Posts tagged ‘serious games’
Channel 4 has announced sponsorshop of the Dare to Be Digital summer game development competition. Announced here.
As part of their sponsorship (which apparently is for a significant sum of money to support the competition), a brief to develop games with an educational or serious ‘twist’ has also been provided.
Author: Daniel Livingstone, Learning Games Blog, 4th April 2008
Full article available here.
(and Law, and Politics, and Sociology, and….) (by Robert Bloomfield)
“Virtual worlds promise to be an excellent venue for research and education in business and related disciplines. This document provides an introduction to virtual worlds, discusses why virtual worlds are so well-suited to the study of real-world business, and describes how a platform could weave together various types of virtual worlds and virtual spaces to achieve a variety of research and educational goals. I close by inviting instructors, students, researchers, textbook authors, publishers, game developers and others to join in a collaboration to make this vision a (virtual) reality.”
Author: Mark Oehlert, e-Clippings, 27th February 2008
Hello! My name is Mark Baxter, and I am a Co-founder and the Vice President of Product Development here at Fit Brains. I have a background in Psychology and have over 8 years of experience in the Games & New Media Industry creating top-quality games for broad audiences, including several hit titles on entertainment portals including Shockwave, Yahoo! and RealArcade.
I will be regularly blogging on a variety of perspectives related to Health and Entertainment, with a significant focus on Brain Fitness. As such, I will be exploring topics relating to Psychology & Mental Wellness, ‘Serious’ & ‘Casual’ Gaming, and Online Social Communities. Serious Games – defined as interactive content that uses entertainment for the purpose of education and/or training – has only recently gained wider acceptance with the advent of industry gatherings like the Serious Games Initiative in 2002. This genre is growing quickly and covers a wide range of topics, including: education, corporate training, health and environmental awareness, to name just a few.
Increasingly our society is becoming aware of a concept that has long been at the foundation of effective children’s education: fun can be a great motivator for learning and growth! Fortunately, at Fit Brains we very much believe that the value of fun as a motivator applies to adults as well. If we can make important aspects of our daily routine more accessible and engaging, we are more likely to do things we might not be as motivated to do – especially items like long-term health goals that are often difficult to maintain.
For instance, do you have greater interest in enjoyable physical activities like golf or rollerblading, or a prescribed fitness regimen? Are you more likely to stick to a diet with food that’s healthy but bland, or food that’s healthy and tastes good? For most, the answers to these questions are self-evident; any task that can be made more enjoyable will also be easier to integrate more consistently into our daily lives. In the coming weeks and months, I will be exploring a variety of ways that Serious Games are gaining mainstream acceptance, and also take a look at the growing body of research that demonstrates their value in our everyday lives.
We believe that entertainment is a great motivational tool for healthy living. Our goal is to provide you with a wide variety of entertaining games & activities that have a solid foundation in cognitive science. At Fit Brains, we harness the power of FUN to help you keep your mind healthy and sharp!
Author: Mark Baxter, FitBrains, 3rd December 2007
A well established negative consequence of computer game play in epileptic individuals is the risk of seizures in those who are photosensitive. Seizures are more likely to occur at times of high-intensity flickering images and scene changes, however, these seizures were a chance occurrence in the studies undertaken. Goldstein (2003) dismisses this affect as it is non-attributable to everyone but those who are photosensitive.
Computer games are not the only things that have a risk factor for photosensitive individuals. Some TV shows like MTV’s animations have flashing images and lights, so do most action movies and even mood beams (plastic characters which emit coloured lights) come with warnings for epileptics.
Evidence has shown a change in brain activity while playing computer games which suggests a positive affect. The hormone and neurotransmitter, dopamine, has been found to be released in humans during computer game play through ‘goal-directed motor’ tasks in Koepp et al. (1998).
