Video Game Dev. to Show Consequences of Guns in Game

Video Game Dev. to Show Consequences of Guns in Game

Anyone who has played a video game has most likely fired an in game gun. From Megabusters to in-game replicas of real life guns, shooting has become a mainstay in video games. However, not many video games show the real consequences of gun usage besides “splat, there goes his head”. This is where this project comes in. The game, tentatively called Gun Factory, hopes to show players how and where guns are made, as well shown them  the unforeseen consequences of overproduction of guns has on a global scale. Hopefully you’re not asleep yet.

Being developed by a summer program at Concordia University, the game is one of four projects seeking to turn video game conventions on their head. The game puts you in charge of a factory that is manufacturing guns and then goes on to show you the consequences that over-production of guns causes globally. This is an attempt to educate gamers on the real consequences that guns have on the world. It’s a novel idea, as video games and guns have a very confusing history:

Things Video Games have taught players through the ages:

  • 1920s: Carnival shooting galleries make kids really hate clowns and inanimate objects.
  • 1985: Duck Hunt teaches players that the only consequences of firing guns are killing birds and dogs laughing at you.
  • 1993: Yoshi Safari shows kids that riding dinosaurs and shooting guns at the same time are not incompatible.
  • 1994: Virtua Cop teaches players that emotional trauma is not a thing for hostages.
  • 2005: Shadow the Hedgehog teaches kids that small forest creatures are gun ready and willing.
  • 2007: Portal shows that guns can solve any problems, including puzzles!

“The actual idea is about how profiteering works, and it shows that as you develop more guns it doesn’t really solve the world’s problems.”

Sure they do. Hungry? Eat a gun. Too small to reach something? Fire a gun at it. Gun stuck on your other gun? Shoot it. Joking aside, this is an important idea to learn, but are video games really the right medium? The developers sure think so, but that won’t stop many gamers from either not playing the game or not knowing that it even exists.

The game follows in the footsteps of other culture awareness games like “Get Water”, a game about collecting water in areas in which water is scarce. Don’t remember that game? Probably because not many people have played it. These types of games are interesting and compelling, but not to the majority of gamers. While the article conveys that the developers are very much trying to make “fun” the backbone of the game, in a medium where most regular games don’t see many sales or plays, games like Gun Factory and Get Water are almost surely doomed.

But maybe there’s hope in festivals and showings like Games For Change, an annual festival that shows off these types of culturally aware games. Games featured on their website include “Priviledge: The Game of Economic Inequality” and “NarcoGuerra” a game in which you play as the Mexican authorities trying to break-up the drugwar. Clearly these games aren’t Mario and Halo, but perhaps they’re fun (I haven’t tried them out).

With Gun control being a hot-button issue for most Americans, it’s unlikely that games like Gun Factory are going to sway anyone’s opinion, but certainly it might educate gamers on a lesser side of guns’ effects. And hey, people conveying social issues through video games is a neat idea- It worked for Katamari Damacy teaching about waste control, and Harvest Moon for agricultural studies.

Study Tries to Tie Video Games to Risky Behavior, Does So Poorly

Study Tries to Tie Video Games to Risky Behavior, Does So Poorly

A New study by a German research team wants to make you believe that playing video games will increase your likelihood of preforming risky behavior. This is it boys and girls: the definitive piece of research to tell you once and for all that video games are bad for you and are going to turn you to a life of crime….Or maybe it’s a poorly conducted experiment making wild assumptions based on very little findings.

So what’s this study all about? Let’s take a look from the study’s abstract (I’m not going to buy the PDF only for the purpose of ridicule, that would be silly)

The present study investigated whether the consumption of risk-glorifying video games increases health-related risk-taking in real life. Participants were assigned to 1 of 2 conditions, whereby they either played a risk-glorifying video racing game or a risk-neutral video game for 25 minutes. Afterward, they were given the option of a saliva test in the context of a medical checkup.

So, the goal of this study is to see if playing certain types of video games makes people less likely to take a saliva test.  Let’s forget about all the rest for a moment, and ask “Why is not wanting to take a saliva test deemed risky behavior?”.ex Was not taking a useless medical test the best way for this study to convey risky behavior? Ask participants if they want to play a round of Russian Roulette, pet a chained up dog, eat at Arby’s; all of these options would of been a better determinant of risky behaviors. If given the option between taking a Saliva test from strangers who are conducting research on me and not taking a saliva test from strangers who are conducting research on me, I think I would choose the latter. Then again, maybe I’ve just been playing too many high-risk games.

