractive college students being rescued by commandos.
Carmageddon had to be released in several versions in 1997, with players in some countries mowing down pedestrians and others zombies, according to how ferocious the public objection was. Then came Mortal Kombat, Doom – implicated in the Columbine massacre in 1999, when two teenagers gunned down their classmates – Quake, Postal and, most notoriously, Grand Theft Auto in all its iterations.
Over this period academics have studied the effects of gaming culture on children and young people, but without convincing conclusions. The most recent research, from the University of Illinois, found that existing studies were evenly split: for every inquiry that finds a connection between game violence and real aggression, another will say players’ reactions are normal, or that games affect players less than a violent TV programme.
However, while our understanding of the effects of video games fails to evolve, the games themselves have experienced a quantum leap. Movie-like images, orchestral music scores and complex plot lines are creating elaborate other worlds for millions of game players. Traditional entertainment industries are increasingly utilising the ubiquitous nature of video games to service their own ends: bands will scramble to get their songs included on game soundtracks, film studios will make big-screen versions of popular games and now directors such as Steven Spielberg are embracing the very technology that games companies use to create new movies.
Even the real world is becoming fused with the virtual world, with players of online adventures selling virtual swords and treasures accrued in the games for real cash. In short, this industry is not child’s play.
Despite repeated claims to the contrary by those concerned about the effects of video games, children are not the target market. The average age of a game player in the UK is 29, in the US it is 30. This is at odds with public perception.
“People older than their late 30s were not brought up with gaming” says Dr Jason Rutter, an expert in the social impact of computer games and technology at the University of Manchester. “Middle-aged critics get very protectionist over the impact of games on ‘society’, but I think that is because games, unlike books or television, are the single entertainment genre not created of their time. They have never played a game or owned a console. They do not have a good understanding of what game culture is all about.”
Mark Greenshields, managing director of Scottish-based DC Studios, says the industry is frustrated with the continual heavy question marks hanging over the content of games.
“The main problem is that people think games are for kids. They are not. Games by and large are for adults to play. Adults who know their own minds and know what they can handle. The controversy around games is there because an adult product has slipped into the reach of children, despite the industry’s best efforts to stop that happening.”
But despite the logic and reason used to promote the acceptability of gaming, there are still victims who believe that games are responsible for their suffering.
Giselle Pakeerah is still in the depths of grief for her son Stefan, who was murdered 18 months ago inn a Leicester park. He was 14 when he was killed with a claw hammer by his friend Warren Leblanc. Leblanc was 17 when he committed the crime. In court, the jury heard Stefan was murdered in the heat of a panicked robbery attempt by Leblanc, who owed money to a gang. It is not an explanation accepted by his mother. She is sure her son is dead because Leblanc had become obsessed with the game Manhunt, whose main character bludgeons people to death.
“Playing a game is not like going to the movies,” she told the Sunday Herald. “They have a unique nature, they absorb players and make them identify with an aggressor.”
“Would I like these kind of games banned altogether? The obvious answer is yes,” said Pakeerah. “But I am not naive – these games are played by millions of people. I am hopeful that in time the industry will come under the control of a much stricter set of regulations.”
The benchmark of whether games are suitable for children or not comes in the form of a ratings system, similar to that used for films. All games receive an age classification run through a two-tier system involving the British Board of Film Classification and a voluntary European set-up known as Pegi (Pan European Game Information). Only 2% of games on sale receive an 18 rating.
However, studies suggests that parents ignore the age ratings when purchasing games for their children. Researcher Jurgen Freund told a recent games conference: “Most parents think their child is mature enough so these games will not influence them. Parents are too divorced from what teenagers play.”
Jack Thompson, a Miami-based lawyer who specialises in cases against the video games industry, knows where he places the blame. On Friday he launched an action against software giant Rockstar – the US parent of Rockstar North – and retailer Wal-Mart aimed at making them pay “hundreds of millions of dollars” to relatives of the victims of Devin Moore.
“Rockstar know their games cause a copycat phenomenon of attacks on people. I wrote to them a year before this incident happened and warned them that it could happen. They didn’t stop it going on sale. Not every kid ‘goes Columbine’ thank God, but some do.”
Thompson claims the teenage Columbine school killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris “trained on playing Doom” and says he trusts research that “shows adolescent brains process games in a different way.”
“I’ve played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and it makes me nauseated. What normal person would not get sick shooting policemen in a game? Adults should have an aversion to it, let alone kids,” he added.
Thompson also said he has had death threats from game enthusiasts angry about possible legal challenges against Grand Theft Auto.
