“The Street Arcade” – Teens Create Games to Combat Social Issues

A quick one today for anyone interested in seeing some socially infused games in the Chicago area. Steve Ciampaglia, an assistant professor at Northern Illinois University spent the summer with his partner, Kerry Richardson, working with a group of 13 teens to create video games that feature social issues. They’re inviting the public to come and join them in showing off their hard work at “Street Arcade” on September 2nd in Chicago.

From Ciampaglia’s description, the games all tackle a social issue for which the teens wanted to discuss. These themes range from the representation of minorities in the media to the challenges of immigration. To see video games that tackle social issues is in itself really awesome, but that fact that it’s teens making these games make them all the more worthy of note and discussion. More and more we’re seeing that video games can be powerful tools of social change, so it’s heartening to see that such a event and project exist.

You can find out all about the games and the event  at NIU’s news piece  right here!

Report on the Status of Teens’ Use of Technology in Social Life

The PEW Research Group has recently released their 2nd  of 3 reports on “Teens, Technology &  Friendships”. PEW, which describes themselves as  “a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world”,  has conducted extensive research to academically confirm something we all probably know: Teenagers are using technology  to maintain social relationships.

thispos

If you’re mind has just been blown, please take sometime to compose yourself and in the near future you might want to reconnect with society (Google has self-driving cars now, don’t be scared). The report itself is actually pretty insightful and explores how teenagers use video games in their social life more thoroughly than any study I have seen previously. It’s obviously isn’t going to be ground breaking conclusions, but a big part of sociology is academically documenting and observing trends in society.

There’s a lot of information we could go over, most of which dealing with how teens are using social media sites and apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to create and maintain social ties, but for the sake of only going over what most pertinently concerns this blog we’ll only be delving into the report as it concerns video games. LET’S JUMP IN:

“52% of all teens spend time with friends playing video games; 13% play with friends daily.”

In line with what the ESA reported on video game usage for 2015, this statistic doesn’t surprise me. Gamers in general are becoming more and more social, so it’s only natural that you’d see teenagers take advantage of this as well. Games like World of Warcraft and Halo are cited as specific games that have been used as tools for socialization within teen social groups.

“Overall, 72% of teens ages 13 to 17 play video games on a computer, game console or portable device. Fully 84% of boys play video games, significantly higher than the 59% of girls who play games. Playing video games is not necessarily a solitary activity; teens frequently play video games with others. Teen gamers play games with others in person (83%) and online (75%), and they play games with friends they know in person (89%) and friends they know only online (54%). They also play online with others who are not friends (52%).

This is a little confusing to read because of all the numbers. The way to read these numbers is the percentage of respondents that fell into that group. Don’t try and add them up, as individuals may fall into multiple categories (for example, a teen may respond  that he plays online regularly with friends he met online AND plays with people who are not friends).

What’s interesting here is to examine just how much video games have pervaded our culture. On whole 42%* of Americans play video games regularly, so for 72% of teenagers to play video games  regularly one can hypothesize that the number of Americans who play games regularly will probably continue to go up year to year. Likewise, just the sheer number of teens playing online is remarkable. 10 years ago that amount probably would have been halved. It’s not all that surprising, what with all major consoles being online  and the majority of AAA games having some sort of online mode, but it’s dazzling to see for someone who grew up in an era in which video games were mostly a solitary activity.

  • -38% of all teen boys share their gaming handle as one of the first three pieces of information exchanged when they meet someone they would like to be friends with; just 7% of girls share a gaming handle when meeting new friends.

  • -Of teens who have met a friend online, 57% of boys have made a friend playing video games. That amounts to 34% of all teenage boys ages 13 to 17.

These two are particularly interesting, just because these aren’t the type of statistics most studies will look into.  It makes sense that a good portion of teens making friends online would do so in a video games, as it’s a common ground for people to meet and share something they’re both interested in.  If anything, I’m more interested what the relationships of people meeting in others  online grounds would be; forums potentially have the same effect, but social media sites are more of an oddity in my mind. Regardless, it shows that technology is being used in various ways to strengthen and even create relationships.

When playing games with others online, many teen gamers (especially boys) connect with their fellow players via voice connections in order to engage in collaboration, conversation and trash-talking. Among boys who play games with others online, fully 71% use voice connections to engage with other players (this compares with just 28% of girls who play in networked environments).

This one is the statistic I found to be the most interesting, as one might be able surmise a bigger problem at work.  With 59% of girls playing video games, it’s surprising that only 28% responded that they play with voice communications. In a interview by Kotaku, a lead author of the report concluded that this means only about 9% of girls playing video games are using voice communication in online games. Why the low number? The study unfortunately does not go into why this may be, but if I had to guess I would say they may be a mix of practical and troubling reasons for the community. I don’t want to make assumptions, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the reasons found were because teens girls had negative experiences when playing online with others. I’ll leave it there.