Ok, ok, maybe I’m just ridiculing for the sake of ridiculing. The participants were told that the saliva test “would identify a rare but important metabolic disorder”, but participants would have to wait 20 minutes for the results.  Thus, those who didn’t take the chance to be screened were taking a risky chance. Let’s forget that some participants probably were smart enough to figure out that the study was most likely had something to do with the 25 minutes of video games they were made to play out of nowhere, is not wanting to sit around to see if you have a disorder than you most likely don’t have that risky of an action? It’s questionable.

So what did the research find?

Our data showed that exposure to risk-glorifying video games (video racing games) increases actual general health-related risk-taking behavior. That is, players of risk-glorifying video games were significantly less likely to participate in the health checkup test than players of risk-neutral games.

Sure, alright. I certainly can remember one time after playing 30 minutes of “Mario Kart Double Dash”(Most likely deemed risk-glorifying) that afterwards I felt like I was invincible. The following 24 hours was spent on a risk-taking high in which I boxed a bear and let a 4 drunken four year old drive me around while I slept on the top of the car roof. But enough about me,  if the difference between the group was enough of a change, then maybe they have something here. How many people did the study sample? Couple thousand?1000? More?

82 university students (43 women and 39 men).

ONLY 82 STUDENTS? And the sample was split between the two groups. So, each test was based on 40 or so students. That’s a ridiculously small sample size for a study seeking to make assumptions about an entire population of gamers. Even most college student research studies have more participants than that. Not to mention, if there’s one things college students hate doing it’s sitting around doing nothing. They have homework to do and beers to pong. WHY WAS THIS PUBLISHED? Oh, that’s right- because it’s a controversial issue.

What were the results?

Only 12 of the participants who played one of the racing games (risk-glorifying) agreed to take the saliva test, compared to 28 who blew it off. Among those who played the other games (risk-neutral), a majority (24) agreed to take the test, while 17 opted out.

So there you have it. 12 out of 40 (30%) taking the test compared to the 24/41 (60%) in the second group.  That’s double the percentage! But when 1 participant equals 2.5% of your population, the difference between the percentage is only really  about 10 people. 10 people is not enough to make an assumption about an entire population, it’s asinine to do so. If this study wanted to provide a legitimate hypothesis the study would have:

  1. Had a bigger sample size
  2. Conducted the experiment more than once before publishing their results or making claims.
  3. Use a sample group that isn’t homogenous.

But of course, doing studies like this is hard, and results probably won’t be as nicely round as their 82 sample group. So should we be concerned that video games are making our kids and us more risky? Not based on this study. Even if this study was conducted more effectively, the results wouldn’t necessarily mean that it’s only video games that are producing this result. One would have to ask if it’s media in general, or what other types of media bring about this change. Those questions weren’t asked.

Preserving The History of Video Games

Preserving The History of Video Games

Here’s a very interesting piece about the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG), a group seeking to preserve the history of video games.

A dress code was once strictly enforced when playing video games
A dress code was once strictly enforced when playing video games

You may be saying “Hey, that’s not that hard. Games are like..you know, collectable and what not”, but you’d be somewhat wrong. In an increasingly digital market, some video games run the risk of being lost to the ages. THE AGES.

That’s where the hardworking men and women of the ICHEG come in; they’re preserving, recording, and watching as video game history unfolds.

So what does preserving the history of video games even mean? Collecting a bunch of old arcade cabinets? Having a physical copy of every game ever made? Sure. A little of column A, a little of Column B. As the article points out, sheer collection isn’t enough; in fact, most collectors of old machines don’t realize that by having an old arcade collecting dust in their basement isn’t particularly good for the machine. That’s why groups like the ICHEG are collecting games in a manner closer to art museums collecting art. Preserving for the future and for personal use.

Gaming exists as a medium that could potentially see its history disappear, as cartridges and machines that games are on weren’t made to last 20+ years.  For example, kids born in the 80s and 90s are only gradually learning that their Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow, Gold/Silver’s batteries can die and erase all of their memory(NOT MY LEVEL 100 GRIMER!)

At the ICHEG, It’s more than mere collection of the games themselves, the groups seeks to maintain the theories and thoughts that went into games that made gaming history.

“This is part of our larger mission,” Dyson says. “We want to preserve design materials and media, as well as the physical products. We have Will Wright’s notes on The Sims and Spore, we have Roberta and Ken Williams’ notes on Phantasmagoria, we have a decade’s worth of notes from Ralph Baer.”

