Video Games -- Not Just for Kids Anymore

Posted by LegendaryMonkey on October 10, 2005 02:29 PM
What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy James Paul Gee Book from Palgrave MacmillanRelease date: 07 May, 2004
Most people think of the original Nintendo Entertainment System or the Atari 2600 as the first real home gaming consoles, but video games have been in our homes since 1972, with the short-lived Odyssey system released by Magnavox. Atari followed up in 1975 with their first release through a partnership with Sears. Now, in 2005, with more than three decades of at-home gaming behind us, adult gamers are facing a new challenge that has nothing to do with pitfalls or a lack of ammo. Those of us who grew up with games from a young age are now facing contempt from our friends and loved ones who look down their noses at our childish habit.
But are games really only for children? The statistics say no. According to an article from Wired, the average age of the modern gamer is 29. The industry recognizes this, and has steadily increased production on "Mature" (adult-oriented) games, but what about the rest of the world? With video games almost constantly in the news for violent and sexually-oriented content and all the discussion over how these games affect children, is it any wonder that adult gamers can't get any validation? According to that same article from Wired, gamers from ages 6-17 make up only 33% of the market. So what about the other 67% with a controller in hand? If they want to bust up zombies in the latest Resident Evil or stroll down the street with a rocket launcher in one of the installments of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, they've as much right to do so as an adult does to buy pornography... or go see an R-rated film. And despite the negative press, video games tend to be far more comparable to the latter rather than the former.
With everyone preaching about the danger to children from video games, it's no surprise that adult gamers face challenges in getting their close friends and family to understand that they are not spending time with a childish pursuit.
We gamers who are now in our twenties and thirties are the first generation to grow up with gaming consoles in the home, and we are the first to be making a lifelong habit of playing games. Whereas others prefer to unwind in front of the television or with a book, gamers like to relax with a few friends and some rounds of Halo. And it's really no different than watching a movie, reading a book, or vegging out in front of the television -- except that gaming tends to be more active than those others pursuits. The problem is that games still bear the stigma of being for children. Gamers have to deal with parents, siblings, spouses and significant others telling them to 'grow up' and do something productive, while these same individuals are spending their leisure hours in front of the tube with a can of soda in one hand and a bowl of popcorn in the other. And what is the real difference? Some evidence points to real benefits that give gamers an edge when it comes to learning. But until (or unless) conclusive evidence linking games with concrete cognitive benefits surface, gamers of my generation will continue to fight this battle.
By the time our children grow up (and they will grow up playing games, for the most part) and begin dating and starting families of their own, this will undoubtedly be a non-issue. Video games will no longer be seen as limited to males, or children, or geeks. But for us, the original lifelong gamers, we fight battles with the government on what constitutes violence in games and whether nor not we should be able to freely purchase suce, and we fight battles at home for the right to kick back in front of the television for a while to disappear into another world -- one in which we can enjoy rich interaction... and yeah, blow things up.
Because, y'know, explosions are cool.


Games People Play

Monday, October 10, 2005 1:48 AM CDT

Spending leisure time is a personal matter and certainly a personal choice. It has to be that way. We're the only ones who know what relaxes us.That's what is so strange about it when someone questions another's choice on how they choose to relax. We understand our own choice, but we sometimes forget that it's also an individual choice for someone else.
Nancy occasionally plays solitaire on the computer to relax. She was doing so when I came home from work Friday. She was laughing later that she played until her eyes stopped focusing on the cards. I've done the same thing.We started talking about it, noting that it was a lot easier to play for a while when the computer is dealing the caqrds so quickly.She recalled knowing a mother of a friend who played solitaire (with actual playing cards) all the time. When Nancy and other kids were visiting the daughter, the mother was playing solitaire.It is a popular pastime. My mother taught me how to play card games. I remember her buying from a mail-order house a Styrofoam board that had angled slots cut in it for the cards. We used it for a while, but I don't remember what happened to it.Video games are probably the modern-day equivalent of such time-killers. They were born in the 1970s, with the early Pong, tank attack and Space Invaders arcade games.Then came the home versions that came along in the early ‘80s with Mattel's IntelliVision and Atari. I think we bought a Radio Shack clone of IntelliVision, and that was probably the last time I tried to excel at them. As the later generations of video games came along, my kids left me behind. They played it for hours, while I might spend 30 minutes on the weekend.With computers in many homes now, the gaming industry has grown tremendously and the Internet makes it possible to play games against people all over the world. That's an amazing thing to those of us who were excited as kids when Dad brought home a new black-and-white television set.The Internet itself has become a way to do anything you want to do, and you can certainly spend your spare time surfing.Some people still spend their down time watching television. And that pastime can be extended with the use of video recorders and the new digital recorders that are now available. You can watch whatever you want live, and then add several hours of taped or ”Tivo-ed“ programming.My mother used to watch soap operas late at night, after her prime-time shows were over, then get up and go to work and do it all over again. She gets to bed a little earlier, now that she has retired, but she's added ‘Net surfing and e-mail, so she still does some juggling.Other people prefer reading or other hands-on hobbies such as woodworking. And let's not forget the outdoors. Some people would rather be outside fishing, hunting, hiking or camping than anything in the world.I don't do much outdoors any more, but I certainly understand the passion. Waking up warm and toasty in a sleeping bag is unmatched by anything known to man. Then breakfast over a fire makes you feel more alive.Now that satellite radio is available with portable units that you can clip to your belt, it may be time to reconsider. If I have my XM radio bringing me St. Louis Cardinals baseball games, I can go anywhere ...Mike Dougherty is city editor of the Benton Courier. His column appears Sunday and Thursday.


