Reality is a Game

Game thinking from Adam Clare

Category: Psychology(Page 1 of 11)

Violence In Video Games – Not Bad For People

Time for some good news about violence in video games!

thanks-economist

I bet you didn’t expect this, but here are three recent discoveries about the use of violence in games.

First, an international research team from the USA and Canada found that by playing a game together we can change attitudes of players towards others. They had people kill zombies with someone who the player thought was from the States (and in the USA they thought they were playing with a Canadian).

The research concluded that having people play with someone they thought was from another country increased player’s opinion of people from said country.

Participants were asked how they felt about a variety of different social groups both before and after playing the game. Those who were told they were playing with an American reported more positive feelings about people from that country after playing.

Paul Adachi, a PhD candidate at Brock and the study’s lead author, says video games are good tool to set up experiments and study real-world psychological phenomena.

That quote is from this article and you can read Brock University’s press release.

I’m not clear why the researchers picked a violent game though. I assume you would get similar results with any cooperative game regardless of violence.

trains vs zombie

The second neat thing about game violence is that despite the rise of violent games actual crime has decreased. Hopefully this recent study will put to bed the myth that violent games cause people to be more violent.

Focusing on video game violence, Ferguson used the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to determine the violent content for the most popular video games between 1996 and 2011. Federal data on youth violence during the same time period was compared to ESRB-estimated violence content. Violent content in the most popular video games during these years was associated with a drop in youth violence. Ferguson stressed that this decline in youth violence was most likely by chance and not directly related to video game violence.

Finally, there is another new study suggests violent video games improve moral behaviour.

Led by Matthew Grizzard, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, and co-authored by researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Texas, this new study suggests that being bad in video games can lead players to think more about their real-life actions.

“Rather than leading players to become less moral, this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity,” says Grizzard. “This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others.”

One reason I think it’s inportant to tackle issues around violence and video games is that educators and parents are worried about gaming in education as a result. So this research is good for all of us.

It’s all good news considering games are the future of education.

Emotion Sensing For Future Games

I’ve explored mindreading to enhance a game before and I like to stay up to date on what’s going on. This year we should be seeing more and more games using consumer EEG machines or other wearable technology that allows us to get a glimpse of what’s happening in people’s minds.

The Muse headband continues to be the best looking device, but on the experimental side there are some nifty new products.

This mindreading helmet records your stress level while you’re engaged in helmet-wearining activity like riding a bike. On it’s own, it’s not that novel since one can do the same measurements with existing head sensors. The useful part of MindRider is that it can be used to collect data on mass while not be an inconvenience to wear since you’re already wearing a helmet. FastCompany adds this informative bit of knowledge into the mix:

Cyclists use the feedback in different ways. “Most of our avid commuters are most interested in the mindfulness or relaxation aspect of MindRider,” says Ducao. “New cyclists are most interested how the high focus aspect–the red part of the spectrum–can help them know where to be more cautious.”

But the data may be most useful as it’s aggregated. Anyone with the helmet can opt to share it anonymously online, so everyone’s experience can be merged in an up-to-the-minute map showing exactly how a particular route will make you feel.

Sadly, their recent (and ambitious!) Kickstarter failed.

Don’t give up hope though!

While not a mindreader like the tools above, this experimental controller can sense emotions.

McCall added a 3-D printed plastic module packed with sensors to an Xbox 360 controller. Small metal pads on the controller’s surface measure the user’s heart rate, blood flow, the rate of breath, and how deeply the user is breathing. A light-operated sensor gives a second heart rate measurement, and accelerometers measure how frantically the person is shaking the controller.

Meanwhile, custom-built software gauges the intensity of the game, in this case, a simple but fast-paced racing game in which the player must drive over colored tiles in a particular sequence.

McCall can then compare all this data to generate an overall picture of the player’s level of mental engagement, which can be used to alter the pace of gameplay to better suit the player.

Obviously, these new tools can be used for play testing but it’ll be far more interesting to see how people can take these tools to create new meaningful gaming experiences.

When we combine the tools above with mind trickery we can really create some bizarre stuff!

