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Video games are games played on a personal computer (PC) or a dedicated device (console). They range in complexity from watch-like devices with inexpensive LCD screens all the way up to full-immersion devices such as flight simulators and virtual reality pods, and cover every possible genre of gaming, including puzzles, action games, and major league sports fantasies. Video game consoles come in models intended to be used at home, like Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony's PlayStation 4, and Nintendo's Wii U, or handheld systems that can be played anywhere (as long as the battery isn't dead; fortunately today's handheld systems come with internal rechargeable batteries so they don't eat up AAs like older systems), such as the Nintendo 3DS and Sony's PlayStation Vita.

The first "real" video game, a tennis game created in 1958,[1] used a dedicated analog computer as a control system and an oscilloscope for output.


[edit] Moral panics

See the main article on this topic: Moral panic
Ahhh, the good old days!

Like most new technologies, video games have spent the last thirty years being accused of corrupting the youth, joining comic books, television, radio, recorded music, role playing games and comprehensive sex education on a dubious list of moral panics created by people who forgot or maybe never knew what it was like to be a kid.

Making the issue worse, moral guardians (such as the infamous ex-attorney Jack Thompson) take the "kid stuff" concept to ridiculous extremes, failing to distinguish between games marketed to children and games marketed to adults, and making hysterical judgements on the effects of video games on players.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has a very, very long list of advisories — while most deal with sex and violence content, there are applications such as electronic cookbooks that include advisories for "alcohol references" and a few other similar sillies. However, the main rating is usually more than sufficient to determine the suitability of the product for your eight-year-old child.

[edit] Moral guardians

Liberty University prohibits students playing "A" or games with ratings pending. They also prohibit games with sexual content, alcohol/drug use, or strong language listed on the back. Games containing violence are at the discretion of Resident Directors. Bob Jones University takes things a steep further and prohibits music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, since rock & roll is essentially Satan's voice.

Outright bans are more common than many people are comfortable with. In English-speaking countries, Australia has banned several games, and at one point Greece tried to outlaw all public video gaming in a massive overreaction to a political gambling scandal.[2] In gamer circles, Germany is notorious for its censorship laws regarding violent content in games.

[edit] Sex

There are a good number of games that don't lack for sexual content, from the relatively mild partial nudity in The Sims to the explicit sexuality of the Hot Coffee scene in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.[3] Game developers and modders do things such as creating nude skins for female characters, or creating explicitly sexual third-party content, or even creating games like the highly controversial RapeLay, a literal rape simulator written and subsequently banned in Japan. Sex in video games has therefore long been a subject of both controversy and amusement. The game Mass Effect, despite being rated M (17+) by the ESRB, caused a moral panic in the conservative media because of one mild alien sex scene that would be just fine on an evening network television show; this culminated in a Fox News shitfest where feminist undertones were used to criticize it.[4]

[edit] Fanboys

Fanboys, as extremely dedicated gamers of a particular console, game series, or genre are derogatorily called, frequently have their own moral mishaps that sometimes even make into the media. For example, in Novermber 17, 2006, Jeff Gerstmann received death threats after awarding the high-fantasy game Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess an 8.8 out of 10 ("Great"), which apparently wasn't enough for fans of the series.[5] Given that nearly none of the fanboys knew that any review is biased, an angry tirade of fanboys messaged threats to the reviewer, and a lockdown to the Gamespot building ensued, meaning that nobody in the building got in or got out due to fears of getting lynched in the street over an opinion. Gerstmann vowed never to review a Zelda game again.

However, if that wasn't enough fanboyism for a gaming website, Gamespot in December 19, 2013 made the same unapparent mistake of reviewing a Legend of Zelda game, this time done by reviewer Martin Gaston. Again, the building went on lockdown for Gatson nominating the game A Link Between Worlds for the Nintendo 3DS Game of the Year, which, for batshit fanatics, was too much for a Zelda game given that it broke the formula of a top-view Zelda game which hadn't been used in a while. Gatson was one of the only employees that interviewers could get a hold of, considering all communication within the staff was limited:

I was advised not to even write a review for the game in the first place. They apparently did not want a repeat of the 8.8 event but nothing seemed to go wrong after the review went up. So when I placed my vote for A Link Between Worlds to be game of the year, I thought times had changed. I was wrong. I was dead fucking wrong. Video game fanatics are by definition, fanatics. Nintendo fans, Sony fans, Microsoft fans. They're all insane for devoting themselves to something so trivial.
—Martin Gatson, while the building on lockdown had limited communication.

