Presentation at The Pacific Sociological Association’s Annual Conference

I’ll be presenting my research “No Skin=No Skill: Reproduction of Toxic Masculinity and Capitalist Hierarchy in Free-To-Play Battle Royale Video Games” at the Pacific Sociological Association’s annual conference on March 29th in Oakland, CA. I’m excited to meet with other sociologists and for the discussion the panel I’m presenting on creates around video game’s place as an area of sociological inquiry.

I’ll also be presenting this research in April at the Southern Sociological Society’s annual conference in Atlanta, GA. More details about that presentation to come.

BBC’s The Women Challenging Sexism in E-Sports

A quick one to share today:

Apart of their 100 Women of 2016 series, a series of videos and articles about influential women in varying industries, the BBC has put together a video and accompanying piece about women in the world of competitive gaming.

Stephanie Harvey and Julia Kiran, two of the most prominent female gamers in the world of competitive gaming, speak out about the challenges they have had to overcome and the hurdles that still exist in the gaming industry.  Issues of pay gap between males and females and consistent harassment plague the industry, so it’s great to see issues brought up.

Documentary Review: Man Vs. Snake

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I had the chance to watch Man Vs. Snake, now streaming on Netflix, which tells the tale of the Nibbler world record holder. Like King of Kong before it, the movie  delves deep into the community of world-record arcade gaming and even brings out many of the characters at the forefront of King of Kong. I mention King of Kong because there’s undeniably no way this film wouldn’t be compared to it; it features a strikingly similar arc of individuals trying to achieve the high score of a old video game they once had high success with in their youth. Despite the comparison,  Man Vs. Snake actually tells its core tale more effectively than King of Kong; the story of Tim McVey trying to achieve the world record is one of constant struggle and hardships, and you get a genuine sense of McVey, his wife, and his life. That said, it perhaps isn’t quite as memorable as King of Kong, which was made extremely memorable by dynamic between Steve Weibe and Billy Mitchell and the absurdity of aspects of the community. For better or worse, Man Vs. Snake really puts its players at the forefront to make it a more human interest sort of documentary, which in this goal it succeeds in strides. McVey, who throughout the movie says he’s trying to expand the notoriety of Nibbler, comes off as an underdog trying to reclaim his early glory. Unlike Kong, the community comes off as much more unified and welcoming; with competitors not having the antagonistic relationships as much. Even Dwayne Richard, who in some ways plays the Billy Mitchell role in this film, comes off as supportive, even when he is faced with the controversy of perhaps rigging his record.

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What really is socially fascinating, for me at least, in both Man Vs. Snake and King of Kong are the communities built around these aged machines. World records of 30+ old video games aren’t typically the first thing you think about when you imagine communal gaming, but such movies speak to their power to bring people together and form bonds. One of the best moments of the movie comes in its final moments when Walter Day, whom has become a name synonymous with world record gaming, speaks to the power of video games:

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“Video Games were just the device. It could have been all sorts of other things, but it happened to be video games… Video Games are like a superficial thing, it really was the essence of life challenging them, putting them at the forefront, making them have to go deep within, and really flower and pull out their own inner qualities and really decide what type of person they’re going to be”

All in all, it’s a fun and interesting enough documentary to fill your time. If you’re interested in gaming or have no prior knowledge of world record community I’d recommend giving it a shot.

 

This Day in Gaming History: Nintendo’s Legend

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30 years ago on February 21st 1986, The Legend of Zelda released on the Nintendo Famicom Disk System in Japan. This original title in the long running Legend of Zelda franchise has had tremendous effect on shaping our modern day gaming culture and climate. Easily the most influential game in establishing conventions for subsequent adventure games, the franchise has revolutionized the gaming industry multiple times and it all started with this singular game.

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What made this game so special?

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The Legend Of Zelda wasn’t the first adventure game by any means, and the game even draws significant influence from its predecessors such as Adventure for the Atari 2600, but what makes the game stand out is that it’s an amalgamation of what came before it. When Shigeru Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo began developing this game in 1985, they drew inspiration for various popular genres at the time, including puzzle and RPG games, and also from Miyamoto’s own personal experience of exploring . The game combines all these elements in a way that hadn’t been done previously and even paved the way for games outside of its genre to gain popularity on home consoles. The result is an approachable game that allows the gamer to explore a digital world  with very little direction or hand holding along the way. This approach of giving the player very little hint as to where to go and how to progress the game was a new approach for Nintendo, one that many of Nintendo’s employees felt was a gamble. With resolve, Miyamoto and his team stuck by their decision to keep the game vague and free of clear direction, desiring a true exploratory experience and with a hope that the game would develop a community.