Dyson says all of these materials serve a larger purpose, to not only have a digital archive of games and related media, but the design and theory behind the entire medium as well. The ICHEG is working to have all of the notes, schematics and design documents available online to the public.

Cool. Similarly, they’re seeking to create 10-15 minute videos of all of the games they archive, to keep digital footage of what the game is about. These “sparknotes” of the games will keep an archive for future generations to at least see what “50:Cent Bullet Proof” was all about (Spoiler Alert: Shooting and Rap).

But there are bigger issues that the group is dealing with, especially given the gradual increase of downloadable games: with many developers releasing digital copies only, once the hardware they’re released on becomes outdated there will be little to no physical trace of them in the future. That’s an issue, and a big concern of people who oppose the gradual shift towards DRM. Even before DRM became an issue, certain games are were so scarcely distributed that very few copies exist of the games at all. What will become of these lost games?

Don’t believe me? Let me give you an example from a very prominent franchise. I give you the case study of, Legend of Zelda: The Ancient Stone Tablets.

Not many people know about this  game, or the other BS Zelda games that were released in a similar time frame. I’m using this one as an example, as it’s really the only “new” addition to the franchise that does not have a physical copy of the game.

Broadcasted to Stalleaview owners (A Japanese downloadable entertainment service) in 1997, the game was very much like a playable TV show with live broadcasting of voices and commentary. It was essentially a second quest to the SNES title “A Link To The Past”, but complete with a brand new storyline and new dungeon layouts.  Players could download the episode and play it in an allotted time frame, or wait for it re-air at a later date. Already sounds complicated, right? Well, the game was only re-aired a few times, which was already more times than most Stalleaview games. No physical copy of the game exists (aside from maybe somewhere in the depths of Nintendo’s archives) and the only current way to play the game is through emulation. However, even in emulation much of the music and commentary have been completely lost. Looking into such games will only lead you to want to write angry letters to Nintendo pleating for them to release more than the same 10 games on their downloadable services.

Now there may be some better games to display this point, but I just enjoy talking about this one (Link To The Past is my favorite game). Anyways, cases like this goes to show a problem: when piracy and emulation are the only means to play certain video games, what does that say for video game preservation? Whatever it says, it’s not good.

Video Game preservation is a big issue, as without proper preservation it’s one of the first mediums that we may see completely lose a lot of its history. If Video games are to stand as an justified art form and medium, it needs a rich documentation and preservation of its history.  It’s not only up to the ICHEG, it’s up to us all:

“We want to help raise awareness inside and outside of the industry,” Dyson says. “We want to stress the importance of video games and the need to preserve them. And we don’t have an endgame, an end time in all of this.”

Sorry for the geek out. I just find the ICHEG’s work really fascinating and important. Where do I sign up to be an intern?

Go check out the ICHEG’s Website!

More about LOZ: The Ancient Tablets

ESA: 2013 Data on Video game Consumption

The Entertainment Software Association, one of the foremost collectors of data on the video game industry, has released their 2013 data about video game consumption and use. It’s some pretty nifty information on gamers, their buying habits, and their make-up. In terms of sociology and video games, this is the bee’s knees (That’s a good thing, right?)

Let’s talk about some of the more interesting findings.

58% of American play video games:Look to your left, look to your right. Chances are the person sitting next to you is a gamer. This means that gamers are no longer in the minority. Like it or not, if you’re an American you’re most likely at least a little bit of a gamer. While this statistic doesn’t go into how it defines gamers, it shows that playing video games is now a hobby or activity that most Americans partake in.

45% of Gamers are female:gen Video games are no longer a boys club, unless you’re a game like “Bully”..then you kind of are. Females are increasingly making up a half of the gaming populations, which means that they are no longer a demographic developers can ignore.

Also interesting: The percent goes up a little when looking at “who buys video games more”. What this might mean is that guys, moreso that girls, pirate games more.

The Average age of a gamer is 30: Sorry kids. You’re no longer the key demographic for video games (You haven’t been for while). The average age of a gamer has gone up in recent years. Why? We’re seeing the first generation who grew up with the second wave of video game consoles growing up, and they’re the ones with disposable income.Tricks are still for kids, so take solace in that.