At least one death threat came every five minutes for these people. [6]

Of course, this isn't limited to just games, as the actual hardware used to play the games can be a subject of literally almost endless debate among video games players. In the transition between the third and fourth generations of video games this was the case in the Console Wars with the famous consoles Sega Genesis and Nintendo NES (later it was the SNES, triggering what was called the Bit Wars so called for who got from 16 to 32 to 64 bits of technology, ad infinitum, ad nauseaum), but in the latest years due to Sega having low profits and Nintendo having a truly narrow demographic it has switched to that of the Sony PS4 and the Microsoft Xbox One. Vicious attacks on both sides have ensued, but near its release the Xbox One had the greatest controversy due to its supposed invasion of privacy, which requires an online connection every 24 hours, and as a result of the controversy Microsoft dropped its plans for DRM shortly before launch. Along for the ride are PC fanboys who detest consoles in general, and many refer to themselves as the "PC master race".

[edit] Impact on attitudes

If Pacman had affected us as kids we'd be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive music.
—Marcus Brigstocke

Video games have mixed impacts on players' attitudes towards violence, sexism, and racism.

[edit] Violence

During the first surge of video game popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a somewhat widespread belief that the use of multiple lives in a video game could lead players to not value their own lives (very much in the same spirit as the idea that video game players were allegedly detached enough that they wouldn't understand violence was wrong).

There's no getting around one point — many video games are violent. Some violent games such as Mortal Kombat and God of War are very successful. The latter was particularly notorious in the early 2000s for offending various parenting sensibilities (it had, among other things, blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, monster-hacking, and general nudey themes) and the former effectively set off the entire panic itself. Games such as Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and Max Payne transpose graphic violence into gangster and police procedural settings, and first-person shooters (a genre dating to the 1980 arcade game Battlezone) gained a reputation from their 1990s flagbearer Doom for immense amounts of gratuitous and often supernatural violence.[7]

Needless to say, like any other new media panic, the old media loves to feast on these things — one of the Columbine shooters, for example, was a modestly talented Doom level designer, so many people blamed their gaming rather than their social isolation or fascist political leanings for the slaughter. Pop psychologist "Dr." Phil McGraw has been known to do shows on the alleged danger of video games, as have police procedurals such as Criminal Minds and the Law and Order franchise. In the United States, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was organized to provide MPAA-like content ratings for video games, with this system also being used in Canada while Japan, Europe, and Australia have their own rating systems; however, the perception (by and large a post hoc ergo propter hoc confusing of causality and correlation) continues that excessive video game violence can cause bad behavior in youth, presumably on the assumption that video gamers have a somewhat tenuous grasp of reality. The fact that this has been said about role playing games, comics, and (in a recent case) horror novels without being borne out by studies on the subject really doesn't faze anyone involved in the moral outrage industry.

[edit] Sexism

See the main article on this topic: Sexism
Primary character by gender, race.[8]

Sexism has been a problem, both in games and in the gaming community itself (which in turn influences the content in the games due to consumer demand).

Despite a substantial and growing number of female gamers,[9] there is still an overwhelming tendency for games to star male characters and neglect females, as well as an imbalance in the treatment of male and female archetypes.[8][10]

Female gamers themselves are seen as special and denoted as such with terms like "girl gamer" or the arguably worse "gamer girl". Various excesses of immature behaviour (i.e., nativism, racism, sexism, and heterosexism) are normal in most gaming communities.[11] Many of the more vocal gamers are not happy to be faced with women's rights issues within the scope of their "light-hearted" medium and display behaviour ranging from rude to overtly violent, such as the "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" game.[12]

It's been a huge source of outside ridicule[13] and an excuse to not take gamers seriously. This wound is one that even developers admit is self-inflicted.[14][15] Inaction in the face of blatant sexual harassment in official gaming events is especially notable.[16] Further incidents like "Gamergate" don't make it any better, as they both scare off female players and developers, and make games appear more the playground of immature misogynists than a true artform.