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Nintendo’s gambles paid off in ways they might not have expected. The Legend of Zelda became a word-of-mouth legend. Players would share hand drawn maps, secrets they discovered in the game, or notes on how to defeat a difficult enemy.  The game represented a true novelty in the gaming community: a game that bred discussion and sharing to discover everything it held. Beyond its sheer gameplay innovations, this aspect of the Legend of Zelda I believe is what makes it a true classic in gaming history and what make it the most relevant to the sociology of video games; it truly was one of the first games to promote social elements and cooperative sharing, elements that are now mainstays in the modern video game industry.

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I can’t hide my personal bias, I love the game and the franchise. Admittedly, I have never beat the original game; I’ve only ever tried to beat it without the usage of guides and each time I’ve become lost several dungeons in. Despite this, I believe it stands as being an amazing game in its design and layout. It marvels me as to how both this and the original Super Mario were released within a year of each other, both of which were miles ahead of anything else on a home console at the time. With this year marking the 30th anniversary of the franchise, one can only hope that Nintendo delivers on their promise to release another innovative, immersive experience with Zelda Wii U (If it actually comes out this year).

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FBI Releases Anti-ISIS Propaganda Video Game

There’s been a lot of strange games released for all sorts of peculiar reasons: PETA’s anti-Animal Abuse Pokemon game and Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 come to mind as two particularly strange games with questionable motives. However, these games  fail in comparison to a new game released by the FBI. That’s right, the FBI. Allow yourself to take that in for a second: The United States Federal Bureau of Investigations has created a game and it’s just terrible.

I present to you: Slippery Slope, an anti-ISIS propaganda flash game meant to dissuade youths from falling into the trap of logic leading to violent extremism.

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The game is apart of the FBI’s “Don’t Be a Puppet” initiative, which is an online effort to educate impressionable youths about the dangers of extremism and warn them about the potential realities of such beliefs, including perpetrating hateful attacks based on race or religion. The program is meant to encourage teens to think for themselves and deploy skepticism and  practicality when coming across extremist ideas and rhetoric.

Let’s pretend for a second that this game is necessary and not a vapid attempt from an out of touch agency trying to  reach kids through patronizing means, how does the FBI intend to convey such a delicate and difficult message to kids? With Goats and explosions of course!

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Minecraft is popular right? Just put a goat and radical text in there. Boom!

Included in the Don’t Be A Puppet’s interactive basement, the game is meant to be a original gameboy game entitled “The Adventures of Poonikins” starring the titular Poonikins, a goat who is apparently struggling with extremist beliefs. Design wise, it has a relatively simple  gameplay design: players control  Poonikins  while avoiding green walls as he traverses a vast green pasture attempting to make it to each of the game’s 6 finish lines. If Poonikins is to run into one of the green walls, he explodes instantaneously into various small blocks; a horrifying death for a confused goat. Upon passing a finish line and completing a level, the game displays “distorted logic text”, giving impressionable teens examples of harmful rhetoric.  Just on a purely  analysis of the game as a video game, Slippery Slope’s biggest problem lies in its horrendously touchy controls and it’s almost laughable difficulty; a tap of either arrow will send Poonikins flying faster than you can say, well, Poonikins. It’s just simply not well designed, featuring gameplay elements that feel like they would  fee stale even on  something like the Magnovx Odyssey.

Of course the greatest question is: What the hell does a goat avoiding walls and exploding have to do with radical extremism?  This game doesn’t convey any meaningful message in any way, if anything it just distracts from the initiatives overall message by being strange and absurd. Why is the goat’s name Poonikins? Does the FBI think Goats explode when touching green walls?  The Goat is a terrorist, is that whats going on? There are so many baffling questions unanswered by this one’s Goat dangerous descent into extremism.

So why am I bringing this up? What could this terrible game with questionable motives have to with sociology? On this blog I like to point out new ways video games are being implemented in our society, from usages in medical rehabilitation to being used as a means to weed out job candidates. These new implementations speak to how ingrained video games have become in our society; they are permeating into all aspects of society, giving us new ways to interact and carry about our regular lives. The FBI creating a video game with the intent purpose of educating youths is a pretty remarkable action, exemplifying society’s gradual shift towards an acceptance of the medium as a powerful tool in education. We’ve come to the point where video games, for better or worse, are transcending the the typical gaming conventions and being used for new and unique way every week. The FBI’s Slippery Slope may be an example of a poor harnessing of the power of the mediums ability to do more, but  it’s a novel one at the very least.

Still, it’s hard not come away from playing this game without feeling dirty.  If this game is the latest tool in counter terroism that the FBI can offer, maybe we need to rethink some things.

Play the Game For Yourself Here!