“I’ve had 10,000 e-mails since the start of the year from gamers saying they want to kill me because of these legal actions I’m pursuing. These people are just so peaceful playing these types of games, so sure that they aren’t affected by them that they are threatening to kill me … I mean, how’s that for irony?”
Regardless of the outcome of Thompson’s case, it seems clear that the cyclical nature of the video game debate is likely to fuel similar actions in the future.
The UK games industry is very successful, employing thousands in high-tech jobs, spurring on innovative research and development and generating millions for the economy.
Gaming as a pastime is also growing in the UK – in 1997 the amount spent on games alone, excluding sales of consoles or PCs, was £508 million; by 2009 that is expected to rise to £1.4 billion.
Console games cost around $5m (£2.75m) to develop at the lower end of the scale – games developed to tie in with a Hollywood movie can cost up to $50m (£27.5m) to develop and market.
This November, Microsoft will launch the Xbox 360, the first of the next generation of incredibly powerful games consoles. It will be closely followed by the Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Revolution.
As well as offering ever more realistic depictions of everything from virtual golf to virtual warfare, the machines are all set to offer a powerful new function, one which is set to fuel the next front in the video game battle.
Connected to the internet, the consoles will put players directly in touch with each other in a more sophisticated way than that offered by the current crop of machines, including global live video link-ups. A British businessman, for example, could play a round of golf in a PGA golf game with a Japanese colleague, doing deals while they chat and play, all without leaving their living rooms.
But the technology is already causing concern for some, including Dr Nikki Kerr of child protection charity Kidscape, who imagines more sinister applications.
“I can see a situation where players’ photographs are put into the game and that scenarios are acted out with players across the world. That is worrying as no doubt paedophiles would be interested in that technology as well.”
Dr Jason Rutter, however, is not convinced that society’s ills should be laid at the door of video games. “It is a hoary old chestnut that games are dangerous,” he said.
“After the Columbine tragedy, for example the two names repeated over and over were singer Marilyn Manson and the game Doom. Of all the problems these two teenagers had computer games were the least of them. Games become a scapegoat for violent behaviour.”
Video Football Games Keep A Sportswriter In The Know
I got a call from my older brother the other day, and because we're both busy people - or at least we pretend to be - he began the conversation the way we begin all of our phone conversations, by asking if he was interrupting anything.My answer was no, I was just fooling around with a football game on the PlayStation 2."Oh," was his No. 10 Downing Street-like response. "So, you got that game?""That game," he referred to is Madden NFL 2006, the sports video game which one online writer aptly described recently as the Harry Potter book of video games, the theory being that anyone who stood in line to purchase it when it was released at selected stores around the country midnight Monday is either 13 years old or has had their lives surgically removed since becoming an adult.In my defense I wasn't playing, "that game," - at the moment, I'm still only in the infant stages with NCAA Football 2006, which means I won't purchase Madden for at least another month. And if and when I do buy Madden, I will do so at a decent hour, like mid-afternoon.
As a result, I still claim half a life.More to the point, I maintain that the past decade that I've spent playing virtual football has aided my sports writing. I've kept up with all of the new offensive innovations in part because of video games. I understand better now the idea behind sending a receiver into a defensive area just to occupy the safety and free up another receiver.I've learned to disguise and vary my blitzes on defense, and mix up my play calling on offense rather than just going deep all the time. And I've learned what Granite Bay High football coach Ernie Cooper has known for years: that good special teams play can be the difference in close gamesBecause I understand these things better, I can better relate those concepts to you - the reader - when I cover an actual football game. That's what I tell people, anyway, and you have to admit, it's a good sounding excuse. It might really be a lame one, but when I'm explaining to people why I'm playing PlayStation when I should be trying to meet Press-Tribune deadlines, plausible believability is all I'm looking for.There is, however, one definite advantage to video football over real life. Where else can you manipulate NFL receivers Terrell Owens and Randy Moss as you like with buttons, and experience all of their on-field thrills while dealing with none of their off-field headaches?
In video football Owens keeps his mouth shut, Moss keeps his imaginary pants up and no one tests positive for steroids, much less wags their finger Bill Clinton like at congressmen.In the end, the value of video sports games depends on your point of view. It's like recently when I gave my copy of NCAA Football 2005 to a co-worker for free and felt like the big brother who gives his hand-me-down clothes to little brother. Or, it could be that I was the video game drug dealer giving out a free sample with the knowledge that the guy who accepts will get hooked and come back again for more.And when he comes back, I'll make him pay me in megabytes
The Future Of Video Games? That's Easy -- It's Women
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Kelly Zmak, the new chief operating officer and senior vice-president of Vancouver's Radical Entertainment, doesn't need a crystal ball to see into the video game industry's future and where he wants his company to go.
