Review: “Video Games The Movie”

Or more appropriately titled “Video Games The Documentary”. Amidst the number of summer movies that were released this summer, this one seemingly went under the radar beneath all of those transmorphers, ninja frogs, and earth defenders. I finally had a chance to sit down and view the film for myself, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it as both a representation of video game history and culture.

Written and directed by Jeremy Snead and executive produced by Zach Braff, the film was released this summer digitally and in select theaters. The film seeks to give a history of the video game industry and discuss some of the issues concerning it. Coming in at 105 minutes, the movie certainly has a lot to cover in a short amount of time. The result? A disjointed film that takes on more than it can handle. That sounds harsh, but the film is certainly more ambitious than it delivers on. It seemingly has all the elements: great industry professionals ranging from Reggie to Cliffy B, a relatively strong budget, and a wealth of information they could focus on.  Unfortunately the film seems more like a introductory to everything video game related, without any particular focus or time spent on one subject enough to develop it. An introductory to the video game community would be fine, but even as that it misses a lot of beats. Right away anyone who knows anything about video games will notice that the film speeds through over 30 years of history in nearly 10 minutes. It then goes from topic to topic without any real focus, sometimes even returning to add more about certain aspects of video game history that, because of its progression, feels unorganized. This isn’t to say that the other segment beyond history aren’t compelling, in fact the film even touches on how video games are reshaping the way people interact and develop (Hey! that’s what I talk about on here!), but unfortunately these compelling aspects are as rushed as the history provided.The rest of the film touches on some of the major debates in the video game industry, such as the effects of violent video games, but only provides one narrative to them. There’s absolutely no counter points in this documentary, the argument seems to be “video games are great!” but doesn’t allow for the opposition to even chime in.

With plenty of other  better documentaries out there focusing on specific aspects of video game culture or history (Indie Game The Movie, Second Skin, Chasing Ghosts, etc) this one feels like it just took bits and pieces from each and tried to patch it into one film. What this means is that significant chunks of video game history get left out for the sake of other aspects that really could of been left out. If you’re going to tell us the history of the industry: do that! Don’t rush it and then move onto another topic in 20 minutes. WE NEED FOCUS. Also, just as gripe, the film also features interviews from numerous actors and celebreties that really don’t add anything worthwhile besides “LOOK AT THIS CELEB WHO PLAYS GAMES”, especially compared to the industry professionals featured in the film.

“LOOK AT THIS CELEB. SHE PLAYS EM. AIN’T IT COOL!”

In an already short documentary that’s rushing things, despite being 105 minutes, we really don’t need 10 of those minutes given to celebrities talking about something they only vaguely know about.

To sum up, the industry deserves a better representation than this documentary. The film aimed at informing the mass population about the history of video games but will only serve to give them a taste of the real history. For the rest of us who actually anything about the video game industry, don’t waste your time, it may be for the best that this flew under the radar.

New Study Finds Risk Glorifying Games Lead to Deviant Behavior

A recent study suggests that playing mature rated video games may lead to risky, deviant behavior including alcohol use and cigarette smoking. OH HEAVENS!!!

Coming out of Dartmouth College and published this week in the American Psychological Association Journal is a 4-year spanned study that focuses on the effects of violent and mature rated video games on adolescent adults. Are violent video game the gateway drug to worse things, including buying gates and/or drugs? 

The researchers contacted a pool of over 5000 young adults multiple times over the span of 4 years and focused on the three video games “Manhunt”, “Spider-man 2” and “Grand Theft Auto”. Although the respondents fell to less than half of the original 5000, over 2000 subjects were interviewed for the effects of having played one of these three games and continued to play similar risk glorifying games. The researchers found that respondents who played risk glorifying games with an anti-social protagonists (Manhunt and GTA in this case) had reported higher rates of cigarette use, and similar patterns were found for other forms of delinquency than those who reported only have played games with honorable protagonists (Spider-man). 

Honorable.

Jay Hull, the lead researcher, concludes that playing risk glorifying video games increases the likelihood of performing risky actions in the real world. As Hull puts it

“[In video games]They’re not practicing drinking and smoking and risky sex, but what they are practicing is being a less than good person,”.

We’ve seen similar studies where violent video games have been linked to aggression, cheating, and other less honorable behavior, but this might be the first one I’ve seen linked to risky sex..I don’t know how to take that. Likewise, we have seen studies that suggest positive benefits to violent and all video games in general, so the debate seems to be all over the place.The thought behind why this is occurring is that playing violent and risk glorifying games makes kids more willing to take risks in their own life:

“Once a kid is trying one substance, the odds of trying another one go up…The risk starts piling up much faster, and the outcomes for these children get much worse in a hurry.”

 

Eh…that’s no good. The researcher endorses the use of the ESRB rating system as a form to combat adolescents from getting their hands on these games prematurely.

I don’t know what to think about this study, as it seems pretty well constructed. Obviously the study is reliant on the respondents to tell the truth and gauge their effects, but I can’t think of a more developed way to do so. There may some causes that are effecting the respondents that the study doesn’t take into consideration, such as reasons for why adolescents are getting their hands on violent video games before becoming of age. For example, I can imagine parents who buy their children a spider-man game (regardless of its ESRB rating) may not be the same level of attentiveness as a parent who is okay buy and M rated GT game….but that could be neither here nor there.

The study itself is, unfortunately, only available to those who subscribe to the  APA’s website, but a decent explanation of the study can be found here. 

