Video Games Can Be Powerful Painkillers!

Washington October 01, 2005 3:24:36 PM IST
The next time your mum asks you to stop playing that video game, politely tell her that the game is not as harmful as she thought, and may infact, be helpful in reliving pain.
According to a new study by Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, associate professor of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, sports and fighting video games produce a dramatic level of pain distraction.
"These gaming distractions may be most helpful in children and young adults undergoing painful procedures or suffering from chronic pain, as these individuals comprise the largest gamer demographics," said Raudenbush.
The study examined the effect of certain types of video games on pain perception. Six video game types (action, puzzle, arcade, fighting, sport, and boxing) and a control condition were used, with each condition separated by at least 24-hrs. Prior to and during the sessions, physiological measures were monitored (pulse, blood pressures, oxygen saturation).
Participants completed a 5-minute practice period, and then played the specific game for 10-minute. They were then subjected to a cold pressor test. Pain ratings were made on a scale from 0-10 every 30-sec to a maximum of 5-min. Additional questionnaires measured aggressiveness, competitiveness, video game playing habits, mood, and work-load.
It was found that game play produced an increase in pulse as compared to the baseline condition. This increase in pulse was greatest in the action, fighting, sports, and boxing games. Pain tolerance was greatest for the sports and fighting games. The sports game produced the greatest level of anger.
The action and puzzle games produced the most mental demand, the largest physical demand was associated with the boxing game, and the temporal demand was greatest in the arcade and boxing games.
Performance ratings were highest in the boxing and puzzle condition, and frustration ratings were highest in the arcade and boxing conditions. (ANI)


NASA-Inspired Games Improve Playing Ability

Device Measures Brain Waves
POSTED: 5:23 pm EDT September 28, 2005
Video games often have a bad reputation, but one company claims their games have a positive spin on technology.
Cyber Learning officials said their technology helps game players to understand how their brain functions, and improve their playing ability.
"We've taken NASA's technology, originally designed to work with pilots and improve attention in the cockpit, and translated that into a video game format," said Domenic Greco, Ph.D. of Cyber Learning.
Players are hooked up to wires and sensors with a bicycle-type helmet. The device measures brain waves while the game is played.
A study showed game players who were agitated, did not perform as well as when they were calm, according to the company.
The NASA-inspired games can be purchased online. For more information on the games, click here


Video Games That Get Kids' Attention, Enhance Learning Children Put On Helmets Linked To Sensors That Monitor Their Brain

