Tag Archives: video games

Can courses be held inside Minecraft? Two researchers say “yes, and well”

Researchers at Concordia’s Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture, and Technology want to help teachers and students have a better, more productive experience with remote learning. Their solution? Minecraft.

Village Church Landscape Windmill Minecraft

The highest-selling video game of all time could, unexpectedly, point the way towards more engaging remote learning. Despite its massive popularity, Minecraft is, in the gaming world, regarded more of a “kids'” game; it has blocky graphics, it lacks epic, tense moments, and there’s no competitive scene for it.

But, according to Darren Wershler, professor of English, and Bart Simon, associate professor of sociology and director of Concordia’s Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture, and Technology, the game’s simple nature together with its malleability is exactly what made it ideal for the research.

Unusual courses

“One historically prevalent problem that game-based learning researchers have highlighted is the risk of students simply learning to play the game itself rather than learning the subject matter that the instructor is pairing with the game,” the study explains, “[or that] a game might over-emphasize the subject matter and impose stricter rules, which in turn makes self-actualizing student-driven learning impossible.”

“In this article we present a game-based teaching method where educators can address these issues by collapsing the real and the virtual into one another: the allegorical build. The allegorical build occurs when students use the relationships they have developed to in-game procedures in order to think about a range of other topics outside the game, as defined by the instructor.”

“The course is not a video game studies course, and it is not a gamified version of a course on modernity,” explains Wershler, a Tier 2 Concordia University Research Chair in Media and Contemporary Literature. “It’s this other thing that sits in an uncomfortable middle and brushes up against both. The learning comes out of trying to think about those two things simultaneously.”

Minecraft is readily modable, the duo explains — modifiable through 3rd party and user-generated add-ons — so it can be adapted to accommodate a wide range of scenarios, including teaching. The authors of the study hope that educators can draw on the massive sandbox that this game represents to play, experiment with, and teach their pupils and students.

The study itself describes how the authors used Minecraft to teach a class on the history and culture of modernity. This course was carried out entirely in the game. Instructions, communications, and course work was handled through the voice messaging app Discord (which we also recommend as excellent for remote work). The two researchers used this course to observe if and how students used the game to achieve their academic goals, and see if there’s any merit to the idea.

They report that the students were quick to adapt to this unusual classroom, and didn’t need much time to get grips with the game. Some students took on a mentoring role among their peers, instructing their colleagues who were unfamiliar with Minecraft on how to find and mine resources, build structures, and survive the game’s main bad guys — skeletons, zombies, and exploding monsters that come out at night. Such a situation allowed students, even those who would not consider themselves to be natural-born leaders, to guide their peers using their knowledge of the game, the researchers report. This is a valuable skill to learn, one which traditional classrooms and courses do not tend to cultivate.

Eventually, the students decided on group projects which would be created in the game. Each project was related to an issue of modernity that was previously addressed in Wershler’s half-hour podcast lectures and readings. One group recreated Moshe Safdie’s futuristic Habitat 67, while another built an entire working city populated by Minecraft villagers modeled after the Nakagin Capsule Tower Building in Tokyo.

The whole course was set in the (more difficult) Survival mode rather than the Creative mode that most educators favor. This meant that the students had to contend with and were often killed by the game’s antagonists. The server used several fan-made mods to enhance the game in various ways, which came at the cost of increased instability in the servers.

“It was important that the game remained a game and that while the students were working on their projects, there were all these horrible things coming out of the wilderness to kill them,” Wershler says. “This makes them think about the fact that what they are doing requires effort and that the possibility of failure is very real.”

All in all, the authors say they were surprised at how well the students adapted to the game-based environment and the course, which was co-designed along with a dozen other interdisciplinary researchers at Concordia. Wershler has been using Minecraft in his course since 2014, and believes the game — or a similar one — can serve as a bedrock for a new style of teaching.

“Educators at the high school, college and university levels can use these principles and tools to teach a whole variety of subjects within the game,” he says. “There is no reason why we could not do this with architecture, design, engineering, computer science as well as history, cultural studies or sociology. There are countless ways to structure this to make it work.”

With so many areas of our lives transitioning to the digital sphere, we’re bound to see changes in the way we merge our activities with the digital sphere. Some of them might sound quite dubious at first, and holding courses inside a video game definitely fits that bill. But this research shows that we should not dismiss ideas out of hand and that even the most improbable sounding approaches can bring value to our lives. We just have to be willing to give them a go.

The paper “The Allegorical Build. Minecraft and Allegorical Play in Undergraduate Teaching” has been published in the journal Gamevironments.

How AI is impacting the video game industry

We’ve long been used to playing games; artificial intelligence holds the promise of games that play along with us.

Image credits Victoria Borodinova.

Artificial intelligence (AI for short) is undoubtedly one of the hottest topics of the last few years. From facial recognition to high-powered finance applications, it is quickly embedding itself throughout all the layers of our lives, and our societies.

Video gaming, a particularly tech-savvy domain, is no stranger to AI, either. So what can we expect to see in the future?

More interactivity

Maybe one of the most exciting prospects regarding the use of AI in our games is the possibilities it opens up in regards to interactions between the player and the software being played. AI systems can be deployed inside games to study and learn the patterns of individual players, and then deliver a tailored response to improve their experience. In other words, just like you’re learning to play against the game, the game may be learning how to play against you.

One telling example is Monolith‘s use of AI elements in their Middle-Earth series. Dubbed “Nemesis AI”, this algorithm was designed to allow opponents throughout the game to learn the player’s particular combat patterns and style, as well as the instances when they fought. These opponents re-appear at various points throughout the game, recounting their encounters with the player and providing more difficult (and, developers hope, ‘more entertaining’) fights.

An arguably simpler but not less powerful example of AI in gaming is AI Dungeon: this text-based dungeon adventure uses GPT-3, OpenAI’s natural language modeler, to create ongoing narratives for the players to enjoy.

Faster development

It’s easy to let the final product of the video game development process steal the spotlight. And although it all runs seamlessly on screen, there is a lot of work that goes into creating them. Any well-coded and well-thought-out game requires a lot of time, effort, and love to create — which, in practical terms, translates into costs.

AI can help in this regard as well. Tools such as procedural generation can help automate some of the more time- and effort-intensive parts of game development, such as asset production. Knowing that more run-of-the-mill processes can be handled well by software helpers can free human artists and developers to focus on more important details of their games.

Automating asset production can also open the way to games that are completely new — freshly-generated maps or characters, for example — every time you play them.

