Extra Life: Playing Games To Save Lives

Just a quick one today. I wanted to bring notice to an awesome cause and annual event.

“Extra Life unites thousands of players around the world in a 24 hour gaming marathon to support Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Since its inception in 2008, Extra Life has raised more than $14 million for local CMN hospitals.”

Extra-Life is an event that brings together gamers from all over the world to play games in support of the Children’s Miracle Network  of Hospitals.  In collaboration with the ESA, the event  challenges gamers to raise funds through pledges to their gaming marathon.  Participants will attempt to game for a full 24 hours, all for the cause of raising funds for a much deserved cause. Interested gamers can create a fundraising goal for themselves or a team at the Extra Life Website. This years event will take place  next weekend on November 7th, 2015 (Though they’ll take donations for any day!).

Whether you want to participate yourself, watch some streams of participating gamers, donate to the cause, or simply find out more information, head on over to Extra-Life.org for more details.

Such an awesome event just goes to show the amazing good that the gaming community can do when we come together for a righteous cause.

Who is The Average Gamer?

With the 2015 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry recently explored, I thought it would be interesting to use all of the data to create a picture of who the average gamer is.

How are constructing this picture? Using the Data that the ESA gathered in their annual report on the demographics of the video game community we can pull it all together to create a hypothetical person. Granted, this person does not represent the entirety of the video game industry (in fact they probably won’t represent a lot of gamers), but it will convey the most typical gamer.

Why is This Being Done? There’s a lot of application to this kind of data. By understanding who the “average gamer” is, we can determine who the industry is primarily catered towards. While we’re making strides in being a more inclusive industry, the video game industry is still one of marketing and product creation with the average consumer in mind. With an understanding of who their target audience is, we can better understand how to expand that audience.

Views in the past. It goes without saying that one’s idea of the average gamer is something that has changed quite significantly in recent time. Years ago video games were thought to be primarily a children’s activity, but we’re discovering that this is no longer the case. The industry is no longer one dominated by young boys; we’re seeing that the industry is diversifying more and more as we go on. Thus, it’s important to reevaluate how he picture the average gamer:

Who is the average gamer?

We’re creating a person; we’ll need a name for this person. Let’s call this person Avery (Yeah, it’s a little on the nose..) Who is Avery? How old is Avery? Is Avery a male or female? What games does Avery play? Who is Avery playing with? How much time does Avery spend playing video games? LET’S FIND OUT WHO THIS AVERY IS.

Avery is a 35 year old male. In Avery’s household, there is one other person in the house that plays video games. The household owns at least one dedicated video game console, but Avery also plays a good amount of his video games on his PC. Avery isn’t new to video games, in fact Avery has been playing video games for 13 years. Avery plays games in moderation; he actually only plays about 3-4 hours of gaming a week. However, the usage of his console doesn’t end there; Avery uses his console to watch movies, watch TV and other forms of media. When he does get sometime to play games, he’s playing mostly social games, action games, and puzzle/card/board games. He plays with others either online or in person, but when he does it’s primarily with his friends. He spends a fair amount on video games per year, as he believes that video games are a good value for his money in comparison to other forms of media (dvds, theaters, etc.) Recently Avery has made a switch to buying more games digitally than physically. Last year, some of the games Avery most likely played were Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Madden, and the Sims 4.  Video games are becoming a greater and greater part of Avery’s everyday life; the time he plays per week are increasing every year and the amount of money he spends on games is also increasing. How long will Avery remain the average gamer? That remains to be seen.

If Avery was a parent:

Avery is knowledgeable about his children’s video game usage. He’s aware of the the ESRB ratings of each game and monitors the content of the game his kids are playing. He believes that its the parent’s responsibility to limit the amount of time their kids are playing games, surfing the internet, and watching TV. Avery believes video games are a positive part of his kids live’s, and will even play with his kids from time to time.

Admissions:

1) Race statistics on the video game industry seemingly don’t exist, or at least there isn’t a reputable source that I could find. Many studies examine racial representation and racial preference in video games, but not necessarily the demographics on the industry as a whole. That said, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the racial make-up of the American video game industry isn’t that far off from the general make-up of the United State’s demographics. This leads me to assume that the average American gamer is most likely Caucasian.

2) This portrait of the average gamer is representative of the United States, and may not be reflective of  other communities. Obviously we can assume that some of the statistics will carry over (Male dominated, for example, is one that is most likely true of most communities)

3) I’m only working with the research at hand. Unfortunately I’m not able to conduct my own research to narrow down other aspects of this portrait, and as a result we’re still left with a lot of mysteries about the average game.

So there you have it, a partial look at who the average gamer is. I hope this has been somewhat insightful and helpful for anyone trying to gather a better understanding on the video game industry. If not….eh, I tried.