New Study Finds Positive Effects of Video Games on Social Behavior

This is it guys: A study that directly looks into the effects of video games on social behavior. What could be more relevant to this blog that this study? PROBABLY NOTHING.

Coming out of The University of Oxford, the study explores how time spent playing video games accounts for variation in positive and negative psychosocial adjustment. To do so, the researchers studied a representative sample of 10 to 15 year old children and had them report their daily intake of video games. Essentially, the researchers were trying to see if the number of hours spent playing video games per day had a significant change on one’s adjustment.  I’ll go through the abstract

A pretty interesting hypothesis. Obviously one might assume that playing video games for copious amounts of hours per day would have negative effects on a child, but what about brief periods of time? Let’s hear about these result.

Low levels (<1 hour daily) as well as high levels (>3 hours daily) of game engagement was linked to key indicators of psychosocial adjustment. Low engagement was associated with higher life satisfaction and prosocial behavior and lower externalizing and internalizing problems, whereas the opposite was found for high levels of play. No effects were observed for moderate play levels when compared with non-players.

Huh. The “high levels” of game engagement seem to fall in line with what one might naturally assume; kids playing too much may be antisocial and not well adjusted. However, it’s the low levels effects that are more surprising. The study suggests that playing games in low moderation can actually have positive effects on children. Those prosocial behaviors is sociology speak for saying that kids are more socially adjusted. That’s great news! Video games aren’t making us strange and recluse, well at least if we don’t spend too much time with them. That said, we do have to take into consideration that excessive video game playing was found to be detrimental to one’s social behavior. MODERATION IS KEY MY FRIENDS.

The links between different levels of electronic game engagement and psychosocial adjustment were small (<1.6% of variance) yet statistically significant. Games consistently but not robustly associated with children’s adjustment in both positive and negative ways, findings that inform policy-making as well as future avenues for research in the area.

Hey, that’s a more intelligent way of saying what I just said! I won’t go into the specifics of the study, as the study itself is currently free to read and it’s only 9 pages. It’s great to see more and more studies focusing on the sociological and psychological effects of video games. WE’RE GETTING THERE GUYS. Before I go, a few considerations on the study that I think are important in examining the result.

Considerations: The study is trying to be representative of an entire population, but obviously we can’t make overlapping statements.  Likewise, the low moderation of video games and high moderation of video games can be indicative of something else going on, such as parenting levels and amount of free time. If a child has something else going on in their free times, such as sports or lessons, their amount of hours spent playing video games will considerably lower. We can’t say for sure if it’s correlation without causation; perhaps those who are playing less video games are more well adjusted because of another factor we’re not recording.

Racist Games: Street Fighter 2

heIt’s time once again to look through the library of video games and examine some of the good ol’ fun themes of racism in some of our favorite and least favorite games. Today’s racist game is one of the most well known games in video game history: Street Fighter 2.

I know what you’re saying: “Hey! Eff you man! Leave Street Fighter 2 alone! That game rocks!”. Fair enough, hypothetical person responding to this blog. Street Fighter 2 is a great game that undeniably revolutionized the fighting game genre and had a huge impact on video game history. That said, it’s a little bit racist. Like “Punch-Out!” Street Fighter 2 falls into the category of games that were unintentionally racist for the sake of having characters from around the world. The game undeniably relies of stereotypes and bizarre caricatures of different countries and peoples. Let’s look at some of these nationally accurate characters!

Zangief : Zangief is Russian. What do Russian people do? Wrestle bears, of course. Also, they do that one dance; you know the one that all Russian people do. Zangief’s ending literally features Zangief dancing with, then president, Mikhail Gorbachev.

You won’t see George Bush in Guile’s ending

Dhalsim: Dhalsim is from India. Things the developers knew about India include that Yoga is popular, Elephants are a plenty, and Hinduism is a strange and mystical religion. In Dhalsim’s ending in the game, he rides a elephant back to home! Everyone in India has a pet Elephant!

Balrog: Balrog is the only black character in the game. Haling from the United States, Balrog shares a striking resemblance to Mike Tyson and is even a boxer! Also, in the original Japanese version Balrog was named M.Bison, which clearly is a play on the aforementioned ear biter.

Upon beating the game and becoming world champion, Balrog retires to a life of luxury, and in some versions, white women!

 

Other Fun tidbits of racism from Street Fighter 2

-The Americans in the game all seemingly have fabulous lives, where as many of the other characters are pretty poor and destitute. Guile, for example, is a military hero!

– Vega is from Spain. People from Spain all love Flamenco and are Vain, or so the developers believe.

-Very few countries are represented, and yet Japan and the U.S have multiple characters! The hell!?

Street Fighter is a great game, but it certainly relied heavily on stereotypes to make up its cast of characters. I’m sure the developers didn’t intend to make the game offensive, it’s probably that they just needed to make the characters noticeably different from each other. Future games in the franchise featured more fleshed out characters and relied less on stereotypes and even the original cast is a little less racist these dam. Regardless of its unintentional racism, it’ll still be one game that will forever be a classic…No mater which 1 of the 500 versions of the game you play.

BONUS ROUND OF SEXISM!

Street Fighter had the chance of being one of the most sexist games ever, as some of the original developers actually wanted to give Chun-Lee, the only female character in the game, a shorter life bar because she was a woman.

“You know how each character has a life bar? At one point, I wanted to make the power gauge for Chun-Li shorter than for the other characters because women are not as strong. But [another designer] didn’t want to do that. We both had legitimate reasons, but then we came to an agreement to not make it shorter.”

Oh man, who thought that was a good idea. Oh Capcom.