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Video Games: A Force for Good?

Video games are not just about reaching high scores or blowing off steam after a long day at work or school. The $10-billion-a-year interactive entertainment industry is also finding that games can be a tool for good -- from healing your mind and body to solving world problems.
The latest positive pursuits in games are as diverse as burning calories, fighting cancer and tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We've known for a while that games can sharpen memory and improve hand-eye coordination, but they can also be used to teach problem-solving skills, increase our awareness of world issues, help with social phobias and can even treat those with serious illnesses," says Ben Sawyer, co-founder and director of the Games for Health Project, an organization that brings together medical professionals, researchers and gamemakers to explore new ways to improve health care practice and policy.
"What we're realizing now is that gaming, as a medium, has become more than just entertainment."
Among the two dozen or more games scheduled to be on display at the Games for Health Conference, Sept. 28-29 in Baltimore, are Re-Mission, a game that gives cancer patients a chance to blast malignant cells; Food Force, about the United Nations' struggles in delivering food to needy parts of the world; and Peacemaker, a game about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Gaming has the capacity to teach us that problems are multifaceted," Sawyer says. "This is a clear case of learning by doing. The U.N. game, for example, can show you what an organization is all about -- and let's face it, it's far more effective than a pamphlet."
Video games clearly have a powerful effect on gamers, says David Walsh, president of the National Institute for Media and the Family.
"The really good ones tend to be very, very addictive. But these games can be good teachers. We just have to pay attention to what they are teaching," he says. "As the industry becomes more mature, hopefully the creative possibilities will be applied to more positive themes."
On popular video systems, games that exercise the mind and body have become big hits. Konami has sold more than 4million Dance Dance Revolution games in North America since 2001. (Players connect a dance mat to a video game console, choose a song and step on the correct arrows according to the on-screen instructions.)
Nintendo has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide of Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day since its 2005 launch and more than 250,000 copies of Big Brain Academy in the two months it has been available in the USA.
These two games for the portable Nintendo DS system offer brain-sharpening activities that range from reading and counting exercises to word games and drawing challenges to Sudoku puzzles.
Their appeal? "Video games serve as relaxing getaways as you become temporarily entranced by them, melting away the days' stressors," says Carl Arinoldo, a Long Island, N.Y.-based psychologist.


Arcade games at air base said to be for fun, not gambling

Military officials stationed at an air base in southern Pingdong County on Wednesday denied allegations by a Taiwan Solidarity Union lawmaker that the base's recreation center was a disguised gambling hub. A senior official at the Pingdong Air Base Command insisted that the arcade games installed in the recreation center were mind-challenging entertainment machines and did not involve any sort of gambling. According to Pingdong Air Base Command Political Combat Division Chief Kuo Wu-chang, all the entertainment facilities in the recreation centers at every military base in Taiwan are installed by legitimate manufacturers verified by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Pointing out that the air base conducted two unscheduled inspections per month, Kuo emphasized that there was no gambling activity going on at the camp. The military official was responding to allegations made by Legislator Tseng Tsahn-deng of the TSU on Wednesday. Tseng showed the local media photographs of the recreation center in Pingdong air base, which he claimed featured arcade gambling games, including slots and blackjack and mahjong tables, with female attendants posing as scorers. Tseng said the photographs were taken by his legislative assistants. Tseng questioned the purpose of the arcade machines in the recreation center, saying that the Taiwanese military has "consistently advocated that the definitive military experience was one aimed at developing troops into self-disciplined citizens who value duty and honor." However, based on the photographs, one of which showed soldiers playing games at the coin-operated arcade machines, the military was "promoting anything but duty and honor," Tseng said. Tseng demanded that the Ministry of National Defense conduct a thorough inspection of its camps and step up military discipline, so that ongoing efforts by the government to mop up gambling facilities in the country will not be negated by the military, which should be the most disciplined organization in Taiwan.


