Nathan's Final Paper

Nathan Schwartz
Final Paper

The first and perhaps most well known video game was the old time favorite, Pong. It was created by William Higinbotham while working for a U.S. nuclear lab in New York. Pong debuted in a gym in Brooklyn in 1958. Over the years video games have increased in complexity, popularity and purpose. Fifty years later, the video game industry has become a $27.5 billion business and video games themselves have become a way of life for some die-hard fans (perhaps to the chagrin of some of their parents.) Nearly sixty percent of Americans play video games. A lot of time and effort is put into them; designing, engineering, programming, testing, voice acting and other sound effects, advertising. In recent years debates have formed over the effects, both physical and psychological, of video games. It is also argued whether video games can be considered a form of artistic expression or not. This essay will center on these and other issues.
Before the advent of online gaming, video games could only be played alone or with a friend. Today, gamers can play with people all over the world without even leaving the comfort of their own home. While some people may not consider gaming very socially stimulating, others feel differently. “We argue that the playing of FPS (first-person shooter) multiplayer games by participants can both reproduce and challenge everyday rules of social interaction while also generating interesting and creative innovations in verbal dialogue and non-verbal expressions.” (Wright, Boria, Breidenbach, 2002) Dialogue can be a big part of online gaming. The authors of the article “Creative Player Actions in FPS Online Video Games: Playing Counter-Strike” listed five general categories of game talk:
1) Creative game talk
2) Game conflict talk
3) Insult/Distancing talk
4) Performance talk
5) Game Technical/External talk
Video games can also have beneficial effects in other areas too. According to one study, “playing 10 hours of an action video game leads to marked improvement in the number of objects that can be attended, the amount of visual information that can be processed in a fast stream of visual information, and the ability to search and locate targets in a cluttered visual scene. (Bavelier, 2006)
Another issue that is sometimes debated is whether video games can be considered a form of artistic expression. Some game stories can be executed in the same way as a great book. “Both game theorists and narratologists use the term “histories” to refer to the sequence of events that make up a game and a narrative respectively. (Simons, 2006) One difference between games and books; literature is always about a character from the book. Games on the other hand are essentially about the “Self”. “Games focus on self-mastery and exploration of the external world, not exploration of interpersonal relationships”. (Simons, 2006)
An aspect of video games that can lend itself to artistic expression is the lighting. Many video game developers make great efforts to make the lighting in a game as real as possible, and sometimes to add tension to the game. A demo was set up at the Computer Human Interaction Conference 2005 in which two versions of the same game were played, one with dynamic lighting and one with static lighting. Many participants in the demo liked the dynamic lighting, saying that it was more aesthetically pleasing than the static lighting. (El-Naer, Niedenthal, Knez, Almeida, Zupko, 2006)
The camera perspective is another thing that lends itself to artistic expression. The camera in a game can be, just like in a film, a sign of directorial style. One example could be the game adaptations of the Lord of the Rings films. On occasion in the films when Legolas fires one of his arrows, the camera would follow the arrow to its destination. For the game, developer EA proceeded to replicate Peter Jackson’s directorial style, including this arrow perspective, to tie it to the movie. (Wallin, 2006)
One thing that has always been debated is whether there are any positive health effects to be gained from video games. While sedentary gaming (you know, sitting on the couch) may not be the best thing you can do for yourself, active gaming on the Wii provides gamers with more of a workout. Researchers in Britain conducted a study with six boys and five girls ages 13-15. At rest the children on average burned 72 calories an hour. Playing an Xbox game brought the average up to 107, but Wii boxing brought it up to 174, and Wii tennis to 179. Still, the study showed that these activities are no substitute for the real thing, which burns twice the amount of calories as their video game counterparts. (Bakalar, 2008) Playing on the Wii, which some people refer to as exergaming or exertainment, can be a great way to get kids hooked on physical activity. “The Nintendo Wii will show benefits for everyone. Whether you can sit down for the game or you have to be standing, it involves movement. The best part is its just fun – for everyone”, says Nichole Snow, an International Sports Sciences Association Certified Personal Trainer and avid gamer. (Carless, 2007) Another potential health benefit of video games that some experts consider; games that require dexterity, linear thinking, and visual and mental coordination could be useful in slowing the progression of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. (Hamilton, 2007)
