Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The basics of Gamers’ Grammar

Video games, violence and you

Video games are violent. That’s a fact. The debate now is, how you, the gamers, are taking it. Are the games you play making you violent too? The debate is on. The opinions are diverse. From scientists to sociologies, everyone is going ballistic, even faster than you maneuver your joysticks. Dibyajyoti Sarma delves deep into the issue

The marvellously done graphics of the road looks exactly like Miami in the 1980s. Two cars have pulled over to the side. A man dressed in a flower-pattern shirt steps out of the first vehicle. The driver of the convertible behind steps out as well. No words are exchanged — there’s no time. The man in the flowered shirt simply whips out a large-caliber pistol, pumps several shots into the convertible, empties the rest of his clip at the fleeing driver, then jumps back in his car and speeds away. Is this exactly your idea of fun? If it is, then probably you’re a prefect gamer (The scene is from the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.).
As you enter the Vice City, you’re Tommy Vercetti, a thug who’s back on the streets. You begin by stealing cars and beating up people. Then you progress to more violent stuff such as stealing ambulances and decapitating police officers with high-powered firearms. As your violence increase, you gather points…

Research says

Playing violent video games can increase a your aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviour, according to two studies which appeared in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Furthermore, violent video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies because they are interactive, very engrossing and require the player to identify with the aggressor, say the researchers.
The first study involved 227 college students who completed a measure of trait aggressiveness and reported their actual aggressive behaviors (delinquency) in the recent past. They also reported their video game playing habits. “We found that students who reported playing more violent video games in junior and high school engaged in more aggressive behaviour,” said lead author Anderson, of Iowa State University. “We also found that amount of time spent playing video games in the past was associated with lower academic grades in college.”
In the second study, 210 college students played either a violent or non-violent video game. A short time later, the students who played the violent video game punished an opponent (received a noise blast with varying intensity) for a longer period of time than did students who had played the non-violent video game.

Quid pro quo: The games and you

Today, the video game industry is more than 35 years old. A virtual reality world that began with Pong has now grown into a multi-million dollar industry, and counting. The three-way war of video games consoles among Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo is making the news. That apart, the internet is loaded with video game sites, the new trend being the Masssively Multiplayer Online Games. Add to that the nascent, but increasing going strong mobile gaming industry, and you have a fair picture of how video games are becoming the part and parcel of our lives.
And here begins the controversy. To appeal to the young and adolescent audience, the video games makers are leaving no stone unturned. Lara Croft and her adventures are one things, but the news additions in this increasing competitive market is filled with games that glorify gore and violence, starting with Mortal Combat to Call of Duty to Silent Hill to Scarface to Vice City, the list is endless.
The games that thrive on violence, gore and anti-social behaviour has raised concerns among parents, educators, child advocates, medical professionals, and policy makers.
Now, the questions, worth all the points you collect in a game, is whether the worries that these games may have a negative impact on the gamer is justified?
Concern about violent video and computer games is based on the assumption that they contribute to aggression and violence among young players. Based on research, many social scientists have observed that video games have a greater impact on young people for the following reasons:
1) It is highly possible that gamers will imitate the actions of the character with whom they identify. A violent game works on the player’s ability to use weapons and destroy the enemy. As the player gets hooked to it, this behaviour of aggression may reflect in non-virtual life as well.
2) Video games, by their very nature, require active participation rather than passive observation. You got to act if you want points. Otherwise, you’re busted! Thus, it heightens the player’s physical and emotional aggression.
3) Repetition increases learning. Video games involve a great deal of repetition. If the games are violent, then the effect is a behavioral rehearsal for violent activity.
4) Rewards increase learning. If you are earning more points by killing more people, then your urge to kill more will definitely increase.
Research says exposure to violent games increases physiological arousal. Heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure all increase when playing violent games. A study by Ballard & Weist showed that playing a violent game, like Mortal Kombat, resulted in higher systolic blood pressure increases than playing a non-violent game. Research says violent games can also increase aggressive thoughts and emotions. There are occasions when the virtual persona of a player can take over the real persona in the real life situation as well.

