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Fresh Videogame Findings

Though eclipsed by the terrible news of violence in Virginia and Iraq, there has been some notable news in the videogame space of late, including findings from research on both sides of the Pond.
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Though eclipsed by the terrible news of violence in Virginia and Iraq, there has been some notable news in the videogame space of late, including findings from research on both sides of the Pond.

But before we look at the research, don't miss these insights from a psychiatrist—Dr. Jerald Block, who has seen a lot of avid gamers, including "numerous players who have logged over 3,000 hours in a year on just one game [that 's 57+ hours/week, 52 weeks/year]," he writes in a recent commentary....

  • Columbine revisited: A psychiatrist's viewHaving researched the mass shooting in Columbine, Colo., he wrote an oped piece for the Rocky Mountain News protesting a recent court decision to block access to the statements made to the police by [shooters] Eric Harris's and Dylan Klebold's parents. Dr. Block writes that the decision could delay much-needed further research for 20 years. Note, however, what he has learned so far: "Starting in their sophomore year, Klebold and Harris began getting into trouble at home and school.... One way they were punished was to ban them from using computers. Unfortunately, doing so also cut them off from the most important relationship in the two adolescents' lives. In addition to being the best of companions, their computers also served another purpose. The computer games they played defended others from the two teenagers' anger. Initially, rather than hurting others, they killed virtually.... After getting banned from their computers, the two teenagers' rage erupted.... Why is this important? Since the attack on Columbine, computer games have become vastly more popular and immersive. Tens of millions of people play computer games each day.... Like Harris and Klebold, many people play games, much to the exclusion of other activities.... The real risk of computer gaming has little to do with the content. Instead, we need to worry about how gratifying the virtual can be. Abruptly prohibiting or discontinuing someone's computer use may inadvertently release unanticipated emotions that might result in tragedy, as happened at Columbine." [More from Dr. Block on game use in both pathological and therapeutic forms below.]
  • Cartoon vs. explicit violence: Same impact?New research from Iowa State University found that playing "cartoonish" violent videogames that display no blood "had the same short-term effect [on 9-to-12-year-olds and college students] of increasing aggressive behavior as the more graphic teen (T-rated) violent games." This was a finding in the first of three studies by the ISU researchers in a book just released by Oxford University Press. I guess all that exposure to Popeye and Tom & Jerry some of us had only had short-term impact. But look at this interesting finding about the player's intention vs. the game's gore (the reason why cartoon characters can have as much impact as explicit depiction of violence): "What seems to matter is whether the players are practicing intentional harm to another character in the game. That's what increases immediate aggression—more than how graphic or gory the game is," said one of the authors, ISU psychology Prof. Douglas Gentile.
  • Negative news sells games: UK studyResponding to UK public concerns, the British Board of Film Classification recently commissioned a survey about videogame use in that country, and the results are in. It found that "players of violent videogames believe they are just 'exhilarating' escapism which does not desensitize them to real-life mayhem... However, gamers do concede that people 'who are already unhinged in some way' may be pushed over the edge if they play violent games obsessively," Reuters reports. Note this interesting take-away from the study by Finnish game news site "The negative reporting that surrounds violent video games leads many gamers to try them out. The study suggested that violent games that frequently made the headlines were the most attractive."
  • Gamer parents' rules for their kidsFor the first time ever, videogamers are becoming parents, and "whoops, now we've got to make sober calls about what sort of entertainment is good or bad for our children," wrote gamer and columnist Clive Thompson in Wired. What sorts of calls are they making? Clive called members of his "gamer posse" to find out. "As you'd expect, I found that joystick-wielding parents are much better than Hillary Clinton at parsing the nuances in various types of combat games." One uses "the Lego rule" at his house: no toys or games "that replicate 20th century weapons." That's actually the Lego company's rule. "So his four children can play games like Halo, since it contains only futuristic, fantasy war, where you're killing only green- or blue-blooded aliens. The same goes for Roman swordplay titles," Clive writes of his fellow gamer dad's rules. That rules out Grand Theft Auto. As for game addiction: "Most gamer parents told me they don't allow more than an hour a day, and some only allow gaming only on weekends."
  • Pathological videogame useThis is not about child videogamers. But a psychiatrist's stories of three adult gamers he's worked with offer parents (and everyone else) important insights into a little-understood world. For one of these gamers, Dr. Jerald Block writes in Psychiatric Times, a sort of addiction to World of Warcraft (WoW, a multiplayer online role-playing game) has been a serious problem. For the two others, gaming has apparently been a stabilizing factor (for a man with a 16-year history of schizophrenia) and an aid in recovery from drug addiction. Dr. Block concludes: "Our patients are using computer games in ever greater numbers, for hours on end [he mentions that US videogame software sales reached $7 billion last year]. It is time that we take a much closer look at what makes the games so compelling and what characterizes normalcy and pathology in this new realm of human experience."

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  • Games as emotional outlet. The Washington Post looks at "flOw," a new game just acquired by Sony and co-created by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago, who describe themselves as "dedicated to expanding the emotional spectrum of video games and making them available for a much wider audience." The Post calls flOw "a soothing title where players guide an aquatic creature as it eats and evolves to the beat of ethereal background music."
  • Videogames back in the news. "In the rush to explain massacres like the one at Virginia Tech, experts including popular TV psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw dusted off a familiar scapegoat—violent video games, movies and other media," Reuters reports.

—Anne Collier



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