Exercise isn’t the only way that video games can help people. There are medical benefits to video games too. Some games can give people the will to fight diseases such as cancer: enter “Ben’s Game”, which was the idea of Ben Duskin. When Ben was five years old he was diagnosed with leukemia. One of the ways he coped with the pain of chemotherapy was playing video games. After three years of chemo, he wanted to help people who were fighting cancer like him and so, with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation he teamed up with Lucasarts programmer Eric Johnston. Together they created “Ben’s Game”, in which the player fights off cancer cells and monsters which represent the side effects of chemotherapy. As a rule, players never die in the game. The idea behind this is that dying in the game would be like giving in to the cancer, which no one should ever do. (Landers, 2005) Another game made along the same vein is “Free Dive”, in which players explore a realistic undersea world, find treasure chests, take pictures of them, and send their locations to salvage divers. Psychologists at the University of Maryland are studying the pain-relieving properties of the game. (Landers, 2005)
Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling at Nottingham Trent University believes games can be a helpful distraction for children going through painful treatment. He also believes that games can help kids with ADD acquire social skills. (BBC News, 2007) There are case reports that describe events where games were for rehabilitation too. In one report, an electronic game was used to help a 13-year old boy with Erb’s palsy improve control in his arm. The format of the game capitalized on the boy’s motivation to succeed and drew his attention away from the discomfort. “Studies have shown that video games can provide cognitive distraction – hence less nausea and need for painkillers – during chemotherapy in children”, says Griffiths. (Griffiths, 2008)
Games can also be a morale booster for some kids. According to the founders of the Education Arcade at MIT, “there are many intrinsic motivations for learning associated with games.” Failure is not as serious in games as it is in the real world. Games allow students to try, fail, and try again without being discouraged. “The classroom can be a scary place for some students, but an atmosphere of non-judgmental and non-confrontational learning may be an asset. The interactivity of games can allow a student to become personally involved which motivates them to remember the material they have learned. Computer games can provide children with challenges and chances to succeed without overwhelming them. They can also create a social interaction between people who share similar interests. This can give kids a sense of empowerment and expertise. (Guyne, 2007)
Video game researchers have determined that games that give the player a sense of freedom and connection to other people are more fun, which is why some people tend to get addicted to certain video games. Other reasons some people get addicted to games; they provide a sense of achievement, positive experiences, or because of the combination of reality and fantasy. Video games also allow us to release interpersonal tensions in harmless ways. A rapidly growing style of video games is “massively multiplayer online”, or MMO, which can allow thousands of players to play at once (ex. World of Warcraft) MMO can give players a sense of relatedness and presence as well as increased enjoyment of the game. (Pawlik-Kienlen, 2007) Games aren’t just for enjoyment anymore, though. The U.S. military is using video game for purposes of its own.
The military is developing programs to help soldiers not only devise strategies for upcoming situations, but they are also working on ways to help them deal with emotional, cognitive and motor disorders that result from combat, disease or injury. Efforts are also being made to put virtual reality to use as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. This would be done through exposure therapy, in which the patient is guided by a trained therapist through the trauma by a re-telling of the experience. The initial results with the treatment PTSD patients have proven encouraging and are also giving useful information on how to train the therapists as well. It is believed that the process could also be used for traumatic brain injury, stroke, autism, ADHD, and chronic pain. (University of Southern California, 2008) The military is also looking at video game peripherals such as the Sony Eye Toy or the mats used for Dance Dance Revolution to create special programs to help rehabilitate injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. (Politech, 2006)
Special video games have also been made to help people develop advanced skills. Blitz Games, a U.K. based game developer, is developing Interactive Trauma Trainer, which is a simulation program intended to help educate battlefield surgeons in decision-making and treatment in combat. Another game intended to teach people is Immune Attack. This game teaches high school and college students about the complexities of the human immune system. (Politech, 2006)
When video games were first introduced, they were meant purely as a form of entertainment. Today they do much more than that. Games can teach us about the human body. They can train us in medical procedures. They can give us confidence, or even improve one’s eyesight. Playing all day isn’t a good thing by any means, but in moderation video games can help improve personal skills. Games have become an integral part of global society. Go ahead and play a little; it might not be as bad for you as some people think.

Works Cited
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Wright, T., Boria, E., Briedenbach, P. (2002) Creative Player Actions in FPS Online Video Games: Playing Counter-Strike, Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, accessed online at on April 1, 2008

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