‘It has been suggested that such dopaminergic neurotransmission is involved in learning, reinforcement of behaviour, attention and sensorimotor integration, which is known as effective learning’ (Underwood et al. 2007)
This is an area which requires further exploration as it is relatively new in medical research.
In Japan, scientists and the university in Tohoku, in 2001 made claims that computer games stimulate areas of the brain which do not help in the development of the frontal lobe, which controls behaviour, memory, emotion and learning. Instead they stimulate areas which are devoted to movement and vision, which are not as crucial in a child’s development as the frontal lobe.
Researchers are concerned by this, including Professor Ryuta Kawashima who believes:
‘… children must be encouraged to practice basic mathematics, as well as learning reading and writing which also boost the frontal lobe. He is convinced that children who play video games excessively will not develop their frontal lobes and will consequently be more prone to violent acts, as they will be less able to control their behaviour.’ (ZDNet.co.uk 2001)
Later in Japan in 2004, Brain Training for the DS was launched, a game based upon Kawashima’s research which targets the frontal lobe of the brain, the area of crucial importance in human development.
Research into the brain over the last quarter of a century has uncovered an important characteristic of the brain termed neuroplasticity. This is the ability of the brain to regenerate brain cells and effectively reorganise itself. A common metaphor for this is ‘rewiring’ but this does not accurately portray the brain’s malleability. The brain regenerates and reorganises itself dependant on the stimuli it receives.
This leads us onto the research of social psychologists who show that people from different cultures actually think differently. The environment we live in does affect how our brain develops. Steven Johnson (2005) picks up on this and discusses the digital divide between generations who have been brought up with technology and those who have not. The ‘digital natives’ simply think differently, they have been exposed to digital technology at a very young age and their brains have developed accordingly. This is a much debated topic in current talks between researchers from many fields.
Mental Health Games
Biofeedback and affective games are increasingly emerging in the market, which promote mental health in their players. Games such as Luminosity, Brain Training and Journey to Wild Divine encourage mental health through stimulating certain parts of the brain. Some promote learning and literacy, some cognitive ability and others help to control emotions and stress.
Other games are now being developed to promote mental health in teens and children who suffer from emotional issues like depression. Earthquake in Zipland is one such game which helps children to deal with their parents divorcing.
Violence & Aggression
Violent ad aggressive behaviour was mentioned previously in the physical health section of this text, however, the origin of this behaviour is mental health. Discussed above in brain activity is the affect a person’s environment has on the brain and subsequently behaviour development.
This involves not only the person’s daily activities but also their social experiences with family and friends and of course their childhood experiences.
There is much debate about violent and aggressive behaviour in children and it is easy for people to blame computer games, especially shooters. On the positive side, however, the point of catharsis has been mentioned. This point argues that computer games actually dispense of aggression and violence in the form of pent up energy, decreasing the need for people to act out in their behaviour.
Most children do understand the difference between games and real life, and violent behaviour is only developed in those with more vulnerable personalities. There is evidence in the US that the rate of violent crimes has actually decreased in the same duration of time that computer game playing has increased.
A lot of the assertions that computer games promote violent and aggressive behaviour are not based on empirical evidence, but the issue is more and more reflected upon as computer games are developing more realistic violent representations. There is currently an idea afloat on ‘backward causation’ which suggests that children who show aggressive behaviour may be more attracted to play computer games which simulate violent behaviour. Any evidence linking computer game play to the cause of aggressive behaviour is tainted by this backward causation notion. Additionally, most research is based upon fantasy or virtual violent behaviour and not real life behaviour, which nullifies the claim that games promote aggressive behaviour and supports the catharsis hypothesis.
A common opinion of young adults today is that they are rude and have very short attention spans. They lose interest and patience easily when it comes to traditional teaching. When it comes to activities that do interest them, such as playing computer games, communicating on the internet or listening to music, they become completely engaged and can spend hours doing these activities. Prensky (2001) brings up a good point:
‘Is it that they can’t pay attention or that they don’t? … Traditional training and schooling just doesn’t engage them. It isn’t that they can’t pay attention, they just choose not to.’