Card/Board Games make up most of online games played:World of War Craft who? typeCard games and other more traditional games make up the most online games played. Why? Most likely online gambling, but it is interesting. We don’t generally think of online poker or online gambling as “gaming” as there’s no real content to purchase or games to sell, but it’s definitely a big part of online gaming.

52% of Parents say that Video Games are Positive Parts of their kids lives: Contrary to a lot of the headlines that you’ll read about parents worrying that video games are negative to their children’s well being, the majority of parents believe them to be positive for their kids. Perhaps we’ll see the “VIDEO GAMES MADE MY 12 YEAR OLD PREGNANT” and “GAMES TURNED MY BABY INTO A MURDER” headlines disappear (They were never real).

Shooters/Action Games are still the most popular games:Americans like violence, and it shows in our video games. With games like Call of Duty still topping the charts, the most commonly bought video game is either a shooter or an action game. Cool story bro.

Video Games Sales are on the Decline

bout

Even though the number of gamers are growing, the sales of video games are coming down from their all time high. While this could mean it was just a burst of a bubble, other contributing factors could be the increase of mobile and free-to-play games on IOS and Android platforms.  Gamers are playing more, but spending less. This state doesn’t take into consideration the amount of money spent in game. Also, purchasing games is becoming more and more popular, most likely due to the importance of Steam and other downloadable services.

So there are some interesting facts from this year’s study. The ESA is made up of individuals from all over the gaming industries in very well known and popular gaming developers, so it’s a trusty sample of respondents coming from all over. For more stats and information about ESA, please visit their website for the complete report.

Racial differences in video game preferences

Interesting Study. I would love to know more about their methodology and findings. I don’t even know where to start to try and interpret the findings.

The TechAddiction Blog

Study finds that MMOs and FPS video games are most often associated with problematic gaming. Also, what kinds of games are preferred by different racial groups?

The finding that MMO and FPS games are more likely to be linked to problematic or unhealthy play is not unexpected given previous research.

Somewhat more interesting are the gaming habits of different ethnicities / races.

Caucasians: Role-playing and strategy games
African Americans: Sports and gambling
Latino: Platformers

The study itself presents the findings, but doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing why certain races seem to prefer certain game genres.

Given that we are talking about racial differences I know this may be asking for trouble, but why do you think this is?

Any theories on the different preferences? If you are going to comment, keep it respectful please.

Original Article: Racial Differences in Video Game Preference

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Is Nintendo Being More Gender Inclusive?

With E3 having wrapped up last week, we’re now left with the empty void of having to now wait for many of the games announced to actually come out. Of course there were a lot of headlines: Microsoft announcing ridiculous restrictions on their console, Sony relentlessly attacking Microsoft for their restrictions on their console, and then Microsoft reversing their decision on said restrictions. Fun stuff. Perhaps the least provocative at E3 was Nintendo, who chose not to do a formal E3 conference, but instead a Nintendo direct released online. While I could go on and on about what they did or didn’t announce, I’ll spare you the rant. However, one interesting thing to come out of Nintendo this year is the number of female protagonists in their showing this year.

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Of the games Nintendo Highlighted this year, most of the games featured female protagonists, or at least playable female characters. This comes as more of surprise, as many of the games with female protagonists are series that have traditionally had male protagonists only. Does this mean Nintendo is being more gender inclusive in their games? Have they heard the pleas of female gamers and well known female gaming critics like Anita Sarkeesian? Is the world going mad? SHOULD I SELL ALL MY VIDEO GAMES FOR CANNED BEANS?

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some of the games Nintendo previewed this year.

Super Mario World 3D

The newest Super Mario game to be announced, Super Mario World 3D features Princess Peach as a main playable character. This is the first time she has been playable in a mainline Mario platformer since the American Super Mario 2 on the NES in 1987, which was only a fluke because the game it was sprite swapped with “Doki Doki Panic” had a female character! Of course the game also features Mario and friends in Cat suits clawing around and meowing like cats, so…maybe they thought Peach would fit right in? The amount of furry drawings will be horrendous.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze

Returning to the franchise after being absent from Donkey Kong platformers since Donkey Kong County 3 in 1996 is Dixie Kong. She joins Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong on their second outing from Retro studios.  Fans of DKC will already know what Dixie can bring to the table, as she was the starring character in both Country 2 and 3. As long as we don’t see that creepy Baby character that occupanied Dixie in DKC3, I’ll be happy. Also, I think there’s a healthy chance we’ll see her show her face in the newest Smash Brothers.