Benjamin Pimentel, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, September 26, 2005
Like many parents, Janet Herlihey tried her best to keep her kids away from video games.
She was particularly concerned about the potential harm to her two boys who have had problems focusing and controlling their emotions.
"Why would this be good for kids who had a hard time concentrating?" said Herlihey, who lives in West Chester, Pa. "It doesn't make sense." She told her boys, Michael, 12, and Paul, 10: "Don't ever ask me, because you'll never get them."
But late last year, the boys did get to play video games -- and with the blessing of their parents.
The Herliheys had decided to let their sons -- who show symptoms of attention-deficit disorder but have never been diagnosed -- try out a new treatment that uses video games to help children with attention problems.
Smart BrainGames, developed by CyberLearning Technology in San Diego, use a combination of adaptive automation and video games to help children deal with attention problems. The kids who undergo the treatment put on helmets linked to sensors that monitor their brain activity while playing video games. The more focused they are, the better their chances of winning in the game.
The use of video games in treating attention-deficit problems in children is new. While the technology, which is based on research done by NASA, apparently has been well received, one expert said more studies need to be done on the system.
The games are based on the science of neurofeedback, which tracks and measures brain wave activity.
"The brain produces slow wave patterns and it produces fast wave patterns," said Domenic Greco, founder and CEO of CyberLearning Technology. "When we are in a wide-alert stage, we're producing fast waves. As we start getting daydreamy and drifty, we produce slower waves. As we get real drowsy and sleepy, it slows down even more. Then we get into that sleep state. Then the reverse (happens) as we come out of sleep."
Neurofeedback technology makes people aware of those changes, prompting them to find ways to focus more by exercising their brain.
The adaptive automotion technology was first developed by a team of scientists at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia led by Dr. Alan Pope, who wanted to come up with a better balance of automation and human control on flight simulators.
NASA and Eastern Virginia Medical School then took on the technology and combined it with neurofeedback to find ways to help children with attention-deficit problems.
Pope said the technology helped make neurofeedback, which has long been used for treating attention problems, more entertaining.
"The traditional means of delivering neurofeedback tends to be boring," he said. "We had subjects drop out. Attrition was a big problem. With the kids that had video games, they were actually anxious to come to treatment. They would drag their parents in to come to treatment."
Greco, whose company won an exclusive license to develop the technology in 2002, said many children with attention problems had no problems focusing on video games.
"We hear that from parents all the time. 'My (children) can't do their homework. They won't study. But they can sit and play video games for hours,' " he said. "So we had a medium that kids were already comfortable with, that they enjoy doing, that we knew they would be able to make use of on a regular basis."
The system, which has a base price of about $550, includes the headset with brainwave sensors, a small box that tracks brainwave signals, a game controller and special software. The system is designed for Sony PlayStation systems, but the company plans to adapt it to other gaming consoles, including Xbox and Nintendo, as well for regular DVD systems.
The system uses games that involve racing and jumping, such as Drome Racers or Ratchet and Clank. The treatment is based on a basic principle: you lose focus, you lose the game.
The more a player is focused, the faster the speeds or the higher the distances the player's character in the game is able to reach. When players get distracted or lose focus, the characters' performance lags. The system lets players know that they have lost their concentration by making the game controller vibrate and changing the pitch of a tone that sounds during the game.
"The faster your brain is working, the more speed you have available with the character," Greco said as a reporter tested the system with a game called Crash Team Racing. "You see that character kind of surge back and forth."
Herlihey said she had a million questions about having her boys play video games as part of their treatment, but she and her husband eventually decided to try it out.
When she told her sons that they will get to play video games as part of their new treatment, the boys were thrilled.
"Oh my god, they were like, 'Yeah, that's great,' " she said. "I had to eat my words."
The treatment has paid off, she said.
"There were changes that were really exciting," she said. "Michael's memory improved so much that I did not have to remind him about things. Because his memory was better, he was learning better."
With Paul, she added, "I saw his ability to do work independently improve."
Dr. Victor Carrion, a professor of child psychiatry at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, said that while more studies are needed to evaluate the technology, the concept of using video games to exercise parts of the brain is interesting.
"There may be some circuits in the brain of children (with attention-deficit disorder) that may be improved, so the idea is appealing," he said. "It sounds worth looking at."
Herlihey said the technology has helped bring some much-needed harmony in her home.
"I will say at one point, we didn't," she said. "Now we enjoy being together and we have a lot of laughs."


Colleges Getting Serious About Video Games, Design

More and more, courses like Lawson's are being offered in colleges around the country in response to the digital media industry's appetite for skilled workers and the tastes of a new generation of students raised on Game Boy and Xbox.
Animation I, Cognition & Gaming and Computer Music are being offered as part of the year-old minor in game studies at RPI, one of dozens of schools that have added courses or degree programs related to video gaming in recent years.
RPI, which plans to offer a major in the field next year, graduated 27 gaming minors in its first year and expects a jump this year.
"The concept of designing good video games, or designing good human-computer interactions - that's what I'm interested in," said Chelsea Hash, a senior with a video game minor and a major in electronic arts.
Gaming expertise: More colleges and universities are offering courses - even degree programs - in game studies. Classes include "Animation" and "Cognition and Gaming."
Video on demand: Colleges say the trend is a response to increasing demand from the video game industry for more workers with expertise in the field.
In its infancy: Academic gaming programs are still new and only now starting to feed employees into the $10 billion-a-year video game industry.
- The Associated Press
From Brooklyn's Pratt Institute to the University of Colorado, at least 50 schools around the country now offer courses in video game study, development or design, according to industry groups.
Some of the schools offer full-blown academic programs. The University of Washington offers a certificate in game design; the Art Institute of Phoenix gives a bachelor of arts in game art and design, and the University of Pennsylvania has a master's in computer graphics and game technology.
Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, said the high number of schools adding programs in the past few years shows how the game industry is maturing.
Della Rocca said that in the early "Space Invader" days of game development, one developer could mentor a handful of workers. Now, games can cost $10 million to develop and require 200 workers, making the industry hungrier for specialized skills.
RPI humanities dean John Harrington said the idea of teaching about video games in college "brings out the Puritan in some people," but he said the technology-oriented school can't afford to ignore the booming field of digital media.
Administrators at RPI say they developed a serious academic program that marries technology and creativity.
Marc Destefano, who teaches the psychology of play, system dynamics and game theory in his introductory course, wants students to appreciate the interplay of mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics that he says makes a video game work - be it Pac-Man or Resident Evil.
It's not all about design, however: Katherine Isbister teaches students about the social and emotional aspects of gaming. Her research lab looks more like a teen's dream living room with sectional sofa, plasma-screen TV and a shelf full of video games. Less obvious are the cameras that can focus on players' faces.
Many of the academic programs at RPI and elsewhere are still new and are just starting to become a feeder system for the $10 billion-a-year video game industry.
Della Rocca compares it to the emergence of film studies programs decades ago. Dismissed at first, they now produce big-name directors in a field now considered by many to be a serious art form.
"Just like when rock-and-roll came of age everybody wanted to be a rock star, as video games have come of age, everyone wants to be a developer," said Carolyn Rauch, senior vice president of the Entertainment Software Association.