While on the subject of attention spans, within the recent decade, two syndromes have emerged; attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which was known previously as hyperactivity. Both of these disorders are diagnosed in a vast number of young children and many are prescribed medication for treatment. The diagnosis of many children is not always correct as symptoms can be confused with current digital native behaviour, for example, multitasking, doing a lot of things at one time may seem like the child can not concentrate on one thing at a time for a prolonged period.
‘Determining whether a child’s attention deficit is a result of illness or of boredom is not always easy, and we don’t always get it right. But even when we do, interestingly enough, it is video games – the holders of even these children’s attention – that are increasingly used to retrain children’s brains and help them concentrate…’ (Prensky 2001)
Prensky in the previous quote picks up on the fact that computer games are now more and more being used for therapy of disorders which are thought to be initially related to the play of computer games. There are games which promote focus and concentration skills in children, just like there are games for all kinds of health, physical and mental, issues.
Computer games can not only be used as a therapeutic activity, but it is becoming increasingly known of their use within therapy sessions with children. For example, they can be used as a form of ice-breaker between therapist and patient, as they create a social plane on which the two can communicate. They can also make it easier for therapists to receive cooperative behaviour from patients, as the child is more likely to accept the therapist, thinking they are ‘cool’ and ‘with’ the technology trends. Not only can computer games be used in these ways, as an ‘ice-breaker and rapport-builder’, but they can also create a situation which enables the therapist to deduce the child’s cognitive and behavioural performance, including; problem solving abilities, their ability to predict consequences and their actions prior to them, the ways in which they release aggressive energies, their level of control, they way they deal with winning or losing, their enjoyment of cognitive activities, their visual working memory and their hand-eye coordination, and also the ways in which they organise and strategise their objectives.
When it comes to assessing the effects of computer game play on health, both physical and mental, one must be aware that this is a relatively new field which is being researched by people from many different industries. A lot of studies carried out are not based on empirical evidence and it is difficult to deduce anything for certain without concrete evidence. Press bias further distorts from the reality and the emergence of new types of computer games nullifies previous claims, as these were made on traditional game genres.
Of course it is given that when health is concerned, a balanced lifestyle is the way forward. Parents should be encouraging their children to take part in physical activities outside, just like everyone is encouraged to exercise and engage with the outdoors. However, just because people spend some time of the day indoors playing computer games, does not necessarily mean they are doing something detrimental to their health.
The director general of Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), Roger Bennett, commented in an interview against claims of computer games causing brain damage, back in 2001:
“For too long now, our industry has been the target of ill-informed criticism and scaremongering… We want to help those who weren’t brought up on computer games to understand this exciting new medium and the part that it can play in a healthy balance of learning and leisure activities for all age groups.”
Communities have been forming over the past couple of decades, as this topic has been increasingly discussed, and groups such as the Serious Games Initiative and the Games for Health conferences have been providing insight into this area, with research, development projects and services.
Author: Alexandra Matthews, Gaming & Learning
Copyright Gaming & Learning 2008
The effects of computer game play on health is a vast and highly debated area. More so now that studies have uncovered more positives than before. One point worth mentioning here is the reluctance of the press to report on studies of nil findings which may cause bias towards papers of findings of negative effects. One must not trust everything one reads as there exists the natural urge of the press to write with the aim to shock or intrigue their readers.
Again, this text hopes to simplify the areas of discussion, as they do overlap and relate to one another. This post will first look into the physical health effects of computer game play and the issues discussed surrounding it. This will include addiction, violence and aggression, as although these are also mental issues, they have simultaneous effects on physical health. After the physical health aspects are unravelled, the text will move on to the examination of debated mental health matters.