 

Pikmin 3

One of the bigger surprises is the inclusion of a female character in Nintendo’s Pikmin 3, which will release later this summer. Up until this point the franchise had only focused on Captain Olimar (and later joined by Louie) as he charted an unknown land were he assigns tasks based on the color of the pikmin’s skin. Brittany, seen in pink,  joins Alph and Charlie on the Pikmin planet for some adventure and countless death of Pikmin at the hands of other larger animals. We’ll see how she fares in a few weeks.

Beyond these main titles, many of their other games showed look to include playable female characters, including Mario Kart Wii U, The Wonderful 101, and Super Smash Brothers X.

So there you have it. Is Nintendo turning a new leaf on their perspective on female gamers?  Either way, it’s refreshing. As many analysts and gamers pointed out, companies such as Microsoft showed no games with female protagonists this E3, so Nintendo really is out in front this year. This is kind of new for Nintendo, as Nintendo has historically been a much more old fashioned kind of developer. Yes, they have had franchises with female leads (Metroid, Drill Dozer), but for their most popular franchises like Mario and Zelda they have typically relied upon female characters that are stereotypes or cliches. Perhaps with the advent of the Wii’s popularity in recent year they now know they can no longer ignore the population of female gamers.

Conflict Minerals: Should Gamers Care?

This is an issue I didn’t know too much about until recently. I promise to try and not be preachy and only focus on the facts. More aware gamers probably can already imagine that many of their favorite consoles or games come from low-wage factories or sweatshops in foreign countries, but where the minerals that actually go into their consoles come from is a whole other step beyond that many gamers might not know. Bear with me on this one, I admit that I am not too knowledgeable on this subject (Most subjects, really) and there are countless better sources for this subject, but I thought I would share as I learn.

This issue has been getting more news recently as “Walk Free”, an anti-slavery movement, has targeted targeted Nintendo to release their policy on conflict minerals. But of course this isn’t a new issue, there has been wars waged over these conflict minerals in Africa, specifically The Democratic Republic of Congo, for years. The Playstation wars, as they were nicknamed, were/are wars waged in Africa for over a decade  over precious minerals that are used in many common electrical devices like phones, laptops, and, of course, Video game consoles. The mineral in question is Coltran, a mineral that when refined can be used to make the powder tantalum, a common product in electronics. To make matters worse, many of the miners and retrievers of these conflict minerals have been found out to be prisoners of war and children, which is at the heart of Walk Free’s movement. With so many deaths and acts against humanity surrounding these minerals consumer began to question what was in their products.

The United State has adopted a policy of encouraging American companies to not use mineral sources originating from the DRC, and recent studies have show that American companies have complied. Bringing the issue to the attention of the had an impact, as most large electronic manufacturers released policies against the usage of conflict minerals. Sony addressed issues of Conflict Minerals in their products, and their official statement on their website says

Sony shares the concern that conflict minerals might be used in the electronics industry supply chain and is taking steps to eliminate conflict minerals from the supply chain. It is Sony policy to refrain from purchasing any products, parts and materials that are known to contain conflict minerals. Suppliers are also expected to ensure that products, parts and materials delivered to Sony do not contain conflict minerals. Sony is currently formulating an appropriate framework and measures to implement this policy.
Recognizing that these issues are common across the electronics industry, Sony is also participating in the creation of an industry-wide framework, an effort spearheaded by the EICC/GeSI, to improve traceability of minerals and ensure responsible sourcing.

However, other big developers, namely the big N, have not released as formal statements or policy regard conflict minerals. In late 2012 Nintendo stated publicly

“Nintendo’s CSR Procurement Guidelines provide specific directions to our production partners regarding socially responsible procurement practices. We implemented these guidelines based on relevant laws, international standards and guidelines that focus on protecting human rights, ensuring workplace safety, promoting corporate ethics, and safeguarding the environment. These guidelines include provisions on avoiding the use of conflict minerals and the importance of investigating the source of raw materials.”

However, unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo has yet to release specific details of their policies regarding conflict minerals, which has caused groups like Walk Free to urge them to do so.sad-mario-nintendo-loss  Whether Nintendo will release such detailed reports in unknown, but it certainly is an issue that has plagued the gaming industry for sometime. With a whole new generation of consoles on there way, activist groups like Walk Free have their eyes on big companies like Nintendo and Sony more than ever. In making our companies socially responsible we take a step towards ensuring better practices world wide, but certainly to end conflict over minerals and the usage of forced labor will require far more than companies enacting policies.