This chart is exemplifies this gender difference between how male and females are using video game communities. For boys, video games are being used as social outlets in the same way text messaging and social media is being used, which is something one might not automatically assume.

There’s much more in depth analysis in the report itself, which can be found here in its entirety. The grand take way to the entire report is that technology isn’t causing the social relationships of teens to diminish. Yes, teens aren’t connecting the same way they did 20 years ago, but they’re still connecting and the social bonds they create aren’t any less real or solid. Technology, in many ways, is augmenting the ways we connect with others and even allowing us to reach groups and people that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to connect with.  So, the next time you see a teen on their phone don’t scoff or dream of the “good ol’ days”, just realize that society advances and restructures how we socialize.

*Data from ESA 2015 Report

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Review: “Double Fine Adventure!”

Not all documentaries are created equal, especially when it comes to ones focusing on the world of gaming. It’s rare that a video game documentary is something I can recommend, as many don’t do the subject matter justice (See my review of “Video Games the Movie”). However, occasionally we’re graced with some really excellent film making the tackles the subject in an interesting and well thought out way.  2 Player Production’s Double Fine Adventure is that rare film.  I say film, but it’s actually closer to a show as the piece was originally broken up into 20 episodes that were released as the game’s production went on. As a whole, DFA chronicles the development of the Double Fine point and click adventure game “The Broken Age”. From the game’s initial Kickstarter all the way until the game ships, you see the whole process on film.

broken-age-walkthrough

What sets DFA apart from other films/series of its type is just how true it is to the development process of a video game. It’s not all glitz and glamour kids, making a video game is a difficult process that has emotional highs and lows. Movies like “Indie Game The Movie” focused on this as well, but DFA has the unique perspective of showing the ins and outs of an established video game company that works and lives game to game. Despite being a fairly known development company, Double Fine isn’t Naughty Dog, Nintendo, or Capcom; they’re a considerably small company that has a lot of the same struggles that independent developers face.

To give a little background on the subject matter, Double Fine Productions was founded in 2000 by ex-Lucasarts developer Tim Schafer, who created many of the company’s amazing point and click adventure titles such as Grim Fandango and Full Throttle.  Based in San Francisco the company has developed several cult hits including Psychonauts, Brutal Legend, and Costume Quest, but had not returned to the point and click genre until the announcement of the Kickstarter campaign. The first episode chronicles the initial Kickstarter that funded the game, which raised over 3 million dollars over the course of one month.

From there, the piece shows viewers how a game goes from inception to completion from stage to stage. This is where the piece becomes essential for anyone interested in video game design or the academia of gaming. Each episodes chronicles a stage of the video game process, for example there’s an entire episode where the team brings in art consultants to draw out facets of the worlds to motivate and help Tim visualize the world he’s trying to create. Slowly but surely you can see the game take form, which is even more interesting if you have already played through “The Broken Age”.  Along the way the documentary introduces you to key members of the Double Fine team, whom the viewer really gets to know and empathize with through the course of the years that the documentary was made. When the team fails to miss a deadline the viewer feels the emotional weight that the team themselves are feeling, as over the course of the episodes you become more and more invested in this game being developed.  Likewise, when Tim first previews the game to a crowd of fans you feel the emotional high that Tim and his team felt in that moment; start to finish, the team at 2 Player Productions do an amazing job of documenting the humanside of game development.

This type of documentary may not have worked with all developers, but Double Fine is home to such a devoted and creative group of individuals that you create a relationship with them over time. The main man himself, Tim Schafer, really exemplifies this more so than anyone else; you get a very good sense of just how much he truly loves gaming (especially the point and click adventure genre) and the fans that have placed so much support in him and his staff.  It’s an underdog story through an through, as the film shows how a small development company can make a successful in a genre that was deemed financially dead by the gaming industry. As I mentioned in my pieces on Kickstarter and Crowdsourcing websites, games like the Broken Age show that the conventional methods of getting a game developed are no longer the only options: We all now have a say in what games we want to see developed and made.

To Summarize: “Double Fine Adventure” is a must see for anyone interested in the gaming industry. It may very well be the most true to life look of what it’s like to develop a game in this current gaming climate. Shot beautifully and with care, the film will change your perception of what goes into the games we play. Go check it out, and while you’re at it play the Broken Age. It’s also a terrific game.

You can pay to see the whole film here, or you can watch all of the episodes without bonus features on Double Fine’s Youtube channel.

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