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Square Enix Teams With Pacer to Stop Bullying

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Square Enix announced a partnership with the Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER) to enact an anti-bullying initiative.  Starting on January 13th, Square Enix will donate towards PACER’s national Bullying Prevention Center for every tweet of #EveryDayHeroes they receive this week, a hashtag inspired by the game “Life is Strange”.

Join our cause by sharing your own #EverydayHeroes moments. Tell us a story about how you overcame adversity, stood up for what’s right, or helped a friend in need. For every post using the hashtag #EverydayHeroes from January 13 to January 19th, Square Enix will make a donation to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Share your story today, and give help to those who need it

Life is Strange is a 2015 title that tackles the theme of bullying, allowing the player to weigh in and progress the plot through choices that will shape the game and ending. The game, which has been awarded game of the year by several media outlets, is receiving a physical release this week, but is currently available on most major platforms.

You can watch Square’s promotional video to kick off the event here

Life is Strange is a perfect example of video games can be used to tackle real world problems and issues, and it’s refreshing to see a big corporation like Square-Enix partner with organizations trying to instill real change in the world. If you’re on twitter, please tweet the hashtag #EveryDayHeroes. It’ll take two seconds.

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.

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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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Operation Supply Drop: A Charity Making A Difference Through Games

A quick one today about Operation Supply Drop, a charity organization that is changing the lives of veterans and currently serving men and women in arms.

Before I write anything I should note that Venturebeat has a great piece about how the charity is helping Veterans with life after service that you should read instead whatever I’m going to write here.

Still with me? Alright, I’ll give you a little information about the organization myself. OSD’s mission is pretty simple:  to “Make Fun Where There is None”. By providing games and entertainment to currently deployed men and women, the charity looks to make a difference in the lives of those that are activity trying to make a difference around the world. Giving these men and women video games is giving them an escape or diversion from what is often a lonely and hard situation. Games can brighten their days in countless ways, from giving them a piece of their regular lives back to connecting with friends and family from across the world. It’s pretty damn awesome what giving someone a video game can do.

OSD also does significant work for those who have returned from war:  the charity facilitates online and offline communities for veterans that have returned home to give them a network of friends and fellow veterans, creates networks for veterans seeking to get into the video game industry, provides financial support and scholarships for veterans to attend school for programming and game design, and more.  Pretty amazing stuff coming from people who first hand experienced how gaming changed their lives during deployment.

Organizations like OSD show that games be used as tools for social change. Everyday we’re finding out more utilities for gaming, ones that we wouldn’t had imagine years ago. Video games are truly augmenting our daily lives in more ways than ever before.

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Crowdfunding and Shenmue 3: Where We Are and What It Means

A couple years back I wrote an article about how Crowdfunding was increasingly a route for independent developers to use to jump start and create their passion products. I asked the question as to when we would see bigger developers and franchises turn towards crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe to revive beloved franchises that didn’t receive the financial response they needed to secure sequels. Well, that’s happened. The dream is real, and Shenmue 3 is now something that will be made.

qO727H4I could gush on for hours on why I am excited about Shenmue 3, but I won’t. The game’s announcement, however, has some historical importance I believe should be discussed. The game represents a shift in the gaming industry that may change how certain developers gain funds and support for titles. Yu Suzuki tentatively “announced” Shenmue 3 at the Sony E3 conference to gauge support for the game. Obviously support and interest was  there, as the 2 million goal was reached in less than 10 hours.  Once reached, backers (specifically Sony) agreed to contribute support to the game to ensure its development. Not only was it the fastest funded video game project yet, it looks like it may be the highest funded one when it concludes.

Why does this matter to sociology? With games like Shenmue 3, Yooka-Laylee, and the Mighty Number 9, developers have options to create games that may not otherwise  be made. Not only that, but with fans being a major force in backing the game the game really becomes by the fans for the fans. Yu Suzuki has stated that he will involve fans in numerous ways  during the development, including even potentially having major donors be characters or voices inside the game. This form of development creates a unique exchange between developer and fans and links the two more prominently than ever before. In doing so, this relationship between fans and developers creates a community around the game that may lead to a strengthening in development and experience. This community and exchange between developers and fans is a sociologically interesting one because it dramatically changes how we view and interact with the game’s we play.  Games and gaming developers are no longer entities that exist outside of the reach of gamers; we are all now apart of the process.Obviously we’re at the start of this process, but the prospects are quite exciting.

Beyond development, Shenmue 3 proves that a niche crowd in gaming, one that is vocal and proactive enough, can make their desires reality. That’s an important shift in gaming, one that can inspire other passion projects or long awaited sequels to see the light of day.

So, let’s start out on this new journey of an era in which no game’s development is out of the question.

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WATCH THE ANNOUNCEMENT VIDEO HERE!

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.