Marc Prensky in his book Don’t Bother Me Mom I’m Learning (2006) brings up Dr. David Walsh’s ideas around computer games and addiction:
‘Walsh uses the term “addiction” incessantly, never mentioning that there may be other factors than games, such as co-addictions or addictive personalities, which lie at the root of many people’s problems… he doesn’t mention or explain that a number of other pastimes, such as competitive sports, produce the same effects.’
Walsh shares his views with many other critics, however, more recently, issues have emerged which nullify the accusation that computer games promote addictive behaviour. For example, Prensky above says that Walsh fails to mention the number of other activities which have the same effect and that addictive behaviour is more likely to result in people who already suffer from addictive personalities. These people are susceptible to all types of addiction. Computer games do not promote addiction in those who are not susceptible.
Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome
A British Medical Journal, published in early 2002, included a letter about a 15 year old boy who developed an injury know as hand-arm vibration syndrome. This injury is commonly associated with people who use handheld vibrating tools excessively, such as pneumatic drills. According to the publication, the boy developed the symptoms of the syndrome after playing up to 7 hours a day on his PlayStation controller with the rumble option enabled.
Sony responded by saying that consumers must adhere to manufacturer’s recommendations and stress to take breaks after every hour of play. Sony thoroughly test their products, however, this is the first time they have encountered a case like this one.
Many controllers incorporate force feedback technology and all are optional, as it can be disabled and enabled with ease. As with any product, manufacturers do provide recommendations for the use of their products. With excessive use, as reported in the mentioned publication, it is inevitable that there will be consequences.
A few cases of death have been reported in the press, all linked to excessive play of computer games. In 2002 a man was found dead in the toilets of a cybercafé in Kwanju, South Korea, where he was said to be previously glued to a computer, deprived of proper nutrition and sleep. Earlier in the same year, a mother in Louisiana sued Nintendo who allegedly caused her son, a 30 year old, to suffer seizures and consequently death. He was said to play an average of 48 hours a week.
Violence and Aggression
Violent and aggressive behaviour not only negatively affects the lives of the people who act out the behaviour, but also the people around them.
Dr Craig Anderson is one man who believes:
‘… violence in media causes violence in people who use those media. While most of his evidence is based on studies of TV, some involve games.’ (Prensky 2006)
It is not surprising that children who are exposed to a lot of violence in their lives are more likely to show violent and aggressive behaviour. This reflects the ‘nature or nurture’ debate and all boils down to parental responsibility. It is argued that parents have the responsibility of regulating the types of media content available to their children. As is the same with movies, computer games come with age and content notifications.
However, it does not all remain on the parents’ shoulders, as each and every child is different. Many understand that computer games are fictional and that such behaviour in the real world is unacceptable. Others, who are more susceptible to the influence, much like addictive behaviour, may have different reactions.
A point that is made by Prensky (2006) is that research studies, like Anderson’s, only measure the effects of computer games on violent and aggressive thoughts and behaviour, in the short term. Whether these behaviours are caused in the long term is still highly disputed, and of course, other activities show the same effects, such as rugby or football.
Emes 1997 cited in Prensky 2006 provides evidence of computer game playing being a ‘beneficial coping strategy’ as the activity encourages the release of aggressive energy.
Serious Games & off-the-shelf Games
In the 90s, along with the increased ability of games to provide more realistic graphic scenarios and the failure of edutainment to demonstrate profitability, a re-examination of the idea of games for non-entertainment purposes occurred. These games were later coined a ‘serious games’ by the development of the Serious Games Initiative in 2002.
Serious games have been used as tool to train personnel in a vast number of occupations, brought on by their ability to simulate real life situations. These games are incredibly popular within sectors which provide jobs of high risk, for example, the military. Employees become more skilled through practice in the virtual world.
Serious games have been used throughout healthcare to train staff, as therapy for patients or tools to enhance therapy.
Ben Sawyer from the Serious Games Initiative commented during an interview about the use of off-the-shelf computer games by surgeons and how the activity has improved results in healthcare.