For now, AI is still limited in the quality of writing it can output, which is definitely a limitation in this regard; after all, great games are always built on great ideas or great narratives.

Better graphics

“Better graphics” has long been a rallying cry of the gaming industry, and for good reason — we all enjoy a good show. But AI can help push the limits of what is possible today in this regard.

For starters, machine learning can be used to develop completely new textures, on the fly, for almost no cost. With enough processing power, it can even be done in real-time, as a player journeys through their digital world. Lighting and reflections can also be handled more realistically — and altered to be more fantastic — by AI systems than simple scripted code.

Facial expressions are another area where AI can help. With enough data, an automated system can produce and animate very life-like human faces. This would also save us the trouble of recording and storing gigabytes’ worth of facial animations beforehand.

The most significant potential of AI systems in this area, however, is in interactivity. Although graphics today are quite sophisticated and we do not lack eye candy, interactivity is still limited to what a programmer can anticipate and code. AI systems can learn and adapt to players while they are immersed in the game, opening the way to some truly incredible graphical displays.

Is it here yet?

AI has already made its way into the world of gaming. The case of Alpha Go and Alpha Zero showcase just how powerful such systems can be in a game. And although video games have seen some AI implementation, there is still a long way to go.

For starters, AIs are only as good as the data you train them with — and they need tons and tons of data. The gaming industry needs to produce, source, and store large quantities of reliable data in order to train their AIs before they can be used inside a game. There’s also the question of how exactly to code and train them, and what level of sophistication is best for software that is meant to be playable on most personal computers out there.

With that being said, there is no doubt that AI will continue to be mixed into our video games. It’s very likely that in the not-so-distant future, the idea that such a game would not include AI would be considered quite brave and exotic.

Female gamers are three times more likely to study science

Researchers at the University of Surrey have found that girls who play video games are more likely to pursue a degree in physical science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM) compared to their non-gaming counterparts.

Credit: Pixabay.

The new study — led by Dr. Anesa Hosein, a self-confessed ‘geek girl’ with a rich gamer past — combed through two secondary datasets: a cross-sectional study of the Net Generation, involving 814 participants, and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, which included 7,342 people.

The analysis revealed that girls studying a STEM degree were more likely to be gamers and engage in multiplayer gaming. What’s more, 13- to 14-year-old girls classified as ‘heavy gamers’ (more than 9 hours a week of video games) were three times more likely to pursue a PTSEM degree compared to non-gamer girls.

Interestingly, the same association wasn’t found in boys, who had a similar ratio of gamers regardless of the degree type. This suggests that there may be less pressure to conform to the video gamer stereotype for boys studying a STEM degree.

“Despite the pioneering work of people like Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Surrey’s own Daphne Jackson, the first female Physics professor, there are still too few female PSTEM role models for young women,” said Dr. Hosein in a statement.

“However, our research shows that those who study PTSEM subjects at degree level are more likely to be gamers, so we need to encourage the girl gamers of today to become the engineering and physics students and pioneers of tomorrow.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, technology professionals will experience the highest growth in job numbers up to 2030, but if current trends are not addressed, only a fraction of girls and women are likely to pursue degrees that will qualify them for these new jobs.

Girls are 58 times less likely to do a physical STEM degree than no degree at all. What’s more, even when girls do graduate from a STEM field of study, they are much less likely than boys to work as professionals in these fields, more often choosing to become teachers. Data from a subset of OECD countries show that, among graduates with science degrees, 71% of men and only 43% of women work as professionals in physics, mathematics, and engineering. It is not surprising, bearing these findings in mind, that across OECD countries, only 13.7% of the inventors who filed patents are women.

There is no clear-cut solution to bridging the gender gap in science, but the new study suggests that educators should target girl gamers in order to encourage them to pursue a STEM degree. For instance, teachers could invite ‘geek girls’ to gaming expert talks or they could include gaming in STEM degrees to increase engagement of girl gamers.

The findings appeared in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

In-game overlaid map from Call of Duty. A new study found such approaches are turning gamers into responsive spatial learners. This is associated with less gray matter in the hippocampus. Credit: Wikia.

Not all video games are equal: some hurt your brain while others improve cognition

Do video games make children aggressive? What about cognition? These are not simple yes or no questions as a recent study performed by researchers at the University of Montreal and McGill University in Canada found out.

Their work suggests first-person shooters can reduce gray matter, particularly in the hippocampus — a critical brain region involved in memory, navigation, and spatial learning. The findings don’t apply to all kinds of action video games, though. Rather, the scientists learned that those video games where no spatial memory strategy is required are responsible for the effect. Those video games that emphasized spatial memory strategies were actually associated with an increase in gray matter in the hippocampus.

In-game overlaid map from Call of Duty. A new study found such approaches are turning gamers into responsive spatial learners. This is associated with less gray matter in the hippocampus. Credit: Wikia.

In-game overlaid map from Call of Duty. A new study found such approaches are turning gamers into responsive spatial learners. This is associated with less gray matter in the hippocampus. Credit: Wikia.

Gray matter bread crumbs

For the first part of the study, the researchers recruited 33 volunteers who either habitually played video games or never did so. Before the experiment, each participant was interviewed about the strategies they use to navigate in order to learn whether or not they were spatial learners or response learners. A spatial learn navigates an environment such as a maze by learning about the relationship between specific landmarks and target objects such as the middle of the maze. Contrary, a response learner uses counting, patterning, and memorizing a series of steps to find their target along the way.

After the participants had their brains scanned, the team found that habitual action video gamers had significantly less gray matter in their hippocampus and used response strategies more.

In the second and third part of the study, 42 and 21 participants, respectively, had to play 90 hours of either an action video game (Call of Duty or Battlefield), a video game platform (Super Mario 64), or an action-role playing game (Dead Island). After the training round, the participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans and had their brain tissue density measured.

Gamers who used non-spatial response strategies had significantly less gray matter in the hippocampus. Those who used hippocampus-dependent spatial strategies, however, saw a marked increase in gray matter.

“These results show that video games can be beneficial or detrimental to the hippocampal system depending on the navigation strategy that a person employs and the genre of the game,” says Greg West, associate professor at the University of Montreal, who led the research.

West and colleagues think that in-game GPS or maps overlayed on the display of most action games are making gamers too spatially responsive. Action games that don’t have overlaid maps prod players to remember relationships between landmarks and thus encourage spatial learning.