Simulations Used By Militaries

It is no secret that militaries use simulation software and games to train their troops. And often the video gaming world and the military industrial complex collide to produce some bizarre projects (America’s Army and the ilk). Some other projects are really interesting and can produce some real positive results for people outside of the military too.

Recently some coverage of the Canadian military using virtual reality (VR) tools to treat soldieries who are suffering from post-tramautic stress disorder (PTSD). CTV recently looked at the current state of VR in helping veterans suffering from PTSD. PTSD is treated by trying to make the initial experience less traumatic through “reliving” it.

“We try to re-immerse (soldiers) in the traumatic event that they lived through,” said Vincent. “This allows them to face it, stop avoiding the memories, and process them.”
For MCpl. Neil Macey, who served as a medic in Kandahar, the program takes his mind right back to the warzone.
After strapping on a visor on his head, Macey is taken inside a first-person shooter video game. The platform he stands on shakes during a virtual explosion, and moving images are shown in all directions with sounds of helicopters, screams and sirens in the distance.

The CBC looked at this two years ago and it looks like since then the Canadian armed forces have extended their efforts in treating PTSD. Last Novemeber, the medical show White Coat Black Art examined PTSD treatment from the perspective of caregivers and sufferers. It’s hard to listen to at points.

A 2013 report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that fourteen percent of Canadian Forces who served in Afghanistan were diagnosed with a mental health disorder and eight percent have PTSD.  

One of those is retired Master Corporal Mark Verrall, a forty-one year old medic whose twenty-four year career included stints in Bosnia and Dubai as well as two tours of duty in Afghanistan.  He tells us about his PTSD and the traumatic event that triggered it.  He also tells us that when he first tried to tell his supreriors about his problems the message he got back was “suck it up” and move on.

On the other side of battle, training, the American armed forces created a real world simulation of an Afghani town. It’s located at the National Training Center in California. Troops are required to train there before being sent overseas to the Middle East. It seems like something that Jean Baudrillard would have loved to dissect.

Venue took a tour and have published a photo-filled exploration of the training facility.

A twenty-minute drive later, through relatively featureless desert, our visit to “Afghanistan” began with a casual walk down the main street, where we were greeted by actors trying to sell us plastic loaves of bread and piles of fake meat. Fort Irwin employs more than 350 civilian role-players, many of whom are of Middle Eastern origin, although Ferrell explained that they are still trying to recruit more Afghans, in order “to provide the texture of the culture.”

In other words, at the most basic level, soldiers will use Fort Irwin’s facsimile villages to practice clearing structures and navigating unmapped, roofed alleyways through cities without clear satellite communications links. However, at least in the training activities accessible to public visitors, the architecture is primarily a stage set for the theater of human relations: a backdrop for meeting and befriending locals (again, paid actors), controlling crowds (actors), rescuing casualties (Fort Irwin’s roster of eight amputees are its most highly paid actors, we learned, in recompense for being literally dragged around during simulated combat operations), and, ultimately, locating and eliminating the bad guys (the Blackhorse regiment).

If your interested in following how video games, and other gaming techniques/technologies, are used by the armed forces I’ve collected a few links. I keep up to date on what militaries are up to by following a couple different sources beyond the news:

Training & Simulation Journal
War Is Boring
DefenceTalk
Jane’s

If you know of more please leave a link in the comments.

Failure Makes Gamers Aggressive, Not Violence

Finally there is some research which proves what most gamers already know: failing at the game makes one aggressive, not violent imagery. Researchers assessed how people reacted to different scenarios and they concluded that it’s frustration around the game mechanics caused violent behaviour regardless of the imagery.

Again, the mechanics are the message.

Across the experiments, researchers found it was not the narrative or imagery, but the lack of mastery of the game’s controls and the degree of difficulty players had completing the game that led to frustration. The study demonstrated that aggression is a negative side effect of the frustration felt while playing the video game. “When the experience involves threats to our ego, it can cause us to be hostile and mean to others,” Ryan explains.

Read more here.

Link to the abstract and paper: Competence-impeding electronic games and players’ aggressive feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

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