‘Dr. James Rosser at Beth Israel Medical Center in NY is using games like Silent Scope and Super Monkey Ball as warm-up exercises before laparoscopic surgeons begin operating. The early results show this to be highly beneficial to their work.’ (Sawyer 2004)
Dr Rosser also found through study that surgeons who played computer games at a young age made on average 40% less mistakes during surgery. Games such as Silent Scope and Super Monkey Ball encourage steady and accurate balancing movements and help to warm–up and focus surgeons before performing intricate surgery.
Concerning children and health, exercise, obesity and nutrition are currently hot topics in the media. There are serious games available designed to educate and inform children on these subjects.
‘Depression and suicide? There are games for that too. Juvenile diabetes? Yep. Phobias? Smoking? Social adjustment? Safe sex and preventing socially transmitted diseases? Dealing with divorce? There are games for all of those.’
There is evidence supporting the benefits of playing health related serious games, such as the results of Debra Lieberman’s work, which show that:
‘Kids with chronic conditions who played the disease management games at home for six months reduced their urgent care and emergency visits by as much as 77 percent, while there was no change in clinical visits for kids who played non-health related entertainment video games at home for the same amount of time.’ (Prensky 2006)
Health and wellness is a much discussed area even within the game industry, with internationally renowned annual conferences such as Games for Health.
Common opinion in the anti computer games camp is that they encourage laziness instead of physical activity. However, games have changed greatly, especially in the last decade, and we are now witnessing the emergence of games which actually promote physical and cardio-vascular exercise.
Games like Dance Dance Revolution, EyeToy and Yourself! Fitness. Wii Sports also encourages physical movement, especially boxing and tennis, and even more so with the new Wii Fit. There is even a Wii healthy website (www.wiihealthy.com) which introduces Wii Fit and also provides 10 week workout plans for weight loss with Wii Sports. Some schools in the UK have even incorporated the use of the Wii into their PE lessons to encourage those students who would normally skip the lessons, to get fit.
In a study carried out in 2007 by Liverpool John Moores University, researchers, lead by Professor Tim Cable, compared levels of activity in gamers using the active Wii controller compared to gamers using traditional seated and inactive joypad-controlled consoles. Results showed that more active gameplay, such as that of the Wii, increased energy expenditure high enough to help burn calories and increased heart rates to values of 130 bpm compared to the inactive controller’s result of 85bpm.
A research group at the University of Rochester have carried out studies of visual stimuli in action games and the effects game play has on optical aptitude.
‘… people who played action video games for a few hours a day over the course of a month improved by about 20 percent in their ability to identify letters presented in clutter—a visual acuity test similar to ones used in regular ophthalmology clinics.’ (ScienceDaily 2007)
Computer games of the action genre improve bottom line standards of players on traditional eye charts, also improving both centre and peripheral vision. These results suggest that similar games can be made for those that suffer specific visual imparements, such as amblyopia, to increase their optical acuity.
Professor Daphne Bavelier, a member of the research group on brain and cognitive sciences stated:
‘These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it. That learning carries over into other activities and possibly everyday life.’ (2007)
Handheld computer game consoles have shown to be incredibly effective distraction tasks for children who suffer from skin ailments and self-afflicted harm like neurodermatitis. An 8 year old boy was given a Gameboy as a distraction element to stop him picking at his face and causing more damage. It was a highly effective strategy and consoles, like the Gameboy, are now used increasingly for the same distraction purpose.
There have been many cases in medical literature on other negative effects of computer game play, including auditory hallucinations, enuresis, encopresis, wrist/neck/elbow pain, tenosynovitis (also called ‘Nintendinitis’) and peripheral neuropathy. Some of these effects are very rare and symptoms were treated by simply not playing the games which caused them.
(see part 2)
Author: Alexandra Matthews, Gaming & Learning
Copyright Gaming & Learning 2008