The other side of the picture

But there is an another side to this grim picture. Consider this:
Teens do play violent games, but they are not the kids’ stuff. For a ‘mature’ or ‘adult’ rated video game, the gamer’s age is 30 years old or more.
The studies so far are no accurate. Through some claim that violent entertainment can lead to violent behaviour, there are others who contradict this. There are loads of data to prove either sides of the argument.
The assertion that video games make people violent got a boost in May of 2000, when the American Psychological Association issued a press release saying that violent video games can increase aggression. That conclusion was taken from a study by two researchers, Craig Anderson of Iowa State University and Karen Dill of Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina. The pair claimed that they had found a link between violent video games and aggression. Yet, an examination of what the researchers actually found shows how tentative their conclusions are. The study seems to show some association between the playing of violent games and concurrent aggressive behavior and delinquency. Yet, as any social sciences or psychology student knows, correlation does not imply causation.
The biggest argument on behalf of those who counter the link between violent behaviour and video games, is the question: Are there any indication of violent behaviour of the gamer in real life? So far, the answer has been an emphatic NO.

On a positive note
Researchers say video games may be the key to teaching youngsters

In a series of research projects as likely to thrill young people as they are to horrify their parents and teachers, academic experts in the US are unearthing educational benefits in the digital games that surveys show are now played by more than 80 percent of American young people aged 8-18. At the top of the experts’ lists are simulation and role-playing games, often played on the Internet alongside thousands of other participants, because of the vocabulary, reasoning and social skills they can boost. But even some of the most violent games, such as the notorious Grand Theft Auto, have some valuable lessons to teach in the right circumstances, researchers are finding.
Some researchers even suggest supplanting much of the traditional curriculum with a new generation of game-based materials to capture the increasingly short attention spans of today’s youth. If that sounds like yet another new age fad, consider this: The prominent Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation — the people who give out those half-million-dollar genius grants every year — is distributing $50 million to researchers to understand how digital technologies are changing the ways young people learn, play, socialise and exercise judgment.
Hard data is scant so far — most of the MacArthur-funded research projects are just getting under way — but there’s no shortage of anecdotes testifying to the educational benefits of video and computer games and new multimedia tools. Simulation games in particular have already been embraced by some educators, as well as many businesses and the US military, as effective ways to introduce people to environments and situations that would otherwise be too expensive, dangerous or impossible to access.
Other researchers are studying what students learn when they join other players across the Internet in creating characters, or “avatars,” in online fantasy or role-playing games, such as Second Life, There or World of Warcraft.
Still other experts are designing prototype educational games that immerse students in such professional roles as urban planners, journalists, medical ethicists and graphic designers.
The verdict, however, is not out yet. Experts believe that the benefits of digital games are over-hyped and could actually harm students’ creativity and emotional development. “The only thing we know for sure is that video games are effective at desensitising people to extreme violence,” said Edward Miller, a senior researcher at the Alliance for Childhood, a non-profit child advocacy group. “There is no evidence that video games are good at teaching problem-solving or collaboration or the other higher-order skills that these proponents are claiming.” (With inputs from Reuters, MCT)

:Games the experts like:

These are some of the video games most highly praised by researchers for their educational value:
Zoo Tycoon
Sim City
The Political Machine
A Force More Powerful
America’s Army

‘Violence killing video game joy’

Shigeru Miyamoto is considered to be the Steven Spielberg of video gaming. So when he told the industry recently that video game violence was destroying its reputation and taking the joy out of gaming, the chances are that those who matter are going to sit up and listen. Developers should resist the temptation to produce only sequels of established hits and games based on horror and revenge, Miyamoto, Nintendo’s top designer, told developers at the annual Game Developer Conference in San Francisco. “I always want that first reaction to be emotion, to be positive — to give a sense of satisfaction, glee,” Miyamoto said. “Certain obstacles may temporarily raise feelings of suspense, competition, even frustration. But we always want that final result, that final emotion, to be a positive one.”
The video game guru said his industry’s reputation had suffered in the past decade. Designers had failed to deliver titles that brought joy to the widest possible spectrum of players, focusing too often on hard-core gamers and their lust for gore and realism. Miyamoto’s emphasis on plucky, fantastic, upbeat games contrasts with the slew of violent but popular games today — titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat.
Miyamoto is the creator of such classic titles as Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong and The Legend of Zelda. Together, those titles have sold about 288 million copies. He joined Nintendo in 1980 to work on coin-operated arcade games and has worked on every game console Nintendo has released over almost three decades.