“These results show that video games can be beneficial or detrimental to the hippocampal system depending on the navigation strategy that a person employs and the genre of the game,” the authors reported.

Findings appeared in the journal Molecular Psychiatry

Bots.

Even ‘dumb AI’ can supercharge human activity and efficiency, study reprots

Artificial intelligence doesn’t need to rival our own to have an impact on people’s lives — even “dumb AI” can help humans out, a Yale University study shows.

Bots.

Image credits Jelene Morris / Flickr.

A lot of the talk regarding AI today revolves around the idea of it substituting or even surpassing our level of intelligence. But right now, as AI is making the first unsteady steps towards reality, that debate isn’t really reflected by the real world. AI is just not there yet.

So with that in mind, can AI’s with significantly lower capacity than our brains help complement human activity? A team led by Nicholas Christakis, a professor of sociology, ecology & evolutionary biology, biomedical engineering, and medicine at Yale, co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science (YINS) and senior author of the study, took to the realm of video games to find out.

The researchers used an online co-operative game — which required groups of people to work together towards a collective goal — as part of an experiment to find out. In a game, the 4000 participants they recruited for the study were joined by a host of bots, programmed to act according to three levels of behavioral randomness. This meant that the AI’s sometimes deliberately made a ‘mistake’ in the context of the game, and they would do this more or less often according to their programming.

The game they played is called breadboard and was developed at Yale. Breadboard is “a networked color coordination game”, in which the players are embedded into 20-node networks (230 were used for the study). Groups of 3 bots were sometimes added to a network — these were anonymous (the participants couldn’t discern between a human or an AI player) and usually placed different parts of the social network.

“We mixed people and machines into one system, interacting on a level playing field,” Shirado explained. “We wanted to ask, ‘Can you program the bots in simple ways?’ and does that help human performance?”

Bot me up!

The team reports that not only did the bots boost the overall performance of the human players, but those who were placed in central location “meaningfully improved the collective performance of human groups”, reducing the mean time for solving problems by 55.6%. Furthermore, this effect became more pronounced as the tasks became more difficult.

It’s not only the bots’ good plays which offered a boost to the network — even their errors helped.

“Behavioural randomness worked not only by making the task of humans to whom the bots were connected easier, but also by affecting the gameplay of the humans among themselves and hence creating further cascades of benefit in global coordination in these heterogeneous systems,” the paper notes.

So, in other words, the bots started a domino effect inside their networks. Their activity made the game easier for human players, who in turn could do the same for even more players, driving overall efficiency up. The AIs, although designed to be a sub-par player compared to a human on its own could, in a sense, help the players help themselves.

Understanding the dynamic inside AI-human groups could help shape how we think about the technology in a wide variety of scenarios, the team says. For example, it’s possible that human and machine drivers will share the road for some time in the future, and understanding how the two interact could help design AIs which would react more intuitively for drivers. Tandem military AI-human applications could also benefit from the findings, as could online environments for human-AI interaction.

The full paper “Locally noisy autonomous agents improve global human coordination in network experiments” has been published in the journal Nature.

Video games might make you more sexist, but not as much as religion

The way women are portrayed in many video games — attractive, scantily clad, performing limited roles — sends a powerful message to gamers, making them more subjective to sexism.

Playing video games might make teens a bit more sexist. Image credits: R Pollard.

Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, followed some 13,000 adolescents aged 11 to 19, who spent approximately three hours a day watching TV and nearly two hours playing video games, on average. He found a very small, but significant connection between video games and sexism.

However, it’s not like video games are ruining the pristine minds of teenagers — “traditional values” do much more harm in this case. Gentile didn’t only look at the video games, he also studied the impact of television and religion, finding that religion was three times more likely to make teens sexist.

“Many different aspects of life can influence sexist attitudes. It was surprising to find a small but significant link between game play and sexism. Video games are not intended to teach sexist views, but most people don’t realize how attitudes can shift with practice,” Gentile said. “Nonetheless, much of our learning is not conscious and we pick up on subtle cues without realizing it.”

To measure the impact, researchers asked participants how much they agree or disagree with the following statement:

  • “A woman is made mainly for making and raising children.”

GTA is a game where women are particularly sexualized.

Participants who spent more time playing video games were more likely to agree, and participants who were religious were even more likely to agree. The fact that religion is much more impactful in terms of sexism is really worrying, though this was not the central focus of this study. Another interesting finding was that sexism was also connected with lower social economic status in teenagers.

Repeated exposure to media also changes our perception, and there’s a lot to be improved with how women are represented on television as well. Basically, it’s not necessarily that video games are sexist in nature, it’s more that they are another type of media where women are misrepresented. This is the so-called cultivation theory, which states that the more people watch TV, the more likely they are to believe that the reality presented on TV is the real reality. In this sense, a similar thing could be applied to games, especially role-playing games where players pick a character and walk through his or her decisions.

“If you repeatedly ‘practice’ various decisions and choices in games, this practice can influence your attitudes and behaviors outside of the gaming world,” Gentile said.

These findings go against those of a previous study, conducted in Germany. In 2015, researchers found no connection between video games and sexism. The fact that this new study was conducted in the US and the 2015 one was carried out in Germany, and they came up with different conclusions, might indicate that culture (and of course, religion) also play an important role. However, Gentile says the results are applicable across cultures because this study is focused on learning behavior, not on inherited traits. How we learn and adapt to cues is independent of culture, he argues.

Journal Reference: Laurent Bègue, Elisa Sarda, Douglas A. Gentile, Clementine Bry and Sebastian Roche — Video Games Exposure and Sexism in a Representative Sample of Adolescents. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00466

Heavy video gaming in teens could point to depression, if it’s always playing alone

Teens who play video games for more than four hours might suffer from depression — but socializing can ward off the danger, according to a new study.

Image credits Unsplash / Pixabay.

Heavy gaming, particularly in boys, might raise a few warning signs. However, not everyone who plays extensively every day risks developing gaming addiction. The negative effects of heavy gaming can be mitigated by socially engaging with friends either online or in real life while playing. High-quality friendships may even make teens immune from depression symptoms associated with heavy video game use, the researchers report.

“If these adolescents are sitting around playing games together with their friends or chatting regularly with their friends online as they play, this could be part of a perfectly normal developmental pattern,” says study leader Michelle Colder Carras, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Mental Health at the Bloomberg School.

“We shouldn’t assume all of them have a problem.”