Video games let men indulge the boy inside

I thought we'd outgrown it. When my boyfriend and I first started dating, about eight years ago (yup, eight -- don't ask about the matrimony thing, we're happy as is), I would lose him every few months to a new obsession.
"Madden." "NBA Live." "NCAA Football." "Tiger Woods PGA Tour."
I called myself a video-game widow, made plans for more girls' nights out and left it at that. I wasn't about to try to change the man. At least he didn't play shoot-em-up games, I reasoned, while the canned sound of a marching band filled our apartment. He was playing college football, Penn State against Michigan.
Later on, he came home with a little game called "Grand Theft Auto 3," also known as the mother of all that is violent and lewd in videogameland. He plundered shopping malls, stole pimped-out rides, beat up the occasional streetwalker.
The violence is so over-the-top, it's cartoonish, I told myself as I cleaned the kitchen. No one's really getting hurt. Eventually, he'll lose interest.
When his parents called, they'd ask me, "Is he still buying games for that PlayStation?"
In their voices I heard my implied failure. Why was their 30-year-old still acting like a teenager? Why hadn't he grown up yet?
I finally thought he had. We moved to a new town, where there was more to do. A year went by, and he bought only three games. He hardly played them. Instead, we went to the gym, watched movies, hung out at the bar with friends. We talked, read magazines, snuggled with our cat.
"He still messing with those games?" his mother asked.
"Not really."
I should have known better. When they become men, our sweethearts still nurture the little boys inside. Whether it's a custom hot-rod, a team they've always followed or a closet full of gadgets, there's always something that brings back that boyhood glee. For my guy, it's his "vids."
Call it what you will -- a mental block, a moment of denial -- but I forgot all of this when our tax refund came. My plan was to pay off some credit card debt, maybe get new bedroom furniture. Instead, at his suggestion, I bought a new TV -- 42 inches of high-definition fun. He pitched in for surround sound. He also traded the dusty old PlayStation for an Xbox 360.
It took a while to get the blasted little box set up, but once the cables were attached, the gains of the past year disappeared.
Forget going to the movies. All of a sudden I was sitting outside Gamestop at midnight on a Wednesday, while he waited in line with a few geeky teenagers for the first copies of "NCAA Football '07."
When we got home, he popped it in for a few test rounds while I slunk off to get ready for bed. When I pulled on a black nightgown, it felt like widow's weeds.
You've gotta see this, he called from the living room. The colors are so much richer. The graphics are so much sharper.
I fell asleep to the canned sound of a marching band, in full surround sound.



Are you addicted to video games?

Aug. 11, 2006 -- According to a Harvard associate professor and clinical psychologist who specializes in computer and video game addiction, 40 percent of the 6 million people who play the popular online game "World of Warcraft" are addicted. Are you one of them?
Do you or people you know show symptoms of video game addiction? Have they or you sought treatment? If so, ABC News wants to hear from you. Please tell us your story and include your name, hometown, telephone number and e-mail address, and an ABC News producer may contact you. We may use your story in an upcoming ABCNEWS.com article as well.


Ban Against Sexual/Violent Games Unconstitutional

Video Game Business Groups Will Get Over Half A Million Dollars Thanks To Ruling
(AP) SPRINGFIELD, Ill. Governor Rod Blagojevich says he has no regrets trying to ban violent or sexual video games despite a setback in federal court today.Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered this week that the state of Illinois pay more than $510,000 for the costs three business groups incurred in their successful fight over the Safe Games Illinois Act.Those pushing the measure argued exposure to games in which characters use violence or engage in sexual acts harms children.In December, Kennelly ruled the act was unconstitutional. He said the law would interfere with the First Amendment and that there was not a compelling enough reason to allow it to go into effect.Kennelly's ruling is being appealed, but Blagojevich spokesman Gerardo Cardenas says the state will pay the attorneys' fees.


Digital Art, Animation, & Video Games

Ms. PacMan.
NEW YORK.- Digital Play is organized around the theme of action in its different uses and interpretations. Fifteen digital animations and "software toys" from independent makers are playable at a set of workstations. Music-, dance-, and movement-oriented video games originating in Japan constitute a shift from traditional, often violent game scenarios. Classic arcade games from the 1980s are paired with current home-based games to contrast their approaches to such action-related topics as driving and waging battle on land and in space. Though the graphics have changed significantly, patterns of play remain similar. In the last twenty years, video games and digital art have moved from the arcade into the home, and from the home onto the Internet, where they have become the work and play of an international network of artists and designers. This exhibition presents selections from each arena: the digital art that originates in the virtual studios of animators, designers, and programmers; the innovative video and computer games that have transformed the home entertainment center; and the classic video games of the 1980s that wield a continuing thematic and aesthetic influence over their digital heirs. The expansion of possibilities in digital gaming has led to more imaginative and technically sophisticated interfaces, and richer, and more whimsical, interactive animated environments. The games, animation, and art in this exhibition offer a real-time experience in which the work is generated while it is being watched. Paradoxically, upbeat music-and-dance games—which seem to allow a new level of participation by responding to the movements of the whole body—reward conformity, while more traditional games reviled for their controversial, violent content allow for more creativity and independence on the part of the player. These games provide an escape and a challenge, but also a way of keeping up with and experiencing firsthand a rapidly evolving technology.

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