There are several scientific studies on whether video games make people sexist:

  • Deskins 2015 ("The Effects of Video Games on Sexism Attitudes in Males"), sampling "117 undergraduate participants (41 men, 76 women)", found evidence that playing violent video games correlated with finding "screen shots of a series of sexist chat messages sent to female gamers" to be amusing (though this doesn't prove causation):[17]
The relationship between amusement and offensiveness ratings were also examined for how much participants reported playing violent video games. [....] As can be seen in Table 1, a correlation of amusement with violent video game play was also (r(117)= .184 and p= .047). That correlation showed that as people who reported playing more VVGs they also reported finding the images more amusing. [....] In order to examine the suspected differences of Hostile sexism, gender and whether or not participants played Violent Video Games (VVGs) or not, a 2(Hostile sexism split: above, below median) X 2(gender: women, men) x 2(Violent Video Games played: yes, no) analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used for the mean amusement scores. That ANOVA indicated a marginal main effect for VVGs, F(1, 109) = 3.436,p = .067. That effect occurred because individuals who play VVGs reported more amusement across the images (M = .988) than did individuals who do not play VVGs (M = .635).
  • Breuer et al. 2015 ("Sexist Games = Sexist Gamers? A Longitudinal Study on the Relationship Between Video Game Use and Sexist Attitudes"), sampling 4500 self-identified "active gamers" (in the first wave of the 3-wave longitudinal study), found no evidence that video games increase or decrease sexist attitudes:[18]
The current study addressed this issue by examining the influence of video game exposure on sexist beliefs and attitudes over a 3 year period. However, no evidence for a cultivation effect on sexist attitudes was found. [....] Although the findings from the present study are certainly not conclusive, the absence of any longitudinal links between video game use and sexist attitudes at least suggests two things. First, similar to what has been suggested for aggression,38 it is likely that there are factors, such as personal experience and family and peer influences, that affect the development, proliferation, prevention, or reduction of sexist attitudes more strongly than (fictional) media content. Second, general and broad cultivation effects of video games are somewhat unlikely, as players differ in the games they play, and the interactivity of the medium also causes the experience of the same game to differ between players.
  • The abstract of Fox et al. 2015 ("Lifetime Video Game Consumption, Interpersonal Aggression, Hostile Sexism, and Rape Myth Acceptance: A Cultivation Perspective") reads:[19]
In this study, we conducted a survey (N = 351) of male and female adults and used structural equation modeling to analyze relationships among video game consumption, trait interpersonal aggression, ambivalent sexism, and first-order (percentage of false rape accusations) and second-order cultivation effects (RMA). We found support for the hypothesized cultivation model, indicating a relationship between video game consumption and RMA via interpersonal aggression and hostile sexism. Although these findings cannot be interpreted causally, we discuss the implications of these associations and future directions for research.

And several studies support the idea that "objectifying" (perceiving a person as an object, such as when a woman is not more than background decoration) people, and women specifically, dehumanizes them and makes it easier to cause harm to them:

  • Loughnan et al. 2010 ("Objectification leads to depersonalization: The denial of mind and moral concern to objectified others"), sampling two groups (A:) eighty-six people (54 female, 32 male) and (B:) eighty people participating as part of a course requirement (40 female, 40 male), found that objectification did indeed lead to dehumanization:[20]
In two studies we have demonstrated that objectification influences depersonalization, specifically the attribution of mind and moral status. As objectification increased, mind attribution decreased and moral status was withdrawn. Although this emerged as a main effect in almost all analyses, Study 2 revealed the important qualifying role of target gender. [....] A particularly worrying original finding of this research is that objectification diminishes a second aspect of personhood, perceived moral status. Whether this reduction precipitates less moral treatment of objectified others is an important question for future research. Study 2 demonstrated that the objectified are assigned more pain tablets, a finding which may indicate that they are seen as less sensitive to pain or that we care less about their suffering. Feminist theorists have argued that objectification plays an important role in facilitating violence against women (Dworkin, 2000).
  • The abstract of Heflick et al. 2011 ("From women to objects: Appearance focus, target gender, and perceptions of warmth, morality and competence") reads:[21]
Research on perceptions of humanness and the stereotype content model suggests that humanness is linked to perceptions of warmth, morality and competence. Merging these insights with objectification theory, we hypothesized that focusing on a woman's, but not a man's, appearance should induce objectification, and thus reduce perceptions of these characteristics. In three studies, females, but not males, were perceived as less competent (Studies 2 and 3) and less warm and moral (Studies 1, 2 and 3) when participants were instructed to focus on their appearance. These findings support our position and help rule out stereotype activation as an alternative explanation to dehumanization. Further, they generalized to targets of different races, familiarity, physical attractiveness and occupational status.