 

Gaming hard

Carras and her team used data recorded between 2009-2012 by the annual Monitor Internet and Youth Study, a school-based survey of almost 10,000 teenagers in the Netherlands. The kids were asked about their gaming habits, such as how often they played games, about their social media use, and their friendships. It also included questions about addictive behaviors — do they feel like they can stop gaming if they want to? Maybe they can’t? Do they get irritable when they can’t play?

The analysis focused on several types of respondents, most notably on heavy gamers who reported frequent online socializing and those who didn’t. Carras’ team found that in broad lines, symptoms of video game addiction depend on time spent gaming as well as the level of social engagement that is included in gaming. Those who were socially active online reported fewer symptoms.

All subsets of heavy gamers had more depressive symptoms than their peers, but boys seem especially vulnerable — those who were not very active on online communication media reported higher levels of loneliness and anxiety, no matter how good their friendships were. Girls who played video games heavily but were very active in online social settings were less lonely and socially anxious but reported lower self-esteem.

Most of the respondents who said they play four or more hours each day did report depressive symptoms, Carras said. But not all gaming-related disorders need treatment, she added. Parents and doctors need to work at understanding the underlying reasons why their teen plays.

Good games, bad games

Image credits StartupStockPhotos / Pexels.

Instead of worrying that playing a lot of games means there’s a problem, they should focus on the kids who don’t seem socially engaged or show other depressive symptoms.

“Our findings open up the idea that maybe playing a lot of video games can be part of having an active social life,” she says.

“Rather than seeing a lot of video game playing and worrying that this reflects gaming-related problems, parents and clinicians should figure out whether these teens also have high-quality friendships. It could just be that they have good friends who they like to hang out and play video games with. That is probably not a worrisome equation.”

Is the child playing to bond or socialize with others? That’s a-ok.

Is he or she playing all the time to cope with the real world, seeing the game world as a safe place or an escape from loneliness? That’s not.

Carras believes that older teens can usually tell if their use of games or the internet is unhealthy, but younger ones may need help to understand their own behavior. They also need help to handle the problems that may arise from their excessive gaming, and the underlying causes that pushed them to it in the first place.

The team says the results, though based on data from the Netherlands, are likely indicative for other developed countries such as the US as well. Internet Gaming Disorder has been proposed for further study in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5. Still, it’s not yet clear how to distinguish engaged gamers, who show few symptoms of addiction and depression, from problematic gamers, who lose control over gaming.

The full paper “Video gaming in a hyperconnected world: A cross-sectional study of heavy gaming, problematic gaming symptoms, and online socializing in adolescents” has been published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior

Action games give your brain the best work-out

Play is one of the cornerstone activities of brain development — through it, children get to observe, understand, alter and apply the laws and systems that govern our world. A child may not know what gravity is, but he’ll know that objects tend to fall down when you throw them up from tossing the ball around or from falling in the park.

The last few generations have had access to a kind of play unique in our history — virtual games. The ability to create whole new worlds, tailored to our own liking, in which to play and interact with one another creates unique conditions that our brain has to interpret and adapt to. It’s little surprise then that gaming has become a pervasive part of culture in many parts of the world. I myself, while not identifying strongly with gamer culture per say, do play a lot of them, enjoy talking about them with friends and I will miss a party for a particularly well-made game (or a few of them); probably most of you reading this are the same.

PC’s better. Just sayin’.
Image via newstalk1290

With the variety of games available today varying from those designed to enhance mental fitness, solve real world problems all the way to ones meant for pure entertainment, they have diverse and profound effects on our brains. A new article in the October 1st issue of Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, published by SAGE, argues that the specific content, dynamics, and mechanics of individual games determine their effects on the brain and that the long-criticized action video games might have particularly positive benefits.

“The term video games refers to thousands of quite disparate types of experiences, anything from simple computerized card games to richly detailed and realistic fantasy worlds, from a purely solitary activity to an activity including hundreds of others, etc. A useful analogy is to the term food – one would never ask, ‘What is the effect of eating food on the body?’ Instead, it is understood that the effects of a given type of food depend on the composition of the food such as the number of calories; the percentage of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; the vitamin and mineral content; and so on,” the researchers wrote.

The study was carried out by Drs. C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz, with a focus on the cognitive effects of video games. Their data indicates that action video games — the ones that include quickly moving targets whizzing in and out of view, that require the player to take accurate split-second decisions in often cluttered environments or relying on incomplete data — have a particularly positive cognitive impact, even when compared to software designed specifically for cognitive training, the so-called “brain games,” especially in areas such as perception and cognition — making you better at perceiving information from the environment, and putting all the pieces together to form an appropriate answer.

“Action video games have been linked to improving attention skills, brain processing, and cognitive functions including low-level vision through high-level cognitive abilities. Many other types of games do not produce an equivalent impact on perception and cognition,” the researchers commented. “Brain games typically embody few of the qualities of the commercial video games linked with cognitive improvement.”

Green and Seitz noted that while action games in particular have not been linked to problems with sustaining attention, research has shown that total amount of video game play predicts poorer attention in the classroom. Furthermore, video games are known to impact not only cognitive function, but many other aspects of behavior – including social functions – and this impact can be either positive or negative depending on the content of the games.

“Modern video games have evolved into sophisticated experiences that instantiate many principles known by psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators to be fundamental to altering behavior, producing learning, and promoting brain plasticity. Video games, by their very nature, involve predominately active forms of learning (i.e., making responses and receiving immediate informative feedback), which is typically more effective than passive learning.”

violent video game

Do violent video games really make children more aggressive?

A few days ago, a review of 300 studies on violent video games and children’s behavior was released by the APA Task Force on Violent Media. The report concludes that violent video games present a “risk factor” for heightened aggression in children. It also calls for a revamping of the video game rating system — they want this system to take more notice of violence and take into consideration the players’ age and psychological development. However, despite claiming the review “demonstrates” a link between playing violent video games and aggression, the authors acknowledged that some studies were inconsistent and that present research is insufficient to establish whether this can lead to criminal violence or delinquency.

“The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”

The report notes that “no single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently. Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior.” Playing violent video games is one such risk factor, the report says.

violent video game

Kids these days…

The American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force was established in January 2013 with the purpose of systematically scouring scientific literature for any link (or lack thereof) between playing video games and antisocial behavior. This decision was made after the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 students and six adult staff members were killed. The shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, spent most of his time playing both violent and non-video games alone in his home. Some of his favorite video games include Super Mario Bros and Dance Dance Revolution. Somewhere along the way, his liking of video games was associated with his decision to go on a rampage which saw dozens of children killed or maimed. “I think there’s a question as to whether he would have driven in his mother’s car in the first place if he didn’t have access to a weapon that he saw in video games that gave him a false sense of courage about what he could do that day,” Connecticut Senator Christopher Murphy stated in January 2013, blaming both lax gun control and violent video games — a dreadful combo in his view.

