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  Toronto Joins ‘Half-Life 2’ Conflict  
Posted 2007-11-09 by Tony Walsh
Canada's largest city becomes the backdrop for an alien invasion in City 7: Toronto Conflict, an unofficial expansion to the Half-Life 2 story created by a team of George Brown College students lead by instructor Sean Guadron. The initiative was the first thesis project of the College's postgraduate Game Design program (in which I teach several courses), now in its third academic year.

City 7: Toronto Conflict puts the player in Gordon Freeman's well-worn boots as he teleports unexpectedly into Mel Lastman square, raining carnage upon a variety of other well-known Toronto landmarks, all recreated faithfully by the students, who spent months taking photos of the city, mapping game levels based on real locations, and making detailed models including recognizable street furniture. The project also involved a scripted storyline and original voice acting.

The expansion has enjoyed more success than its creators hoped for, getting published via DVD in PC Games and PC Action magazines in Europe, and written up on a variety of web sites, including GameSpy, which recommended the student-made project as an alternative to the official Half-Life 2 expansion pack. Personally, I found the landmark recreations to be very impressive--anyone familiar with the city is bound to agree. Congratulations to the team on the recognition they've received.
  links for 2007-07-30  
Posted 2007-07-30 by Tony Walsh
  ‘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
  Casting Doubt on Video Game Violence Studies  
Posted 2007-02-20 by Tony Walsh
 reports on a meta-research paper that casts doubt on links between violent game play and violent behaviour. The paper, entitled "Evidence for publication bias in video game violence effects literature: A meta-analytic review," may be downloaded from this page (temporarily, at least), and has been accepted for publication in an upcoming edition of the Aggression and Violent Behavior journal.

Author Christopher J. Ferguson told that his study found that overall, violent games do appear to increase aggressive thoughts, "but do not appear to increase aggressive behavior." The study also found that "better measures of aggression are associated with lower effects," and that studies which indicate a link between violent games and violent behaviour are more likely to get published than studies which do not indicate such a link.

Continue reading: Casting Doubt on Video Game Violence Studies
  Does Violent Media Cause Violence, Or Doesn’t It?  
Posted 2007-01-17 by Tony Walsh
A coalition of Canadian parents and educators from the public and Catholic school systems issued a press release today entitled "Media Violence - Not a Pretty Picture," wherein it is suggested that kids and teens are influenced negatively by "violent music videos, video games, music lyrics, the Internet, and television programs..." Now, I happen to believe that some kids and teens are negatively influenced by some forms of violent media under certain conditions. I believe that in some cases, it's possible that exposure to violent media can cause violence. This being said, I'm thoroughly confused by this unnamed coalition's stance on the issue.

According to the coalition, the Internet itself is a destructive influence. That pretty much blows the group's credibility in my view, but unfortunately for you, I'm not done analyzing the press release yet. The group also identifies "music lyrics" as a destructive influence. I'd love to know why "poetry" in general wasn't listed. I suppose as soon as you put poetry to music it becomes a deadly weapon.

Continue reading: Does Violent Media Cause Violence, Or Doesn’t It?
  Commercial Bias in ‘Why Do They Play’ Game Studies?  
Posted 2007-01-07 by Tony Walsh
Summary results from a series of studies indicate that "fun" is only the basest of reasons players enjoy games, the CBC reported last month. The studies, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, were co-authored by a University of Rochester grad student and the president of gamer-experience research firm Immersyve. According to Immersyve, the studies "show that players are most attracted to games that give them positive experiences that are akin to 'real world' challenges, rather than merely a shallow sense of fun." Note to self: Is fun shallow?

I brought the summary results to the attention of my father, Dr. Richard Walsh-Bowers, Professor of Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University. Pops pointed out that Dr. Scott Rigby, co-author of the studies, sells that which he promotes as a research psychologist.