Interestingly, another study found that male gamers who were better at Halo tended to be significantly nicer to female gamers, and bad gamers were meaner. In other words, online misogynists are literally losers.[22]

[edit] Racism

See the main article on this topic: Racism
Characters by race.[8]
Characters by age.[8]

Racism is common in video game culture. Be it on Xbox Live where the N-word is thrown around as much as a frag grenade in an FPS or in the highly stereotyped characters of fighting games, video gaming culture has its own issues of racism on both the developer and consumer sides.

Western video games frequently face criticism for more or less portraying the same type of hero (heterosexual white males). Here's a fun chart that actually illustrates this point quite well.[23] This is so obvious that even large corporations like Ubisoft are developing videogames that openly try and break this trend as much as possible such as Far Cry 4.[24] Despite this, Far Cry 4 has been accused of racism against Asians.[25] This form of racism is based on exclusion, where minorities and people of color are either erased, stereotyped or objectified. For example, a study by the European Journal of Cultural Studies showed that Arabs and Muslims were frequently linked to terrorism in video games, promoting vicious stereotypes about both groups.[26] Despite claims to the contrary, black and Latino American gamers are statistically proven to buy more video games and play them more frequently than white American gamers, showing that this erasure isn't an issue of sales.[27]

Unlike television and movie media of the past, the racism in video games is generally formed from ignorance and erasure rather than outright malice. However, gaming culture itself makes it very hard to bring up the issues of racism. For example, when gamers playing the obviously racist video game "Ching-Chong Beautiful" complete with racial slurs against Asians and highly offensive portrayals of Asians said "Hey, this is pretty racist", other gamers told them to calm down because it was fun to play.[28]

Non-white gamers who comment on racism on video games are either brutally attacked through social media or are ignored. When black gamers asked Bioware why there weren't any black characters in Dragon Age, Bioware's response was incredibly an condescending and borderline bigoted strawman of what the gamers asked complete with the good ol' fashioned "Why aren't you asking if there aren't any vegetarians in Bioware" line of bad logic.[29] Many gamers make the claim that they themselves aren't racist for playing a game that is racist. This is also a nasty form of strawman as it tries to individualize an issue that is intrinsic to entire culture. (In other words, your individualism isn't relevant.)

While the subject matter of video games may be racist or exclusionary, video games as an activity isn't. Studies show that when people of different ethnicities and races play video games in teams, racism and prejudicial attitudes actually decrease.[30] Racism in Western video games is really a larger reflection of Western culture, as long as racism is in Western culture, there will be racism in our media.

[edit] Health issues

Another common concern about video games is health — most children consuming games are usually sitting in front of the computer, TV, and/or handheld game console and not being active.

Other known health issues include:

  • Dizziness and motion sickness (the most common)[31]
  • Back injuries and chair posture[32]
  • Blistering, bruising, or cuts[33]
  • Epileptic seizures[34]
  • Heart attacks[35]

Some see it as a case of correlation does not equal causation—suggesting that video games are the cause of developmental, attention and social issues in individuals does not address the actual problems that an individual might have, such as more sedentary lifestyles.

[edit] Warnings

Nintendo's current systems (as well as newer games on the now-discontinued GameCube and Game Boy Advance) display notifications related to health and safety when starting up for the reasons listed above. Notably, its 3DS has a parental control option to turn off the 3D effect (which works differently from 3D TV and movies; for example, it doesn't require special glasses) on settings for young children due to safety concerns. As noted on the boxes of 3DS games, the 3D effect is only enabled if the parental control settings are set for players seven years of age or older (likewise, turning parental controls off entirely leaves use of the 3D effect unrestricted). Up until the 3DS (including the original DS and the Wii), the notifications could not be turned off, but they only required a press of a button to get past and only appeared when the system was turned on, so it ends up less annoying than it sounds. The 3DS only displays the warning when the system is first set up (i.e. when it's fresh out of the box), but includes health and safety application on the system's main menu.