Video games and science work well together. If you agree — join our community!

Dr. Mark Appelbaum, who chaired the APA task force, said:

“Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than two decades but to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent videogames cause people to commit acts of criminal violence.

“However, the link between violence in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best established in the field.

“We know that there are numerous risk factors for aggressive behaviour. What researchers need to do now is conduct studies that look at the effects of video game play in people at risk for aggression or violence due to a combination of risk factors. For example, how do depression or delinquency interact with violent video game use?”

A pattern of aggression, or so it seems

Some 300 or so studies conducted between 2005 and 2013, including four meta-analyses (reviews of other studies which attempt to spot a pattern) were used in the APA’s report. The report is thus one huge analysis which attempts to spot a general pattern of aggression among the swath of literature. In this case, aggression is generally defined as the tendency to inflict harm on other people. Some of the methods used by the various studies covered by the APA are experimental and/or anecdotal. For instance, some may make use of questionnaires that gauge aggressive tendencies among participants shortly after playing a violent video game like Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Kombat. Other studies use various experimental tests like filling in the blanks (“A driver crashes into Bob’s car. Bob gets out of the car and…”), noise tests (participants are asked to press a button that delivers a terrible noise to another person in a distant room. The longer you press the button, the greater the intensity), water test (participants put their hands in painfully cold water and keep their hands in for as long as the previous participant had set) or the hot sauce test (a participant is asked to spray hot sauce on the food of another volunteer, and is then evaluated on how spicy the food is).

“While there is some variation among the individual studies, a strong and consistent general pattern has emerged from many years of research that provides confidence in our general conclusions,” said Dr. Appelbaum.

“As with most areas of science, the picture presented by this research is more complex than is usually included in news coverage and other information prepared for the general public.”

Hold on, now…

aggressive Renaissance art

As expected, pro-gaming associations and figures in the industry have dismissed the findings and criticized the methodology. One major fault is that most of the studies identified by the meta-analysis looked at the short-term effects of playing video games, not long-term. That being said, competition itself — something inherent in all sports, be them virtual or otherwise — might lead to aggressive behavior shortly after playing video games. Previously, ZME Science reported that video game aggression can stem from frustration, not violence. The study found failure to master a game, getting stuck or losing over and over again led to frustration and aggression, regardless of whether the game was violent or not.

“Any player who has thrown down a remote control after losing an electronic game can relate to the intense feelings or anger failure can cause,” explains lead author Andrew Przybylski, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, who said such frustration is commonly known among gamers as “rage-quitting.”

Richard Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the University of Rochester, added that “when people feel they have no control over the outcome of a game, that leads to aggression. We saw that in our experiments. If you press someone’s competencies, they’ll become more aggressive, and our effects held up whether the games were violent or not.”

Writing for Kotaku, Jason Schreier mentions an interesting 2013 study by Brock University researchers. This study teased out the effects of violent competitive games, violent non-competitive games, non-violent competitive games, and non-violent non-competitive games.

“We found that playing more hours a day of the two types of competitive games did predict aggression over time,” Brock researcher Paul Adachi said for Kotaku. “Whereas playing non-violent, non competitive games did not. So that really gets at the idea that, well, it may not be the violence, it may be the competition in games that is responsible for a link between video games and aggression.”

Another critique is that many of the studies listed in the meta-analysis identify a correlation, without causational evidence to back them up. The same correlation can be made, only backward. For instance, the high sales of violent video games coincide with a decrease in violent youth activity, according to research statistics shared in The New York Times. Case in point: these sort of studies don’t really amount to anything.

A correlation between a drop in violent crime by youths, and the rise in popularity of violent videogames, as reported by the Social Science Research Network. However, this “study” is as useless as some of the research included by the APA in its meta-analysis.

In response to the report, over 200 psychology scholars have voiced their concerns. One of these scholars, Stetson University psychology professor Chris Ferguson, wrote an open letter to the APA, criticizing the task force as being biased.

“As a researcher in this field, I thought you might be curious to know that there are actually a lot of problems with this report, how the task force was comprised, and the basis for its conclusions on research. Indeed, the evidence linking violent games to aggression is honestly a lot less clear than the APA report would have one believe. There are an increasing number of studies coming out now that suggest there is no link whatsoever. Further, the task force appeared to have been selected from among scholars with clear anti-media views”

Ferguson also points out how all seven task force members are aged over 50, which bears significance in this context.

“I point that out because there is solid evidence that age is a correlate for attitudes about video games, even amongst scholars. Age and negative attitudes toward youth predict anti-game attitudes.”

This isn’t the first time the APA has come under fire. In 2013, a group of 228 academics, researchers and psychologists called on the American Psychological Association to use an “objective scientific process”, referring to a landmark policy statement issued in 2005 on media and violence.

“We express the concern that the APA’s previous (2005) policy statement delineated several strong conclusions on the basis of inconsistent or weak evidence,” the letter reads. “Research subsequent to that 2005 statement has provided even stronger evidence that some of the assertions in it cannot be supported. As an important scientific discipline that helps shape the public discourse on issues of behavior, policy statements that are rigid or ideological can serve to stifle scientific innovation and new theories and may inadvertently serve to increase publication bias, particularly given concerns about both disregard for null findings and researcher degrees of freedom.”

It’s interesting to note that the same studies that the APA reviewed also conclude, among other things, that playing video games (violent or not) offer many positive cognitive skills benefits, such as problem solving skills, team management, and social skills. Here are just a few findings reported by ZME Science (published after 2013):

So what are parents to make of all this mess? The idea that children are highly impressionable and may act upon what they see and experience playing a violent video game is rooted in logical thinking. Up until now, however, we’ve yet to come across any meaningful evidence that suggests that violent video games promote excessive aggression.

As mentioned earlier, any video game, sport or challenging task will invariably cause temporary aggressive thought and potential behavior issues due to frustration, let alone criminal behavior. Yes, it is true that those responsible for school shootings in America have been players of video games. However, since 90% of boys and 40% of girls play video games, it would be out of place if these shooters didn’t play video games. Blaming video games is wasted effort and just a vain attempt at finding a scapegoat when a particularly heinous act of violence occurs. It’s bad parenting, too. You can’t blame really violent video games if your kid goes overboard and starts hitting his sister during breakfast. That’s on you.