He wants it to go for the largely untapped female game-playing market. He wants it to create entertainment for a consumer base whose average age is 28 and expected to get older. He wants it to exploit the hand-held and mobile markets. And he wants it to expand into other media.
"The female audience has an enormous, untapped potential," said Zmak, from his office at Radical's Terminal Avenue headquarters.
The male-dominated video-game industry has begun to evolve toward including female gamers, a trend which Zmak wants Radical to explore.
"There's a huge market for mysteries, particularly with females, and yet no one has been able to deliver that in an electronic medium to a female audience that has worked yet," says Zmak. He agrees that Radical's CSI games come close, but they operate in a traditional PC-based medium, and he thinks Radical needs to expand to non-traditional media such as mobile phones.
He feels more women will become artists and developers when the industry "is more in line with the games [women] want to play."
He thinks Radical consumers will continue to play games as they pass into their 30s and 40s.
"We're now targeting this older audience, and that realization will change the way we approach our games and our development process," says Zmak.
"It's clear to me that consumers are looking for a realistic environment. Artificial intelligence will play a key role in the way the game feels. The online component will also change what we predominantly feel is a first-person experience. All of the new platforms are coming out as broadband-enabled, and that will lead to a much higher online game-playing ratio [where gamers play one another]. If the consumer's focus is on an online, social environment, then we'll have to accommodate that."
Mobile entertainment is another area Zmak would like to take Radical, once the North American market sets a standard format. Unlike Asia, where countries have one or two mobile phone providers, North America has multiple providers and phone models, making it difficult to develop entertainment that will fit each format.
He sees the hand-held and mobile markets growing, and he wants Radical to make material that "goes beyond traditional gaming."
Says Zmak: "Other companies make games, but heading into this transition, we have the people in place, the products in place, the IPs [international properties] in place, we're poised for the next round. We're ready for the next-generation software -- PS3, X-Box 360, Nintendo Revolution, handhelds as they come out, the next round of mobile overseas.
"We're looking at taking our intellectual properties and exploiting them outside the games business as a true interactive media. We're not going to be satisfied staying within the games industry. We're looking at television, movies, interactive DVD, mobile, handhelds, episodic content, online components.
Zmak, an American who just bought a house in Cloverdale, has been in the games business since 1985, when three people working in a basement could put out a game cheaply. Since then, he has worked at just about every level of the business -- production, design, product development, publishing and team management.
In this business, workers must be prepared to embrace change.
"When we look to the next-generation platform, we look to the next-generation technology," says Zmak. "That's an enormous hurdle, because we're not just dealing with a new box or a new machine, we're dealing with what will eventually what will be three or four new machines.
"Great games sell the box. If we can focus on how to innovate and create the best games for each of those platforms, those games will sell that hardware."
The games industry today is "a mass-market entertainment business" says Zmak.
"We've become something that, in the old days, we didn't want to be. In the Apple 2 days, we used to take three guys, probably $150,000, make a game and ship it out in a Zip-loc bag with a white sticker that was hand-written. "Now, we spend millions of dollars on marketing to launch a product we spent millions of dollars creating. It's a totally different market."
Radical, which always operated as an independent studio, was bought by Vivendi Universal Games (VUG) in March. Zmak, a former vice-president, product games for VUG, says the transition is not a rocky one.
"It's not a battle," says Zmak. "Vivendi wants desperately to preserve the culture of success that is here.
"The average age of employees here is 32. We're mature employees who are focused on life-balance issues. We work hard. We play hard. We take tremendous pride in what we do. We want to be successful, and Vivendi wouldn't have acquired the studio if they didn't see that passion and that success."
His perception of the studio before he arrived here was a good one.
"You judge a studio by the games they make, and Radical was an amazingly successful studio, creating fun games that play right, look right and feel right."
Since coming here, Zmak says the place has excelled in all the important areas: operationally, games innovation and culturally.
"They've managed to allow for an air of creativity and innovation, but still hitting their marks for operational profitability."
Asked what his favourite game is, Zmak cites a competitor's product, Ubisoft's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. He likes it because the graphics, sound and total game experience pull the player into that universe. And even though it's a single-player game, when he plays it on his 60-inch television set at home, his wife and two daughters -- who also play the game -- can watch it like they're watching a movie.
"When making a game [the success] is really about creating a total experience for the consumer," says Zmak. "This is relatively new to our industry, the entertainment experience. We're no longer just making a video game, we're making something more than that. I don't know what it is yet, because I think it's being defined by the consumer."
In closing, Zmak sees Radical at the forefront of the games industry.
"This organization is so well-poised for the future," says Zmak. "That's the reason I joined Radical."