That’s all back story that a good portion of gamers probably don’t know. Should they? Or should we just have faith in our gaming companies to enact policies that are fair? Should we even be bothered if these minerals are in our video games? There’s no easy answers for questions like these, as the balance between cheap consumer goods and fair treatment across the globe is joined together. Many Americans choose to ignore or remain ignorant of where their goods come from, and often with viable reasons. It’s not an easy situation with black and white answers, and I certainly don’t claim to have any answers. However, certainly by knowing the issues and being better informed we become better individuals and better consumer of games.

I hope this was worthwhile, even if you already knew all of this information. I learned some stuff, so I’m content.

Here are some links for further information:

Walk Free’s “Slavery is not a game campaign”

Raise Hope for the Congo

Can Video Games Help Kids Read Classic Books?

Can Video Games Help Kids Read Classic Books?

Probably not, but the people at Amplify have invested a pretty penny in the hope that they can! This article was posted today on USAToday and it asks the question whether video games can motivate kids to read classic books like Alice and Wonderland or Frankenstein. Evidently, kids aren’t reading the classics anymore and are instead off listening to their rap music, playing a shim sham, or twirling a tire (Or whatever kids do).

At risk, my friends, is our future. I don’t think I have to tell you, but if kids don’t read the classics then our society will fall into a hellish landscape of deviancy and  stupidity. At first it’s the classics they don’t read, then its your Miranda rights, and lastly it’s the label on the bottle of poison that says “do not drink”. Anarchy and hellfire will take hold and WE’LL ALL BE DOOMED because the kids didn’t read Moby Dick.

Games like “Alice: Madness Returns” have already attempted to make learning the tales of classic games fun, by making them exceedingly violent and full of hacking and slashing

That of course is the most likeliest of outcomes. To offset this inevitable demise, Amplify has created “Lexica”, which the article describes as:

massive role-playing game for young teens that invites them to interact with characters from great novels and read the books outside of class if they want to get ahead in the game

Sounds riveting. The game’s world is apparently one in which the worlds books are being safeguarded from the dullards of the world so that no one can read them. Characters from the classics book escape from the books to seek help and seek out players to read them. Literary types are the most needy. It’s then up to players to assist the characters by reading books outside of the game. Players will be reward with in game rewards such as abilities and items. Sounds like a novel idea (HA HA!), but what’s going to motive these kids to play this game?

“The Evil Empire, as it were, believes that you’re not smart enough and you’re not good enough,” he says. “You’re certainly not good enough to write something yourself, because only great writers can be the ones who create books. And, in fact, you probably shouldn’t even be reading these things, because you’re not smart enough.”

Oh. The game actively tells you that you’re not good enough, and that’s supposed to motivate kids to prove them wrong. What about the kids that don’t? They’ll just be defeated and forever cast into a life of stupidity? Negative reinforcement is the best way to motive kids!

Will this work? I’m skeptical. Lexica certainly wouldn’t be the first educational game designed to teach kids classic literature, in fact there’s been plenty of titles attempting to do so throughout gaming history. What the developers of the game intend to do is make the game apart of school’s curriculum, but if no one adopts the game then it’ll most likely never see the light of day. Teenagers aren’t morons. They’ll know when they’re being tricked into reading books, and they don’t need video games to persuade them to do so.  The bigger question is “Is there a need?” Every generation worries that the next is lacking skills or knowledge that they hold dear, but it’s never really the case. TV was marked as an indicator that kids would eventually lose interest in reading and that our kids were in trouble. It didn’t stop kids from reading, and neither will video games.

Sony’s Wonderbook hoped to make reading fun! It flopped!

“The main educational goal is to get kids to be doing more reading of an ambitious sort outside the classroom. Kids today probably read more words than ever before, but they’re tweets or text messages from each other. This is to try to get them to do something which they’re not doing as part of their daily habits, which is reading books of a reasonably ambitious sort.”

Or to sell more tablets. While Amplify seems pretty noble in their journey to save the classic for kids, they’re really just pushing software and products. The article goes on to tell about Amplify’s new tablet that they have just released for a cheap $349 with a two year subscription. Certainly, if they were more motivated by teaching kids the classics they wouldn’t make their program for a tablet that is overpriced to only the most affluent of families.

What this article really gets at is that video games are increasingly being used as tools of education and socialization. They’re teaching our kids and engaging them in ways that weren’t before possible. While it’s unclear weather games like Lexica are the future of this socialization and education through video games is unclear, but certainly they’re a stab at it.