Video games and science work well together. If you agree — join our community!

Computer games sometimes better than medication in treating elderly depression

Computer games could be the key to treating elderly people who have been diagnosed with depression, but who aren’t responding to conventional treatment. A new study has shown that playing a certain type of computer games was more effective at reducing symptoms of depression than the “gold standard” – the antidepressant drug escitalopram.

Recently, we’ve been bombarded about the positive effects that video games can have: they lead to brain thickening (that’s a good thing), they improve the players’ spatial perspective, they improve orientation and strategic planning,  and overall, gamers tend to be more educated and even polite. We were also lucky enough to get the chance to discuss the effects of video games on the brain with Simone Kuhn, one of the leading researchers in the field. Now, a new study has shown that computer games had the exact positive effects in treating geriatric depression as the best drug in the field, escitalopram (also known by its brand name, Lexapro); the cool thing is that they worked faster, in just 4 weeks, compared to a 12 week typical treatment with Lexapro.

Efficiency of Escitalopram (blue), and playing the computer games (red). They have the same effects, but computer games work much faster and show even more potential for improvement.

But instead of having negative side effects like the drug, playing computer games had positive side effects. It improved what researchers call executive functions – basically planning and organizing skills. The lack or decay of these skills has been linked with depression, especially in older people. The effects were so spectacular, that now researchers believe computer games can also be used to treat older people with other mental affections. But the effects on depressed people are especially encouraging:

“Depression is a serious and at times life-threatening illness,” said lead study author Sarah Shizuko Morimoto, a research neuropsychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “This is a biological illness of the brain, no different from any other illness, and it necessitates treatment.”

Typically, the side effects of anti-depression drugs are significant, and many people tend to avoid taking them due to those side effects.

“Only roughly one-third of depressed elderly patients get fully well with antidepressant drugs,” Morimoto said.

However, not all computer games have the same effect (d’oh). The researchers developed one computer game that involved balls moving on a video screen; patients had to press a button when the balls changed color. Basically, the game revolved around developing reaction speed and accuracy. Another game involved rearranging multiple word lists into categories, relying on the same skills. Both games became more and more difficult as people played them more – and as they were played more and more, the positive effects on their mental state was more and more noticeable.

All in all, researchers are confident in the results of their study and plan to use this strategy of treating depression in more patients – either by itself, or in conjunction with other drugs. They also plan to see how the treatment fares in people suffering from other mental conditions.

“Our findings suggest that the health and functioning of brain circuits responsible for executive functions are important for recovery from depression,” Morimoto concludes.

Scientific Reference: Sarah Shizuko Morimoto,Bruce E. Wexler,Jiacheng Liu,Willie Hu,Joanna Seirup& George S. Alexopoulos. Neuroplasticity-based computerized cognitive remediation for treatment-resistant geriatric depression. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 4579 doi:10.1038/ncomms5579

motion-sickness-video-game

Wobbly Winners: The Link Between Motion Sickness and Mobile Gaming

motion-sickness-video-game

It’s common sense why some ailments correlate with gaming. Repetitive motion and long periods of holding a controller or mobile device lend themselves to carpal tunnel syndrome, while excessive sitting can lead to everything from stiff muscles to heart strain. But now some games for mobile platforms are turning up a new medical concern for hardcore gamers — motion sickness. With more powerful graphics processing and more immersive game play, mobile game designers have started running into the motion sickness problem in their elaborate virtual worlds. Thankfully, they’re also researching ways to limit or eliminate the problem.

What is Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness is a feeling of nausea resulting from different sensory organs getting conflicting information about the state of the body. Classic occurrences of motion sickness are seasickness, car sickness, and nausea following a fast-moving amusement park ride. In all these cases, sensory organs like the eyes and inner ear see or feel motion, but the body itself isn’t the source of the motion. This means that the brain receives two different signals from different sources that usually work together: one source says the body’s moving, the other says it’s standing still. The natural response to this conflicting info is nausea.

How Do Games Cause Motion Sickness?

Like with car sickness, game-related nausea also known as “simulation sickness,” is the result of the eyes receiving motion stimuli that the inner ear doesn’t feel. This is most common in games that put players in a first-person perspective and that include a lot of sharp, sudden movement. An early example of simulation sickness came from the game Mirror’s Edge, a first-person parkour simulator that included a lot of “realistic” body movement, including the camera bobbing up and down like the player character’s head, wobbling and rolling with the character’s body, and motion blur when the character was moving quick.

Do Mobile Games Cause Motion Sickness More Often?

It’s hard to say if mobile games are more likely to cause simulation sickness, but there are some factors of mobile devices that contribute to the seemingly greater prevalence of the condition. Simulation sickness is more common in players whose eyes are closer to their screens, likely because this means the motion on the screen takes up more of their field of vision. Because mobile devices have smaller screens than personal computers or console-connected televisions, mobile gamers tend to keep their screens closer to their eyes so they can see more details.

Studies have also shown than mobile gamers who use stands for their devices are more likely to experience simulation sickness than players who hold their devices, likely because stands reduce the amount of actual body motion required to play the game.

What are Developers Doing About Simulation Sickness?

With console-level games on the horizon for mobile devices, more gamers are going to migrate to mobile. There are many ways that game developers and mobile device designers can reduce the likelihood of inducing simulation sickness during mobile gaming. For instance, sharper, less natural motion like 90-degree turns and excessive bobbing are greater contributors to motion sickness than smooth motion, so developers can be aware of how their games move.

Device designers can also create mobile screens that are larger and provide higher-definition images that allow users to see more detail without having to hold the device too close to their eyes. Triple-A gamers will have better luck opting for a device with a high-def screen like the HTC One.

Easing Motion Sickness

Until game designers develop a surefire method to prevent simulation sickness, players who are susceptible to the condition should be aware of how to mitigate their symptoms. Playing for shorter periods, pausing to reorient the eyes to a still surface like a wall or horizon, and opting for gyroscope controls instead of touch controls can all ease the woozy feeling of simulation sickness.

In a way, simulation sickness is an indicator of how far gaming has come. We’ve reached a level where games are realistic enough to trick real sensory organs. Now it’s just a matter of making sure games don’t fool the eye or inner ear too well.