Game over in China

Combining sympathy with discipline, a military-style boot camp near Beijing is at the front-line of China’s battle against Internet addiction, a disorder afflicting millions of the nation’s youth. The Internet Addiction Treatment Centre (IATC) in Daxing county uses a blend of therapy and military drills to treat the children of China’s nouveau riche addicted to online games, Internet pornography, cybersex and chats.
“I gradually became obsessed,” said Li Yanlin, a university student whose grades plunged after he became addicted to Internet games. But after several weeks at the Daxing facility, the 18-year-old said he “recognised the falseness of online gaming.”
Concerned by a number of high-profile Internet-related deaths and juvenile crime, the government is now taking steps to stem Internet addictions by banning new Internet cafes and mulling restrictions on violent computer games. The government-funded Daxing centre, run by an army colonel under the Beijing Military Hospital, is one of a handful of clinics treating patients with Internet addictions in China. Patients, overwhelmingly male and aged 14 to 19, wake up in common dormitories at 6.15 am to do morning calisthenics and march on the cracked concrete grounds wearing khaki fatigues.
The IATC has treated 1,500 patients in this way since opening in 2004, and boasts a 70 percent success rate at breaking addictions. The fees cost about 10,000 yuan ($1,290) a month, nearly a year’s average disposable income in China. But the centre takes on pro bono cases for poor families, said Tao Ran, its director.
At the end of 2006, China had 137 million Internet users, an increase of 23.4 percent from the previous year. Of users under 18, an estimated 13 percent — or 2.3 million — are Internet addicts, according to a 2006 study by the China National Children’s Centre. Internet addiction rates posted in Western studies vary wildly, with little consensus as to what constitutes addiction and whether the concept exists.
In 2005, a Shanghai court handed a life sentence to an online game player who stabbed a competitor to death for stealing his cyber-sword — a virtual prize earned during game-play.
The rising tide of Internet-addicted youth has prompted the government to ban new Internet cafes in 2007, which are seen in China as breeding grounds for social delinquency. Delegates at the National People’s Congress, China’s annual session of parliament, have proposed stricter criminal punishments for Internet cafe operators who admit minors, and have flagged restrictions on violent games.

‘Stop surfing, make friends’

Authorities at the elite Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai have recently said that students have stopped socialising and many were late for morning classes or slept through them because of using the internet. Therefore, they have restricted Internet access in its hostels, saying addiction to surfing, gaming and blogging was affecting students’ performance, making them reclusive and even suicidal.
“Now, a student doesn’t even know who lives two doors away from him because he is so busy on the Internet,” said Prakash Gopalan, dean of student affairs. “The old hostel culture of camaraderie and socialising among students is gone. This is not healthy in our opinion.”
IIT-Mumbai, with about 5,000 students, is one of seven IITs across India which are considered to be among the finest engineering colleges in the world. But their exacting curriculum, tough competition and reclusive campus lifestyle have taken a toll on students. Depression and dysfunctional lifestyles are known to be common among IIT students, and at least nine have committed suicide in the past five years. IIT-Mumbai has seen two suicides in two years and several attempts.
Students have unlimited free Internet access in their hostel rooms to help them in their studies, but many also use it to surf, chat, download movies and music, blog and for gaming. Now, Internet access will be barred between 11 pm and 12.30 pm at IIT-Mumbai’s 13 hostels to encourage students to sleep early and to try and force them out of their “shells,” Gopalan said.
But the move has not gone down well with students who say they hate their lives being regulated. “Now they will say we need to listen to a lullaby to go to sleep,” said Rajiv, an electronics student. Student anger has also spilt on to several blogs run by IIT alumni where bloggers say “the birth of the virtual world had led to the death of the real selves,” but add that they resent regulation of students’ activities.