Video Games Being Used in New Medical Practices

It’s an interesting world we live in, one in which video games are constantly finding new ways to infiltrate our daily lives. We’ve already seen school utilizing video games for teaching purposes, and even video games serving as parts of business interviews, but medical institutions seem like the last place you’d imagine to be playing video games. Fortunately this article is not about medical schools using the game “Trauma Center” to teach potential surgeons.

Scalpels not included.

A new trend in the medical is looking towards video games as medical tools. This trend is really novel and interesting, especially since 10 years ago we probably wouldn’t imagine that we’d be using video games to aid in physical therapy or in any realm dealing with the medical profession. These are in no way the first time we’ve seen video game being utilized in physical therapy and as medical tools, but they certainly are ones that do it in new and interesting ways.

Researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital have developed an interactive video game that is being used to measure upper extremity movement in younger patients with muscular dystrophy who are unable to walk. The game, which is zombie themed and utilizes a Xbox Kinect, has patients extending their arms to push back a force field protecting them in the game. The game, which is currently only being used in clinical trials, has had very positive feedback from both patients and parents.   The game, which charts the improvement and changed for patients over the course of time, was developed because of the sheer lack of outcome measure for this population of patients.

Another new tool in therapy has emerged for patients with Multiple Sclerosis. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society have given a grant to researchers to develop a game that will be used to help in Multiple Sclerosis treatment and rehabilitation. The game, “Recovery Rapids”, uses an Xbox Kinect and has the patient guiding and propelling a kayak. The game also asks questions to the patients in order to track the patients progress in other everyday activities such as brushing their teeth or drinking. Developers of the game hope that it will be a cost effective and fun way for patients with M.S to do daily rehabilitation and recovery, a group whom have very few options when it comes to physical therapy option.

So why should we care about these instances of games being used for physical therapy and medical means? Is it because we’re worried that we’re potentially missing out on GOTY and that we should sneak in these facilities to play these games? No…Though, I did hear that some of these games are better than the recent Assassin’s Creed game (TAKE THAT UBISOFT!). We should care because video games are embedding themselves into facets of life that have previously been untouched by the medium. While these news pieces have more to do with field beyond Sociology, it’s important to think of the social impact that such games can have on our society. With video games becoming more than just virtual toys our perspective on them and their utility changes and they become a greater part society. HEY MAN. IT’S IMPORTANT.

As a physical therapists responding to the game being developed for young boys with Muscular Dystrophy puts it “They have to spend hours with us doing nothing that’s easy, only hard things. Looking at their faces after they play this game where they get to just play and be kids is a lot of fun to see.” That’s key. To find new ways in which video games can reach, aid, and even brighten the day of new audiences is the real reason we’re seeing this trend.  You probably shouldn’t get your hopes up for Nintendo to be diving into this market ,(Though to be fair, Wii Fit and their purposed Vitality sensor certainly do come close) it’s not unlikely that we’ll see more games used as medical tools develop.

Can Video Games Create Empathy and Awareness for Real World Issues?

NPR recently reported on a experimental Virtual reality game that attempts to create a connection between participants and a conflict happening thousands of miles away. “Project Syria”  is a project coming out of University Southern California (USC) that is utilizing virtual reality hardware to make an intimate experience that generates awareness and empathy for the civil war in Syria.  You may be saying to yourself “Hey, wait. I don’t want to play a game that puts me into a depressing scenario! I just wanna play  Animal Crossing and electronically prune trees!” but let’s open our mind up alittle, WILL YA.

You can watch a non-virtual reality demo of the game here. For those not willing to watch, the demo puts you in the middle of a town with people walking around conversing. Over the sounds of street hustle and bustle you can hear a young girl singing. Then, without warning, a bomb goes off and all sounds are immediately replaced with ringing. The town then becomes full of dust and the scene is one of tragedy and disaster.

Project Syria is one of the first virtual reality demos to be used to gain awareness for real world issues, but it certainly isn’t the first game to be designed to create awareness for an issue. In fact organizations like Games for Change  and TAKE ACTION GAMES have creating games to bring awareness to social issues for over a decade.  The game to create the biggest waves was arguably MTV’s “Darfur is Dying” released online in 2006, in which players took up the role of a family displaced by conflict in Darfur.

As they discuss in the NPR piece, Video games have the unique place in media as having the ability for more immersion than other forms. Movie goers can watch a film, create a connection to the movies character and plot, and then immediately disconnect. Video games expand those connections by giving the player choices and decisions that directly effect the character and plot, thus creating a stronger and longer lasting connection. Naturally then, video games have the ability to create great levels of empathy and awareness than other forms of media because the ties are that much stronger.