 

Video gamers’ aggression linked to frustration, not violent games

Video games have been getting more and more attention, partly due the fact that more and more children (and adults) are playing them, and partly due to the fact that some advantages of playing them are starting to surface. Now, a new study has shown that gamers’ hostile behavior is linked to the experience of failure and frustration during play – not necessarily the game’s content.

credit: Steven Andrew, flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0

Games such as Grand Theft Auto get a lot of bad rep – and for good reason. You walk around, get in a car, run people over, chainsaw them, shoot them, hang out with prostitutes – you get the point. It’s not exactly what you’d want your kid to play. Naturally, many have claimed that due to the violent nature of the games, children tend to grow up to be more violent as well; that sounds like a fair assumption, but is it actually true?

This study is the first to look at the player’s psychological experience with video games instead of focusing solely on its content. They found that failure to master a game, getting stuck and/or losing over and over again led to frustration and aggression, regardless of whether the game was violent or not. I know it doesn’t have any scientific relevance, but personally, I can confirm that.

“Any player who has thrown down a remote control after losing an electronic game can relate to the intense feelings or anger failure can cause,” explains lead author Andrew Przybylski, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, who said such frustration is commonly known among gamers as “rage-quitting.”

“Rage-quitting” is when you get so annoyed and angry with the game that you instantly quit it, regardless of playing alone or with other people. But as it turns out, this experience is not really limited to video games – it happens in all types of games and sports.

“When people feel they have no control over the outcome of a game, that leads to aggression,” says Richard Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the University of Rochester. “We saw that in our experiments. If you press someone’s competencies, they’ll become more aggressive, and our effects held up whether the games were violent or not.”

To test the degree to which this happens, researchers manipulated the interface, controls, and degree of difficulty in custom-designed video games across six lab experiments. Some games were violent, some weren’t. For example, in one experiment, undergraduates held their hand in a bowl of painfully cold water for 25 seconds. They were told that the duration was established by a previous student. They were then randomly assigned to play a simple or a very difficult version of tetris and then assign the duration for the next student. Undergrads who played the difficult version assigned on average 10 seconds more of chilled water pain.

The results were conclusive – it’s not the violent nature of the game which causes violent and aggressive behavior, it’s the frustration it induces. Scientists also surveyed 300 avid gamers to identify how real world gamers might experience the same phenomena. When asked about pre- and post-game feelings, gamers replied that their inability to master a game or its controls caused feelings of frustration and affected their sense of enjoyment in the experience. Just as a sidenote – this isn’t to say that violent games are good, or that they don’t have any negative repercussions – just that they don’t generally cause violent or aggressive behavior.

The Pentagon’s High Stakes Video Game

What if real war were as simple as killing bad guys in a video game?

Children have played at war since the days of antiquity.  Nowadays, however, technologies have emerged to obliterate the lines between child’s play and real war.  The Virtual Battlespace Systems (VBS) that the United States Marine Corps (USMC) uses to train recruits borrow heavily from video game technologies, having been developed by a Czech video game studio.  Meanwhile, the drones that rain very real hell on modern battlefields are controlled with pads directly evolved from Playstation and Xbox.

And now it seems the US government has initiated an ambitious new program that will add yet another dimension to this evolving paradigm.

For the past year, the Pentagon’s top research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has been working on a program designed to make the often complex operations of cyber warfare as simple and intuitive as child’s play.

Plan X

Called “Plan X,” the project’s immediate goal is a touch-screen control panel that allows users to execute cyber effects in a manner comparable to a video game.

The overall objective is simple.  By creating a cyber interface akin to an arcade game, DARPA hopes to permit a broader range of US military personnel the ability to utilize cyber warfare tools as proficiently as they do conventional munitions.

The project is the brainchild of the cyber security expert, Dan Roelker, who likens the military operator using Project X’s cyber tools to a gamer wielding a special sword in World of Warcraft.  “You don’t necessarily know what spells were used to create that sword, right?” he says. “It’s the same type of concept. You don’t need the technical details.”

Flying submarines and robot insects

If Plan X sounds like something from a Thomas Pynchon novel, that is because everything DARPA does is deliberately non-conformal, if not creative.  The agency is, after all, responsible for facilitating research and development efforts for such quirky concepts as powered exoskeletons, flying submarines, and robot insects.

While these ideas may seem like the stuff of science fiction, DARPA has time and again demonstrated the ability and — perhaps more importantly — the willingness to transform far-fetched concepts into reality.  The agency was, in fact, responsible for some of the early research and development that led to the invention of the internet.

“An awful lot of the good stuff we have today is there because DARPA was willing to take a chance on visionary projects,” the late David Waltz told Technology Review back in 2001. “They are the visionary agency.”

A mapping project

To get an idea as to what exactly DARPA executives envision for Plan X, one need only to look at the talent the agency has recruited for the project so far.  For interface and hardware design, DARPA has enlisted the help of Massive Black, a company which is known for its graphics work on Bioshock and Transformers — and Frog Design, the company behind the design of the Sony Walkman and the Apple IIc.

A working prototype of the project’s plumbing is already up and running.  In keeping with Roelker’s original vision, Nick de la Mare, Frog’s executive creative director, says his company had deliberately avoided a cyberwarfare concept for the program’s hardware.  “We didn’t approach it as a cyberwarfare program at all,” said de la Mare. “We approached it as a mapping project.”

Very Angry Birds

Of course, the stakes involved here are much higher than a few tokens on a map.  State-sponsored malware can disable electrical power grids, cripple nuclear power facilities, take out phone systems and public transportation networks, among others.

Plan X aims to provide the US military with a rapid response facility that could cause this much disruption on an industrial scale.

“Plan X is a program that is specifically working towards building the technology infrastructure that would allow cyber offense to move from the world we’re in today — where it’s a fine, handcrafted capability that requires exquisite authorities to do anything — to a future where it is a capability like other weapons,”  DARPA director Arati Prabhakar told reporters recently.

DARPA hopes to award contracts to build the infrastructure for Plan X by October.  If all goes as scheduled, the Pentagon should have its own military-grade version of Angry Birds — complete with a software development kit — some time next year.

video game for the blind

Virtual game for the blind help them navigate their surroundings

It’s rather difficult to imagine a video game for the blind, seeing they can’t actually see, but what people should loose sight of is that the other four senses are still there, and they’re quite sharper. A group of researchers at the  Department of Ophthalmology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School have developed a game whose environment is the exact replica of a real-life building in which the blind player must navigate it, retrieve certain objects and exit the premises. The game might be scaled to more buildings and environments and thus help the blind build a cognitive mind they can use to navigate in real-life and thus live a more autonomous life.