Learning to cheat

With all the qualms parents have about the Internet, from worrying about sexual predators to whether their kids spend too much time online, here’s another one: It can teach them how to cheat.
At one increasingly popular site where young kids inhabit a fantasy world of penguins and igloos, some are downloading illicit software to stuff their virtual pockets with gold coins instead of earning their keep fairly by playing games. Across the Internet, blogs, message boards and even video clips on YouTube offer 8-12 year olds tips and tricks on how to steal coins at or swindle their way to a higher salary at
Parents are generally happy with sites like Club Penguin and Whyville, where their kids can play safely online and interact with other youngsters. But to some educators, the cheating is yet another example of a competitive culture looking for shortcuts to get ahead. Worse, these cheaters can be as young as 8, and by unfairly learning how to obtain the biggest igloo on the block, it could foreshadow cheating in other aspects of life.
Here’s how the virtual world operates: Kids sign up, pay up to $4.95 per month and are assigned a penguin, which represents the child’s online image. The penguins waddle around the site and bump into other penguins they can chat with. Penguins and their igloos are plain at first, but as kids accumulate coins at various games, they can purchase nicer clothes or buy furniture, fireplaces and carpet for their igloos. Each month, a new catalog of outfits and igloo upgrades is introduced. An Ice Castle igloo upgrade offered in the March catalog sells for 5,100 coins. Hence, there is constant competition among the penguins to have the coolest igloo and the latest fashions — and some kids are too impatient to play a game to earn more coins. On the Web, they can find a sophisticated program called WPE Pro that “sniffs” network connections and can be used for a variety of online games, including those on Club Penguin.
Cheating and gaming go hand in hand. It is ingrained in the culture, said Reilly Brennan, a spokesman for Chicago’s Midway Games, who called it the main reason for buying gaming magazines. The magazines are filled with hints, shortcuts and hidden codes to help players get a leg up. Now, “the Internet has become the biggest hint book ever made.”

Among the best (or worse!): Ten goriest video games

Resident Evil 4:
You are a Special Forces agent sent to recover the President’s kidnapped daughter. During the first minutes of play, it’s possible to find the corpse of a woman pinned up on a wall —by a pitchfork through her face.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas:
You are a young man working with gangs to gain respect. Your mission includes murder, theft, and destruction on every imaginable level. You recover health by visiting prostitutes, then recover funds by beating them to death and taking their money. Your can wreak as much havoc as you like without progressing through the game’s storyline.

God of War:
You become a ruthless warrior, seeking revenge against the gods who tricked you into murdering you own family. Prisoners are burned alive and you can use ‘finishing moves’ to kill opponents, like tearing a victim in half.

You can choose between two narcotics agents attempting to take a dangerous drug off the streets and shut down the KRAK cartel while being subject to temptations including drugs and money. To enhance abilities, you take drugs, which provides the ability to kick enemies’ heads off.

Killer 7:
You take control of seven assassins who must combine skills to defeat a band of suicidal, monstrous terrorists. The game eventually escalates into a global conflict between the US and Japan. You collect the blood of fallen victims to heal yourself and must slit your own wrists to spray blood to find hidden passages.

The Warriors:
Based on a ’70s action flick that set new standards for ‘artistic violence,’ a street gang battles its way across NYC in an attempt to reach its home turf. You issue several commands to your gang, including ‘mayhem,’ which can cause the gang to smash everything in sight.

50 Cent: Bulletproof:
The game is loosely based on the gangster lifestyle of rapper Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson. You engage in gangster shootouts and loots the bodies of victims to buy new 50 Cent recordings and music videos.

Crime Life: Gang Wars:
You are the leader of a ruthless street gang, spending time fighting, recruiting new gangsters, looting, and of course, more fighting.

Condemned: Criminal Origins:
You are an FBI serial killer hunter. The game emphasises the use of melee weapons over firearms, allowing you to use virtually any part of your environment as a weapon.

True Crime: New York City:
You are a NYC cop looking for information regarding the mysterious death of a friend. You can plant evidence on civilians and shake them down to earn extra money.

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