As Nonny de la Peña says in her interview with NPR “”I sometimes call Virtual reality an empathy generator….It’s astonishing to me. People all of a sudden connect to the characters in a way that they don’t when they’ve read about it in the newspaper or watched it on TV.”

Now obviously we’re probably not going to see most mainstream games take on social issues (Super Mario Syrian Crisis isn’t a title we’ll see anytime soon), but as game technology develop more and more we’ll definitely see video games used as social teaching devices, which is something we’re already seeing in schools. The question then becomes how and when we should use video games as tools for social change effectively, and that answer isn’t exactly clear yet.

Let me know what you think: Are video games good tools for social change? What experiences have you had? Are the tools of the future for creating empathy? Do you want to crowdfund “Super Mario Syrian Crisis”?

A Threat Against Sarkeesian Should Be Seen as A Threat To The Entire Gaming Community

This week Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a speech at Utah College after the school received a threat of a mass shooting if Sarkeesian was allowed to speak. The school decided to go ahead with the speech after consulting law enforcement officials, but Sarkeesian decided to cancel the speech after learning that students with a valid concealed arms permit would be allowed to openly carry concealed weapons during the presentation, as is allowed by law.

Let’s glance over the fact that the school had to legally allow people with weapons to attend the speech after threats claimed that the proposed shooting would be the “deadliest school shooting in American history” because open carry laws are  horrendously backwards and ridiculous. The treatment that Sarkeesian is receiving is the issue I wish to focus on in this post.  Of course the person making these threats against Sarkeesian doesn’t represent the gaming community nor those who disagree with Sarkeesian’s videos and opinions, but it does represent an greater issue in the community as a whole.  Sarkeesian, whose videos have focused on reoccurring themes in video games that dehumanize and trivialize women, is an academic, proponent, and a member of the video game community. Threats, violence, and dismissal are no ways to respond to those with opinions and perspectives that we don’t share. The amount of backlash and vile given from people in the gaming community towards Sarkeesian and other video game academics who seek to challenge the norm has been absolutely unsettling and unwarranted.  Death threats aside, we as a gaming community should not stand for name calling, dismissals of opinions without proper argument, or anything of the sort. We need to show to the community and the world that these types of threats and acts are NOT OKAY. A great portion of the world still sees the gaming community as one that is  uneducated, and childish; we need to show them that we are not.. We need to stand up for those who are attacked, regardless of if we agree with their perspective or not. An attack on Sarkeesian should be seen as an attack on the gaming community. If free speech and the conversing on differing ideas and perspectives can’t be allowed in our community then we all suffer. The gaming community needs to come together on this issue or face losing the blossoming diversity we have cultivated in recent years.

Sarkeesian’s Website

University Recognizes Video Games as a Varsity Sports

Robert Morris University has become the first University to recognize  competitive video games as a varsity sports. Does this mean we’ll soon see stadiums full of crowds cheering on a game of “Blades of Steel”?

FINISH HIM!

Probably not. Robert Morris University, a non-profit university in Chicago, is offering a scholarship under their athletic division for competitive “League of Legends” players. The scholarship, which cover roughly half the cost of tuition and board, is being offered to potential students.  The team will play other competitive teams from around the country in hopes of making it to the North American Collegiate Championship, where participants can earn up to 30,000 in scholarships. This isn’t the first team we’ve seen come out of a University, as many big name university have teams, but it’s the first time we’re seeing scholarship money and athletic recognition given to a competitive gaming team. While the scholarship is currently only for competitive League of Legends players, it’s not unreasonable that one day we’ll see that expanded out to other games and genres. Although don’t hold your breath, competitive “Diddy Kong Racing” players.

The competitive gaming scene has been widely developing in the past years, and it’s no longer just introverted gamers watching on Twitch at home. Competitive gaming even has its own structured league with  Major League Gaming (MLG). Competitive video game sports athletes have made entire living off their game playing, including by getting sponsorships from companies. It’s big stuff, and if this recognition of gaming as an athletic sport is any indication of the scene’s trajectory it’s likely to keep on growing. Of course the scene also has its naysayers, including ESPN’s president John Skipper who said video games weren’t a sport.

It’s a competition, right? I mean, chess is a competition, and checkers is a competition. … I’m mostly interested in doing real sports.

Thanks for your insight, Skipper!

He went onto say that he didn’t think a hoagie was a sandwich, frozen yogurt isn’t ice cream, and margarine isn’t butter.

Who knows where we’ll see competitive gaming go from here. Unlike traditional sports, it’s not a singular activity; with so many types of games out there that range in how you play who knows how video games will fall into the ranks of competitive gaming. Nevertheless,  video games are developing as a social activity in new ways and becoming a bigger part of our society.

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.