'The Designer's Notebook: The Unique Design Challenge of Pinball Simulations'

In another of today's main Gamasutra features, this month's Designer's Notebook takes a look at the wonderful world of pinball simulations, and what a game needs to fully capture all the bells and whistles of the real thing.Columnist Ernest Adams turns his attention to this intriguing niche, commenting of the genre:"Fifty years ago, there were many kinds of mechanical or electro-mechanical coin-operated games. Many of them were simulations of other things – racing cars, baseball, shooting galleries, and so on. With the arrival of video games, they've almost all disappeared except for pinball, and Stern Pinball in Illinois now claims that it's the only pinball machine manufacturer left in the world. I think one of the reasons that pinball has survived – barely – is that it's a game in its own right, not a poor mechanical analogue of some other game. Its enduring appeal is not lost on game developers, and from Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set in 1983 to Pure Pinball, released for the Xbox last year, the game industry has released a steady stream of video pinball simulations.If you want to make a pinball video game, it's essential to reproduce that rich sensory experience as closely as you can. When you first start up a pinball game there's a great deal of clacking and flashing as all the mechanical devices reset to their initial positions. It's not really necessary; since the machine wasn't in use, they were probably in their initial positions anyway, but it's the machine's way of saying, 'I'm ready for you. Bring it on!'"You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject (no registration required, please feel free to link to the article from external websites).


Professors Encourage Students To Play Games

jamie siegel/the ithacan
Video game designer Ernest Adams hands sophomore Nate Burba an idea. During workshops Wednesday, students created components that would turn the idea into a game.
By Aaron Munzer / staff Writer
October 06, 2005
Students in a new communications class to be offered next semester won’t play games to avoid doing homework — the games will be the homework.
Serious Gaming, a new course in the Roy H. Park School of Communications, will focus on teaching students how to create electronic games and interactive simulations that help people learn.
“Faculty here recognize that we should be preparing students for this,” said Dennis Charsky, assistant professor of organizational communication, learning and design. “It’s a growing and interesting aspect of the broader field of instructional design technology.”
The class is the latest step in an ongoing plan to integrate cutting- edge technological concepts like gaming into the Park School curriculum, said Dianne Lynch, dean of the Park School. This semester, a video game design class was the first to incorporate gaming into the curriculum. In this class, Ithaca College students collaborate with Cornell University students to create a video game from start to finish. The Cornell students are programming, and the Ithaca students are in charge of the design, storyboards and artwork.
Yesterday, the Park School and Cornell University hosted Ernest Adams, a gaming designer who has written several books about the video game industry.
Adams gave a public lecture at Cornell in Upson Hall on the future of computer entertainment and ran a game design workshop in Park 220, in which groups of students were given unconventional game ideas including managing a global media corporation and fighting forest fires. The students then discussed potential game play and core components that would be included in their hypothetical game.
Adams said serious gaming has a lot of potential.
“The video game industry hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface,” he said. “[Serious gaming] presents some interesting challenges because the goal is no longer just entertaining, yet the game still has to be fun.”
Lynch said Adams’ visit was an attempt to expose students to the changing paradigm of the video game world.
“One of the reasons we’re bringing Ernest Adams to campus is that he’s not just a guy who plays video games. He’s a cultural theorist,” Lynch said. “We’re trying to expose students to what’s really going on in the gaming industry. It’s a shift in thinking.”
Charsky said using video games to educate and teach is not a new idea but is becoming more popular as current technology becomes more capable of supporting sophisticated games.
The curriculum will focus on the application of interactive role- playing and strategy games and their role in training and teaching. Students won’t do actual game programming, but they will design games that focus on teaching skill sets and role-playing scenarios, Charsky said.
“There’s a long history of using games for learning purposes, ranging from ‘edutainment’ to [the video game] The Oregon Trail,” he said. “But there’s a new movement called serious gaming, which corporations, the government and the military are starting to get into, which focuses on adult situations, like how to run an emergency room. You’re thrown into a context.”
Charsky said aviation games are influential for military flight simulators, and the popular game Sim City is one of many educational video games that influenced the serious gaming movement.
“In the classes I teach now, [gaming discussion] occupies maybe a week,” Charsky said. “When I talk about it in class, a lot of students express interest that they would like to learn more.”
Lynch said this class is just the beginning of the video game program in the Park School.
“My goal is that we develop a multidisciplinary degree in gaming within the next couple of years,” she said. “But there’s a lot of pieces to that, and it will take time. The class with Cornell was the first step, and we’re putting together a task force to discuss the possibilities.”
Lynch said she wanted to dispel skeptical notions that this class would just be about playing video games.
“Years ago, when schools started offering film courses, [critics] said, ‘That’s not academic,’” she said. “No one today would say that.”
Senior Robert Hileman, an OCLD major, said he sees applications for serious gaming in every job, from training police officers to finding a way to more efficiently pack vegetables at Wegmans.
“A lot of students play games regularly, but haven’t thought about it in terms of doing it for a job,” he said. “Games could increase efficiency, speed and present different ways of solving a problem — you can get across more complexity in a game.”