Conference Explores Medical Uses for Video Games

Friday, September 23, 2005
By Chris Landers

BALTIMORE — Perched on a rocky outcropping, Phil Feldman took careful aim and shot David "Bart" Bartlett once in the head with his sniper rifle. Bartlett shrugged it off — he had a situation to deal with nearby.
A bank had been the site of a terrorist attack, releasing sarin nerve gas (search) downtown. As he threaded his way through the bodies, a second bomb exploded, flinging the former Marine across the street like a rag doll.
Not to worry. The whole scene — rocky outcropping, nerve gas, and all — was playing out on a computer screen at the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore, as part of the two-day Games for Health Conference (search) that began Thursday.
Bartlett merely pressed the reset button on the computer console before him.
Bartlett is the vice president of marketing for Forterra Systems Inc., (search) a company specializing in military and disaster management simulation video games — although games may not be the right word for what they do.
Bartlett envisions a future where emergency crews and managers can get together once a month, blow up major American cities, and deal with the aftermath without leaving their offices. Taking online multiplayer games as a model, the "players" can interact just as they do in the real world, projecting their voices through their characters on the screen.
In a nearby room but a world away, Feldman has developed a new sort of, well, joystick, that he hopes will allow video game addicts to play their games but still get some exercise while they're doing it.
That’s the point, says Feldman, an inventor and avid bicyclist. His device, called Kilowatt (search), looks like the kind of exercise machine one might see in a health club. But attached to a popular video game such as Halo (search), Kilowatt replaces the joystick and requires the player to control the game through vigorous body movements. Feldman hopes to attract some of the 53 million gamers who plunk themselves down on the couch to play video games for hours at a time, but may not make it to the gym all that often.
The device can adjust the amount of resistance up to Olympic weightlifter level, for what Feldman calls "games without guilt."
Bringing together the disparate elements at the fringes of video games and medicine is the reason for the conference, according to organizer Ben Sawyer. Sawyer is the cofounder of the Serious Games Initiative (search), aimed at bringing video games out of the killer zombie realm and into the real world.
"Not everything that comes out of this is a game," Sawyer said. He wants to unite video game designers with doctors who can help design the games. The multi-billion dollar video game industry is "a constant Darwinian innovation," Sawyer said, and he hopes to harness that.
The most notable example of the marriage of health and video games came from the meeting of a software designer and an eight-year old Leukemia patient. Ben Duskin, through the Make-a-Wish foundation (search), contacted programmer Eric Johnson. Playing video games had helped distract Duskin from his painful treatments, and he wanted a game to help other kids.
The result of their six-month collaboration was "Ben's Game," (search) in which the hero, armed with an arsenal of health, medicine and attitude, skates around a stylized field of cells on a rocket powered surfboard and does battle with monsters representing the side effects of chemotherapy (search). Made with a budget of $87— $38 of which went for a gallon and a half of limeade — and the support of Johnson's employer, Lucasarts (search), the video game wing of George Lucas' entertainment empire, Johnson said the free game was downloaded almost 200,000 times in the first 18 months.
Bruce E. Jarrell, vice dean for academic affairs at University of Maryland's medical school, hopes companies with more resources at their disposal than limeade will decide to develop games for medical use.
"Look at the audience for medical games," Jarrell said. "It's not just medical students. It’s the world."
Games like "Ben's Game" are entertaining, said Jarrett, but he would like to see the kind of deeper knowledge base that would make the games more worthwhile. While simulations will never replace real life experience, Jarrell said teaching students to, for example, put a breathing tube in a patient on a computer first, will give them the knowledge they need when they have to do it for the first time.
Hunt Valley-based Breakaway Games has taken the "Ben's Game" concept a step further to create a game to distract children who are in constant pain.
The result of the company's collaboration with the Believe in Tomorrow National Children's Foundation (search) is "Free Dive," an undersea diving game in which the player navigates a realistic undersea world, finding treasure chests, photographing them, and sending their location to salvage divers. The game's pain-relieving properties are currently being studied by psychologists with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
"Free Dive" designer Paul Weaver came to the company from the commercial gaming world — his old job was designing for Ion Storm, a now defunct company specializing in first-person shooters like "Deus Ex 2: Invisible War" and "Thief: Deadly Shadows."
Weaver said current game systems allow the use of "full, 3-D environments and real, serious applications," and he's thrilled to be able to use his talent to help critically ill children.
Of course, video game designers will be video game designers. Weaver admits that "Free Dive" contains a hidden, but "not too scary," shark in the otherwise peaceful undersea kingdom. And, he says, he is currently in talks for a new game with the United States Navy. The subject of killer zombies has been raised — by the Navy.


