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  Do Gamers Make Better Baggage-Screeners?  
Posted 2007-11-19 by Tony Walsh
"Security screeners at airports might do a better job spotting weapons if they spent their downtime playing video games - specifically, wasting aliens in lurid first-person shooters like Halo 3," The Boston Globe's Christopher Shea wrote yesterday. The 3-page online article resonates quite well with my quickly-written 2006 proposal "Airport Screening Is A Badly-Designed Game."

Specifically, Shea finds, as I mentioned last year, that even trained security professionals have trouble distinguishing harmful from safe objects; the human people have trouble finding exceptional objects (like guns) amid a sea of common objects (like toiletries). Additional information Shea gleaned from scientific sources shows that moving objects are easier to spot--yet X-ray scanners show stationary objects; first-person shooter gamers erred less in threat-identification tests than non-gamers. A number of interesting solutions are summarized in the article, none of which seem to involve making airport into an MMO (that was my semi-serious proposal), but some of which suggest that gaming might not be as unrelated to crucial security tasks as we might have thought. Sweet, sweet validation.

Also see my proposal for turning prison surveillance into an MMO and Dave Edery's article "Using Games to Tap Collective Intelligence."
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  ‘More Research Needed’ in Linking Video Games With Negative Behaviour  
Posted 2007-06-18 by Tony Walsh
The American Medical Association's Council on Science and Public Health has issued a report entitled "Emotional and Behavioral Effects, Including Addictive Potential, of Video Games" which taps into 22 years of scientific literature drawn from the PubMed database. The report contains no new findings, but does provide a handy summary of previous investigation into the impact of video games on health.

The Council on Science and Public Health report refers only to the "potential" benefits and detrimental effects of games, referring to studies which showed an "association" between gaming and negative behavior. This seems a more sensible stance than the one taken by Dr. Peter Jaffe, a University of Western Ontario professor, who contended earlier this year that the effects of entertainment violence (including video games) on children "are measurable and long lasting." My question "Does Violent Media Cause Violence, Or Doesn't It?" still stands--the report indicates "more research" is needed to connect video game content with negative behavior.

Continue reading: ‘More Research Needed’ in Linking Video Games With Negative Behaviour
  Games, Television, Dreams, and Doing Things Over  
Posted 2007-06-12 by Tony Walsh
Why would office workers watch shows like The Apprentice or Hell's Kitchen and professional soldiers play games like Full Spectrum Warrior or Battlefield 2? The first thing that comes to my mind is that certain TV shows and video games provide an opportunity for a "do-over" that real-life, high-stress jobs don't allow. Television shows give us a form of weak agency, where we can imagine what we might do in another person's shoes and potentially work through the day's problems as a result. Games give us a strong form of agency where we are largely responsible for our own path and fate--as well, we are afforded multiple attempts at solving the same problem.

According to some, dreaming is a way for us to re-envision, re-enact, or re-contextualize the day's events. Do dreams provide a similar do-over environment to digital games and so-called "reality" television shows? In the preface to the book Lucid Dreaming, author George Parish writes "Dreaming is our method of assimilating the new by either discarding it or integrating it into our world model. During dreaming we eliminate errors from and make modifications to our internal private virtual reality, our world model... The business of living does not allow sufficient on line time to even attempt to perform the process of critical assessment and integration of new information into our world model. Our waking minds are not equipped to conduct the review, analysis, and modification required. Dreaming is the process by which our brain integrates the new into our personal virtual reality."
  ‘Whyville’ Avatars:  WhyEat?  
Posted 2007-05-28 by Tony Walsh
Why eat? The real-life answer is obvious, but synthetic biological needs are rarely a factor in avatar-based environments. Since 2005, kid-oriented virtual world Whyville has featured hungry avatars as part of a project entitled "WhyEat," funded by the University of Texas. WhyEat entices kids to plan and purchase meals (with in-world currency) in order to avoid such disfiguring avatar maladies as scurvy or weak bones. A "virtual dietitian" provides advice on a case-by-case basis, helping kids make food choices which will result in a better health (and therefore a better appearance). To date, the project has resulted in over 3.5M visits to Whyville's virtual cafeteria, where 8.5M food items have been consumed. Researchers at University of Texas' Health Science Center are now investigating the effects of this virtual-world program on real-world health, according to a recent press release.

Promoting healthy eating is a noble objective, but I suspect there are better ways to entice kids to lead leaner lifestyles. Such as opting for physical activity over virtual activity (or at least on par with virtual activity). I don't think WhyEat has much to do with eating, ultimately. It's more about finding ways to motivate kids to make consumer choices, and tracking those choices. Even better if those consumer choices bleed into the real world. Whyville has already been a marketing vehicle for brands such as Toyota, Stacie Orrico, and Celestron through "edutisement" content. How long before Whyville's eateries include McDonald's restaurants?
  Open Letter to the ‘Second Life Environmental Council’  
Posted 2007-04-18 by Tony Walsh
To the Second Life Environmental Council,

My name is Tony Walsh. I've been regularly writing about Second Life for 3 years. Last year I raised the question "Is Second Life sustainable ecologically?" This question was picked up by Nick Carr, who found that an avatar in Second Life consumes about as much power as the average Brazilian. Carr's controversial findings reached more people than my original question would have. Last night I attended a discussion involving Simran Sethi, who was in Second Life to talk about environmental issues and solutions. She hadn't considered what Second Life's ecological footprint might be, but said she'd look into it.

What is the environmental impact of an expanding virtual world served from thousands of high-end computers to hundreds of thousands of high-end computers around the globe? Although computers are getting more efficient as time goes by, Second Life isn't getting any smaller: Ironically, a Brazilian version of Second Life is due to launch April 23, 2007. If Carr's math is correct, Brazilian Second Life users will be doubling their average energy consumption.

I've reviewed your group's Events Calendar for Earth Month / Earth Day, and I don't see any events devoted to looking at the ecological impact of the platform from which you'll be talking about ecological impact. That seems a bit like organizing a drive-a-thon for pollution reduction without examining the emissions of cars. Clearly you know cars aren't an appropriate vehicle for pollution reduction: Is Second Life an appropriate vehicle for Earth Day events?

[Update: David Alexander of, and the point of contact for the SL Environmental Council, responds below]

Continue reading: Open Letter to the ‘Second Life Environmental Council’
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