Namco Museum 50th Anniversary Arcade Collection

What is it about those old arcade games that keeps us coming back decades later? For some it is pure nostalgia, but what about those who didn't spend their younger years in an arcade? I know people who didn't set foot in an arcade until they were adults, yet they still love these games. Perhaps it comes from the fact that games are our passion, and these are our roots. Whether it be acknowledging the games that started it all or reminiscing about a misspent youth dropping our hard-earned quarters into games like Pac-Man, Galaga and Pole Position, there is no denying that these games hold a special place in gamers' hearts.
One of the companies that kept us in a pellet-munching-induced daze was Namco, creator of some of the most memorable arcade games. The company is celebrating their fifth decade in the entertainment business, and to commemorate this achievement they released Namco Museum 50th Anniversary, a compilation containing 14 of their most memorable classics. Well, most of them are memorable anyway. I'm still not sure what to think of Mappy.
Namco Museum 50th Anniversary is a great collection of some of the most beloved arcade games, but there isn't much that sets it apart from any of the other Namco collections that have been released over the years. This made it hard to judge the game due to the fact that it is a mixed bag of joy and disappointment. On the one hand, I was let down by the lack of presentation. Most of the games can be found on previous releases, the menu is boring and there is no additional content. Other compilations on the market (which, as of late, has been flooded with arcade collections) feature more games and plenty of bonus content, including game histories and developer interviews. While Namco offers gamers the opportunity to "explore a virtual arcade," this consists of viewing the games in their original cabinet. There is no arcade atmosphere to it, save the few 80's songs that play and the blipping and bleeping of the games. I would like to have seen an actual arcade, dark and with lots of blinking lights, maybe a mini-game where you actually insert the quarter. An actual arcade setting would have made the experience more enjoyable.
On the other hand, I was completely giddy at the prospect of playing some of these long-forgotten favorites, and it was easy to forgive the shortcomings of the overall package. Some of my favorite games are on this disc, and I completely enjoyed running down memory lane with the likes of Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, Rally-X, Pole Position, Bosconian and Rolling Thunder.
There are two other games that are not mentioned on the disc, Galaga '88 and Pac-Mania, and you open them by achieving a certain score on some of the other games. The high scores they set are rather low, and anyone who has ever held a joystick could pull off these scores blindfolded.
As far as the technical aspects of the game, the games are a good emulation of the originals. The menu is a bit awkward though, and it requires you to start a game before you can exit it. So, for example, when you are done chomping on pellets and ghosts, you have to start a new game just so you can pause and exit to the main menu. This is inconvenient, and there should have been a simpler way. The load times getting back to the main menu are long enough that you could run to an arcade and play through several levels of Galaga.
Namco Museum 50th Anniversary could be scored lower due to the fact that it just doesn't give us anything new. There is no bonus content, no cool menu, no spiffy packaging and only a couple of games more than previous Namco collections. I prefer to keep my fond memories. However, the price on the game is the same as previous Namco Museum that was released a couple of years ago, so it isn't like Namco is trying to stiff you by charging more for their Anniversary collection. The game does lose some points for the lack of presentation, but it is still full of games that are incredibly fun to play.