But maybe I’m too pessimistic. Maybe we should be looking to video games to help educating our kids. I had educational video games that I played when I was younger, and my favorite part of computer class was playing Sticky Bear, but I don’t know how much they really aided in my education. That said, video games in general probably did help me develop essential reading skills when I was a kid. Games that were text heavy like Legend of Zelda or Pokemon probably further developed my reading and comprehension skills, and today’s youth certainly seem to have a thing for playing tablet games at a young age, so perhaps it’s not so farfetched. However, I just highly doubt we’ll look back on Lexica as a tool of education that turned thousands of kids onto classic literature. Prove me wrong Amplify.

Animal Crossing: Life Lessons

I’ve been playing a lot of animal crossing. I mean, more than is healthy to play. Something about being in debt to a raccoon just seems so much more fun than being in debt to a university. During one particular long play session reality and the game began to blend into one; no longer could I tell if it was my soulless eyed character or I who was selling butterflies to a poodle and writing berating letters to a cat for constantly asking me to do trivial chores. It was then that I took an unbridled look at the world of Animal crossing; I saw it for what it was, and how it compared to the dull world that I actually inhabited. Upon waking from my haze a day had passed and I found myself in a dog kennel requesting a haircut and a song. I quickly raced home to transcribe what I had learned from the experience, and so this is what I bring to you today: Life lessons from Animal Crossing.

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DEBT MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND

The first thing you learn upon entering the animal crossing world is that nothing comes for free. Before you have time to ask the questions “Where am I?”, “Why did I come to this place with absolutely no money and motive?” and ‘WHERE IS MY SOUL!?” you’re immediately thrust into a contract with one Tom Nook. You better get used to this Raccoon, because he owns you. Everything you do in your town goes through the Nook family (So much for being Mayor). If the above box art wanted to be anymore accurate to the game, there would be a large translucent Tom Nook in the sky laughing manically while looking down upon the town that crumbles at his whim.  Tom Nook has what you need: somewhere to live and the tools required to live. He starts small of course, giving you a measly single room home with room for little more than a bed and a light, but he plays on your own greed, roping you into contracts for bigger and grander houses until you’re his slave. It’s then that your  play time is consumed by fishing and bug catching just to pay back your immense debt to the Nook family.

This sound silly, but that is animal crossing in a nutshell: a cutesy debt simulator fueled by the labor of fishing. If you had to learn one lesson from Animal Crossing it’s that life is about owing others. But hey, that’s not a bad lessons to learn, especially if you’re young. Animal Crossing in some ways teaches fiscal responsibility to children. While Bells are certainly easier to come by than dollars, at least Animal Crossing is teaching kids that they’ll have to work for their money. Is it instilling a strong work ethic? No, probably not, but at least it’s an ethic. It’s only if we start seeing the next generation of kids become really into pawning anything and everything that we should  be concerned.

WANT BIGGER AND BETTER

Of course Animal Crossing also plays on the heart of capitalism, acquiring more wealth and possessions, but it’s all so adorable and silly that you forget that you’re essentially doing what you’re doing in the real world (Most likely minus the fishing). Multiple stores, new items everyday, and a year wide system of changing aspects makes your town an ever changing world, so it’s inevitable that you’re house’s design will go through multiple make overs. Making your house bigger and better is the essential goal of Animal Crossing, and with the addition of wi-fi play you’re no longer doing it for yourself. You can visit and compete with players around the world to see who has the most elaborate and coolest towns.  The most recent title, New Leaf, even lets you live out the fantasy of being a looter in someone’s town. That said, it’s fun. Unlike in the real world, Animal Crossing has a lot more immediate gratification than the real world- You like that cactus with a happy face but don’t have the Bells to buy it? Go fish for 20 minutes. It takes all the mundane parts of accumulation speeds them up and makes them less boring.

You can also be somewhat charitable in the world of animal crossing by donating items to your local museum, but the Owl who runs it is an ingrate who sleeps all day.

Kindness is Key

Although you have ulterior motives in your town, the game very much rewards kindness. Whether your helping out your neighbor by finding him a peach or making your town’s satisfaction higher by composing a new town melody, a big theme in the game is to make others happy. It shows, as the world of Animal crossing is a harmonious world where all types of animals live together under one town. The alligator resident isn’t ripping into the cat resident and there are no major fights over property: it’s a nice world. These acts of kindness make for a good lesson: be nice and play nice, and maybe you’ll be rewarded. Sure, you can also be a terrible villager and axe all of the trees and let your town go to ruin, but that would make for a pretty dull gameplay experience.