“For the blind, finding your way or navigating in a place that is unfamiliar presents a real challenge,” Dr. Merabet explains. “As people with sight, we can capture sensory information through our eyes about our surroundings. For the blind that is a real challenge… the blind will typically use auditory and tactile cues.”

For the game, called the Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES), computer generated layouts of public buildings have been made, including that of the actual physical environment of the Carol Center for the Blind in Newton Massachusetts. Participants must find jewelry hidden through the rooms of the building and exit it before a monster catches them and steals their jewelry, only to hide them back in other rooms.

video game for the blind

Since it’s actually thrilling and pressing, the blind gamer is actually motivated to explore the surroundings. The interface with the virtual building is made using a keyboard and a pair of headphones that play auditory cues that help the blind wearers spatially orient through world around them.

Through this interaction, in time, the researchers claim an accurate mental layout of the mimicked building is made, allowing people to learn room layouts more naturally than if they were just following directions. To make it easier and more easily available to some of the 285 million blind people world-wide, the scientists are working on porting the game on other user interfaces, like a Wii Remote or joystick.

“It is conceptually difficult for a sighted person to understand ‘a video game for blind people.’ What JoVE allows us to do is break down layouts of the game and strategy, show how the auditory cues can be used and how we quantify performance going from the virtual game to the physical world,” Dr. Merabet.

Findings have been published in the journal Journal of Visualized Experiments.

Eco PS4 Concept - Energy Saving from Sony

ECO PS4 Concept makes gaming ‘green’

Eco PS4 Concept - Energy Saving from Sony

Eco PS4 Concept – Energy Saving from Sony

The gaming industry is a fierce battleground between companies, everyone constantly updating and rushing their next console out the door to keep up or ahead of their competitors. Keeping ahead of the game means working fast, and although the updated versions are new and improved, more thought could be put into design to tweak and refine them.

Take the PS3 for example – the first generation was a larger console that consumed around 200 watts of power when in use. Eventually, after a little design changes, Sony released the slimmer ‘PS3 Slim’, a more energy efficient version of the original.  Not only sleeker in design, this machine only needed less than half the amount of power. Being a slimmer machine, fewer materials are needed to build it, another greener aspect. This was great for eco gamers online stores such as TESCO Entertainment for PS3 games had an increase in units which shows the increase in the way we have a much more environmentally conscious society.

Jospeh Dumary – PS4 Eco Concept

Joseph Dumary – Sleek Design

Haitian designer, Joseph Dumary has added to the hype over the much-anticipated PS4 by designing an aesthetically pleasing concept, very sleek and stylish. Like most ‘initial releases’ Dumary has put a lot of thought into its potential evolution by skipping the usual larger, less energy efficient designs and taking it straight to a more elegant, minimalist machine.

Dumary’s vision features a multitude of energy-saving attributes, such as a standby mode that uses no power, a restart function that allows the user to pick up from where the game was left, rather than having to complete a restart from the beginning. This concept also has integral rechargeable battery that takes over after five minutes out of every 30 to power the system. Amazingly, this compact and attractive console is made from 60% recyclable materials.

Although the console features cutting edge technology like 3D compatibility, USB 3.0 ports, DLNA, and 4K2K compatibility, it is unlikely Sony will ever manufacture it, which should leave some food for thought on future design methods in avoiding having to update and tweak larger models just to get them out the door quicker. Dumary’s efforts have shown how to design a machine that is more environmentally friendly and stylish if a little thought and a little more time were used at the blueprint stage.

Keep Your Console Green

For any PS3 owners who are looking for any green tips to be environmentally friendly, the simple act of unplugging it when not in use is a good start. Admittedly, when not in use, the console only consumes a tiny amount of energy, but it all adds up. If you are planning on buying the PS4 when it finally hits the shelves, recycle your PS3 by either selling it or donating it to a school or charity instead of it ending up in a landfill.

Joseph Dumary has shown how it’s done with his stylish concept, so let’s hope Sony take some inspiration into taking the responsibility of designing greener initial console releases.

Not the kill, but the thrill is what video game players love

Worried about friends who immerse themselves into violent video games all day long? Well, stop fearing they may turn into blood-thirsty maniacs (but you can keep worrying about their addiction) because, as researchers have discovered, it is not the gore details that cause one to play for endless hours, but the feeling of overcoming a challenge offered by the games.

A new study conducted by the University of Rochester and Immersyve Inc., a firm specialized in player-experience research shows that scenes of carnage do not make games more fun, but even take away some of the pleasure of the experience, thus decreasing the players’ interest into buying a particular game. What makes them interested is the sense of autonomy, the challenge itself and the numerous obstacles that have to be overcome by using special skills and developing strategies. Apparently, conflicts and wars can provide all these to a player, which has lead to the creation of so many games related to them.

As Andrew Przybylski explained, only a small percentage of video game players actually enjoy extreme violence in games and they belong to a separate category, characterized by a higher level of aggressiveness. But even these people claim not to draw too much pleasure from gruesome scenes. So, is it all just an innocent game?

Two survey studies were conducted to find out the answer. Firstly, 2670 enthusiast players between 18 and 39 years old out of which 89 percent men, were asked to describe their favorite video games by using statements like “I would definitely buy the sequel” or “While I’m moving in the game world I feel like I am really there.” What the survey was meant to assess is the level of enjoyment, immersion and satisfaction of the gamers along with their needs.

More studies were conducted, involving 300 undergraduates who were used as subjects in order to assess what the effects of playing violent games really were. Violent and blood-free versions of the same game, Half-Life 2, were used in the first phase, while House of the Dead III was used in the second phase with different gore levels, from no blood at all to the most horrendous things one could think of.

A fourth study was aimed as analyzing the subjects’ aggressive nature by using items related to physical violence directed towards others and their level of hostility. After that, the students played the most violent version of House of the Dead III.

All experiments and studies have shown that violence was not at all the factor which caused enjoyment, but the other way around. The most aggressive subjects seemed to be the ones to prefer the highly-violent games, but not to enjoy them more.

These results free companies to design away from the extremely-violent content, also allowing them to broaden their range of games. Their main purpose is to be entertaining and challenging and this is why both the healthy and the unhealthy aspects of playing them should be studied so that they could reach this goal.
source: The University of Rochester