Virtual Bike Rides Hit Road To Fitness Clubs

By Jesse Noyes Monday, October 10, 2005
A California company is hoping to spark a fitness revolution in the Boston area with its latest virtual reality exercise bikes.
Expresso Fitness recently debuted its ``Spark'' cardio bikes at Global Fitness Center in Stow. The bikes put the feeling of an arcade video game into a normal day's exercise.
``The cyclists love them,'' said Dave Bundy owner of Global Fitness. ``They're just a lot of fun.''
The Spark combines a number of technologies, including a virtual reality-style engine, an LCD screen and GPS mapping systems to simulate the feel of a real ride. Since users can steer, shift gears and even race friends, the Spark is designed to feel more like a day at the arcade than a day at the gym.
In fact, the popularity of video and arcade games spurred the concept of Expresso's newest line of interactive workout equipment.
``People find, almost universally, working out to be boring,'' said Expresso Chief Executive Brian Button. ``But people almost universally find games and game technology to be fun and engrossing.''
The bikes are connected via the Internet, allowing Expresso to check in on their use, right down to the most popular course.
``I think in five years (interactive equipment) will change (people's) attitude toward fitness,'' Button said. ``I don't see this being anyway but up and to the right.''
So far, Expresso has installed just 35 of the bikes, which cost $4,795, though the company has a backlog of orders. Sparks are heading to gyms throughout California, New York and even Amsterdam.
More bikes are expected to hit Boston in coming weeks, with a tryout run scheduled at the Beacon Hill Athletic Club in early November.
But many riders want a full contact version of the Spark that would allow competing riders to crash into each other on the virtual courses, Button said, adding the company will update the feature in the future.
Expresso is also developing an eliptical machine using the same Spark concept.
Herald Interactive Tools


Jeb Bush, Schwarzenegger Take Advice From Games Crusader Back To The Future, Past Tense

By Marc McEntegart: Monday 10 October 2005, 10:13
IN AN email to Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida and Tom Gallagher, Florida's chief financial officer, Jack Thompson attached an edited statute called 2006 Florida Statute Prohibiting the Sale of Sexual or Violent Material Harmful to Minors.
While there had been some debate about whether or not Thompson had been asked to draft the statute or not, it looks as though it had not only been asked for but has now already been accepted in California. The email refers to his having been asked to "craft the attached". Jack Thompson's zealous war on violence in games seems to be turning.
Most of the changes are simply to include "video games" and "computer games" in places that had before dealt only with books, videotapes, motion picture film, drawing and sculpture. If anyone ever needed a definition of what is "Obscene there are a few handy included, none more functionally inclusive than "c) Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Honestly, I can think of few games that manage to slip past that one.
While all of this certainly seems sensible, it seems to be the first time that violence has ever been included in the statute as harmful to minors. This means that until now it was not considered harmful for minors to see, read or admire sculpture of violent acts.
One of the most noticeable changes is that these articles are, "…unlawful for any person knowingly to sell, rent, or loan for monetary consideration to a minor, by any means, including sales through the Internet, to persons in Florida."
The text in bold indicates a change to the statute.
The real question is whether or not sales through the internet can ever be as secure as this suggests. Most sales require a credit card which leads to the assumption that customers are adults.
While they may not seem like much there are big implications coming hand in hand with these changes. Arnold Schwarzenegger has already "signed legislation to ensure parent involvement in determining which video games are appropriate for their children. The bill I signed will require that violent video games be clearly labelled and not be sold to children under 18 years old," to quote the man himself. I'm not sure about anyone else but it does seem a little confusing to see The Terminator stand up and speak against violence.
So, our two favourite time travellers are united. Jack Thompson from a more enlightened age and helping keep us on track, has teamed up with Governator Schwarzenegger, having travelled back from a grim post-apocalyptic future where video games fight humans at every turn, to ensure that our children are not corrupted by violence, or indeed, sexually explicit material, in interactive entertainment.

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