However, we don’t know much about what goes on beyond the walls of your town. Perhaps constant war? Famine and disease? Maybe your town is a controlled society in a larger world devastated by war? For more conspiracies about the Animal Crossing world, please read my book “Animal Crossing: The Lies of Tom Nook”.

Other quick lessons:

  • The land provides, and what the land provides will make bank.
  • Animals are sometimes really petty.
  • Not Saving is like committing an unspeakable crime.
  • New fossils appear in the ground every day.
  • Animals are living breathing things that should be treated as such. Not bugs or fish though; capture them and put them in cages.
  • Fishing is the most valuable skill ever.

So there you have it, some life lessons from the world of Animal Crossing. Take them as you like, whether its to your normal life or to your life in your Animal Crossing town. Perhaps one day, when games and virtual reality become one,  we’ll be able to owe Tom Nook huge amounts of money for real. Wouldn’t that be paradise….

Study Shows Parents Are More Positive about Media Use, But Not Video Games

Study Shows Parents Are More Positive about Media Use, But Not Video Games

Northwestern University published this report last about parents’ attitudes towards media use for their children. Exciting stuff! Well, maybe not so. However, it’s worth a read because the study finds shows some interesting insights about changing attitudes towards media.

“hehe! We were told to each wear a different bright color!”

tl dr: The study finds that today’s parents have much more positive attitudes about allowing their kids to consume media than in past years. A majority of parents are not weary of letting their children consume most types of media, as they’re not worried that their kids will become addicted and have to spend their lives as circus folks ( I may be assuming the latter).

With the exception of video games, parents think more positively than negatively about the impact of media (including TV, computers and mobile devices) on children’s reading and math skills, and their creativity.

Math skills are a stretch, but this fact shows an interesting trend: today’s parents, who grew up with computers, TV and other forms of media are less weary of these mediums because of it. What didn’t get them won’t get their kids, right? Meh. That said, the study still finds that traditional forms of family activities still reign predominant in most house holds. Also, interestingly the number of households the article deem ” Media centric” and Media Moderate” is considerably higher than those deemed “Media-light” (Media-Light sounds like a milk substitute). What this could mean is that, while parents may say traditional forms of family bonding are at the heart of their family activities, it could very well be that media plays a far bigger role than they would like admit.

However, what is most relevant about this study to sociology and video games is that parents, despite this positive trend towards media, are still relatively negative about video game use for this kids.

Parents view video games more negatively than TV, computers or mobile devices. Parents rated video games as more likely to have a negative effect on children’s academic skills, attention span, creativity, social skills, behavior and sleep than any other medium.

Peachy. The study doesn’t say if this is a improvement upon previous studies or not, but we’ll just focus on this negativity. The concerns come mostly from parents worrying that video games will effect their children’s physical activity, though that seemingly isn’t a concern for the other forms of media (Surfing the net sounds physical!). These are valid concerns, granted, but should we be more weary of video games than other forms of media on our kids physical activity? Probably not, but it’s an easy target. Likewise, concerns of effects on academic skills, creativity, and attention span are questionable in comparison to other media. With such an array of video games out there, and especially with the amount of video games being created to push creativity and education in young children, it’s hard for me to believe that video games are more destructive to a children’s attention span, intelligence, and creativity than television or the computer.

If video games are to become more widely accepted as tools of socialization, parents needs to be aware of their values and the options they offer. With research and proper insight, parents can choose video games that promote health values in children. Not all children games are angry birds (I loathe Angry birds) or run of the mill cartoon tie ins, so games challenge kids to think out side of the box and inspire them to be more creative. Being a product of growing up with video games myself, I honestly believe games made me more creative and analytical. Games like Zelda taught me to examine my surroundings and think beyond what I can see, while games like Mario Paint inspired me to be more creative than I could be with mere paper and pen. …And Duck Hunt taught me hunt duck, but that’s besides the point. The point is, video games aren’t the menace they’re often made out to be. Like TV and other forms of media, what you get out of a video game comes down to your selection.

Lastly, the study was of 2300 parents. That’s a decent sample size, but it’s not huge. As a result, we have to question whether this represents parents as whole. Likewise, the study did not say how their results were gathered or how they chose their sample size; all good questions to ask if we’re choosing this study to represent a population.