Study Now To Design Video Games

Posted online: Saturday, September 24, 2005 at 0131 hours IST

Seth Arnold recalls playing ‘‘Super Mario Bros’’ and ‘‘Duck Hunt’’ for hours on end after getting his first Nintendo video-game system when he was 8 years old.
Video game design collegeGet a game design degree online from Westwood. Free info here!www.westwood-college.net
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Game Development SchoolsA comprehensive directory of game programming schools.www.ComputerTrainingSchools.comNow 20 and a college student, Arnold still spends hours hunched over a video-game console - not only entertaining himself, but training for his career.
Next year Arnold will drop his courses in business information systems at DeVry University and enroll in a degree program increasingly appearing in university catalogs: video-game design.
‘‘It’s the sum of everything I want to do,’’ said Arnold, who dreams of one day creating the next X-Bbox - one of the most popular game systems. ‘‘It combines my passion, my hobby, with what I want to do in the professional field.’’
With video-game sales generating at least $31 billion a year globally, universities and colleges are starting to offer bachelor’s and even master’s degrees in programs to train the game designers of the future.
From DeVry to the University of Southern California, officials say it only makes sense to offer the high-tech degrees, which can be applied to the booming entertainment-software industry and also to other fields.
‘‘It’s a timely degree at this point,’’ said Dan Wright, the DeVry dean of academic affairs for Southern California, who notes that starting salaries may range from $35,000 to $70,000 for game designers.
In March, DeVry will launch a bachelor of science degree in game and simulation programming at its campuses in West Hills, Long Beach and Pomona, with an online version set to debut this fall.
The DeVry program, which students can complete in just under three years, covers the math and physics of games, along with programming fundamentals, game design, modifications and what Wright calls ‘‘massively multiplayer online game programming,’’ as well as two-and-three-dimensional graphics programming.
‘‘It’s not just the blood and guts’’ of games like ‘‘Halo’’ or ‘‘Doom,’’ Wright said. ‘‘There are medical-simulation applications, military applications - the whole aspect of how one goes about modeling real things in life and putting it on a computer.’’ USC has offered game-design classes since the early 1990s, and demand is booming, with more than 700 students enrolled in the program in the last two years.
‘‘I work closely with industry recruiters, and every recruiter has a lot of job openings in various areas: engineers, game designers, business opportunities,’’ said Anthony Borquez, who teaches in USC’s School of Engineering and formerly headed its Information Technology Program.
‘It’s not like the old days when it was just a programmer and an artist.’’
USC has three minors - game design, game programming and game art and animation. It also offers a master’s degree in interactive media through the School of Cinema and Television, and it is launching a bachelor’s degree in interactive entertainment.
The School of Engineering, which plans to launch a master’s degree in game development next spring, is also working on a bachelor’s degree in game development.
Degree programs are a natural evolution for an industry that has grown increasingly complex, said Carrie Oliff, director of human resources for Insomniac Games, a Burbank company that produces the ‘‘Ratchet and Clank’’ and ‘‘Spyro the Dragon’’ games for PlayStation and PlayStation 2 systems.
‘‘We just hired a PhD from Stanford as a special-effects programmer. Not every position is a PhD, but we definitely seek out top-quality talent. The level of engineering, mathematics and physics is quite high,’’ Oliff said.
But the company still looks for employees who have a solid foundation in computer science, physics or mathematics, said Al Hastings, chief technology officer.
‘‘Things change so quickly that people have to learn most of what they do on the job,’’ Hastings said. —NYT

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