I don't happen to have access to the full studies, but I feel their value (as described in news reports and by Immersyve) is undermined by Dr. Rigby's corporate position. Being president of a commercial research firm, it is in his interest to develop a "model" attractive to the game industry. As Dr. Rigby says on his own web site: "...when games meet the underlying needs in our model, they not only predict better psychological outcomes for players, but better commercial success for games." Translation: Buy into our model, increase profits. For me, this calls into question the science behind the (foregone?) conclusions.
  The War on Anger  
Posted 2006-11-23 by Tony Walsh
Angry Netherlanders may be brought to the attention of police now that local surveillance cameras have been upgraded with aggression-detectors. According to New Scientist, the technology is installed in the city of Groningen, where three arrests have already been made during a trial of the system. Last month, New Scientist reported on a separate surveillance system designed to detect violence. I doubt either system is very effective, but perhaps a combined system would turn up fewer false positives. As I noted in earlier comments, I think systems like this encourage "the authorities" to limit personal freedoms--if the system is easily fooled by playful behaviour, I suspect that rather than find a technological fix, deliberately fooling the system will become a crime.
  Death on the Screen  
Posted 2006-06-02 by Tony Walsh
 delves into the operation of American unmanned air vehicles used in military operations: "In Las Vegas a pilot pulls the trigger. In Iraq a Predator fires its missile."

What is of interest to me in the article is its description of remote-controlled warfare. Telegraph contributor Francis Harris writes "Sitting side by side in dark, air-conditioned cabins, the pilot and sensor operator have to interpret activity in terrain as varied as the deserts and towns of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan. Surrounded by technological wizardry that includes flight controls, maps and computer screens, it would be easy to drift. Sgt Mac Mackenzie, 41, an Army sensor operator who has served in Northern Ireland and Iraq, said: 'It is not always appreciated that this is what we have to do. You are just staring at the screen. Then suddenly it can go live, you're involved in an engagement, a target appears and everything is turned on its head.'" This transition might be jarring for a 41-year-old, but for the latest generation of gamer kids, remote warfare will be a piece of cake.

Today, the U.S. military is actively recruiting through its America's Army videogame (in some cases targeting kids under the age of 15) and new recruits are generally gamers [source]. Gamers are experts at managing interfaces, adapting to new control systems, and engaging in screen-based killing. In my limited understanding of real warfare, it's desirable to do as much remote killing as possible. The more literal or figurative distance from the kill, the better--not only for the safety of the attacking soldier, but to create a disconnect between pulling the trigger and its end result. Physical distance is one thing, but when a screen is introduced, surely a vast psychological distance is added. Today's young gamers are capable of executing virtual-reality genocide in a matter of hours--will this efficiency suffer when real war is fought through a game interface?

Continue reading: Death on the Screen
  Challenging The Itchy Trigger-Finger  
Posted 2006-04-13 by Tony Walsh
Fellow games writer Andrew Smale explains to readers of The Cultural Gutter how SWAT 4 teaches the value of human life. In a game ostensibly about violence, SWAT 4 emphasizes responsible decision-making under the constant threat of violence. It is a policing game, not a war game, after all.

Smale writes: "SWAT 4 rewards players for neutralizing threats, rescuing any innocents, and securing evidence (mostly dropped weapons) with a numerical score at the end of each mission....Killing a suspect that has already dropped his weapon will lose you points, as will failure to report a downed squadmate. Depending on the difficulty level, you won’t be able to proceed to the next mission unless you get the required score...When killing isn’t an option anymore, it causes you to second-guess yourself. Did that guy have a gun? Was he a threat? Sometimes an itchy trigger finger takes out a hostile that’s about to lay down his weapon - and that’s an unauthorized kill."

In a world oversaturated with bloody First Person Shooter games, SWAT 4 seems like a refreshing take on action-based game play. I'd consider buying it if the game hadn't been given the 2005 award for "Most Despicable Product Placement" by (related post here), thanks to another lame effort (1,2) by in-game ad pushers Massive Incorporated.
  NOTES- ‘Serious Games for Learning’  
Posted 2006-03-12 by Tony Walsh
Serious Games for Learning
Room 15
Sunday, March 12th
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Jim Brazell- Consulting Analyst, IC2 Institute
Jim Bower- UT scientist, CEO of NewMedian Numedeon
Michael Whalen- instructional designer
Erwin Kaplan- retired Army officer, involved with game-based learning

Why I chose to attend this panel: I'm a barely-competent game designer, so this should be a useful experience.

Continue reading: NOTES- ‘Serious Games for Learning’
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