Sony's PlayStation Portable also has health and safety notifications along the lines of what Nintendo has. While general health warnings for Playstation 3 software is generally relegated to game manuals, the PS3 itself displays a warning about photosensitive epilepsy on startup while little white dots of light flash on screen. Microsoft didn't seem to have added any to its Xbox 360 system, however.

[edit] Brain development

"Game brain" is the theory that playing video games for a long period of time affects a player's frontal lobe, inhibiting creative and emotional development (among other things). A relatively new theory, it is generally disregarded by science.

One study by Prof. Ryuta Kawashima suggested that video games impacts the development of the brain by not stimulating the frontal lobe, which the researcher concludes will result in an increasingly violent society.[36] Details of the research are vague and do not show much promise in terms of methodology, as the study compared 30 minutes of adding numbers non-stop with playing a Nintendo game.[37] Beyond the obvious ambiguity, this leads to issues of not considering the unstructured nature of most video games, and the wide range of video game types, both within and beyond Nintendo. The researcher appears to be using beta wave activity as a proxy for frontal lobe activation. A more robust way of collecting this data would be to use an actual fMRI scan. Lack of frontal lobe activation also does not automatically mean that less attention and conscious activity are inherently associated with video games. Individuals who have practiced at a specific task for enough time generally show less activation as the task is "farmed out" to unconscious mental processes.[38]

There is recent research that games are (gasp) good for your brain![39] Scientists in Berlin have told adults to play Super Mario 64 (the DS version) 30 minutes a day for 2 months; after this, MRI scans show increased brain matter in areas involving spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills of the hands compared to the people who didn't play the game. Also, lead researchers of the study concluded that video games may be used even as therapeutic treatment.[40]

[edit] Addiction

There are also concerns over video game addiction, based on the assumption that video games cause people to become socially introverted, rather than being a release for people who already are. There is considerable unease in many nations over disproportionate time (and sometimes money[41][42]) some players spend gaming. In one extreme case a Korean baby died of malnutrition and neglect while her parents spent roughly 12 hours a day raising a "fantasy child" online.[43] Approximately 3% to 8% of gamers are "pathological players" associated with anxiety, depression, problems with social and family interaction, poor school and career achievement. Establishing which is cause and which is effect is difficult.[44]

MMORPGs and other subscription-based games sometimes take advantage of Skinnerian operant conditioning[45][46] to ensure a steady cashflow — but by and large the question of gaming addiction comes down to whether a game is interfering with normal life functions, and the related question of whether it's being used as a substitute for other interaction. The second is not an inherently bad thing; social gaming such as Second Life or MMORPGs often serves as a highly effective social outlet for people who find real world interaction is difficult or uncomfortable. The first, however, is potentially very destructive; unfortunately, people do confuse the two issues regularly.

To combat the negative aspect of video game addition, China enacted laws to force a time-limitation on Massive Multiplayer Online games, where players that have been playing for three continuous hours begin to receive reduced in-game abilities.[47] This is only effective in preventing monomania within a monomania, since players are free to switch to another game that does not assign active penalties.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. The "ur-game" remains disputed to this day; "Cathode Ray Tube Amusement DeviceWikipedia's W.svg" just isn't as catchy.
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Law 3037/2002.
  3. Which, technically, was game content that had been removed from the game's plotline but which had been left in the shipping game's data files; the controversy was over the fact that modders had been able to relink the scene into the storyline.
  4. Author Faults a Game, and Gamers Flame Back (January 26, 2008) The New York Times.
  5. Zelda:Twilight Princess, 8.8 from Gamespot (Nov 17, 2006) IGN.
  6. GameSpot Receives Death Threats and Locks Down Entire Office After Naming Zelda Game of the Year by Jack (December 19, 2013) Play4Real (archived copy from January 1, 2014).
  7. BFG-9000: When you absolutely have to frag incinerate every mofo in the room, accept no substitutes.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3
  9. Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry: 2012, Entertainment Software Association
  10. Video game industry haunted by lack of female characters: Technical issues, lack of female gamers blamed (Jun 19, 2014 11:08 AM ET Last Updated: Jun 19, 2014 11:13 AM ET) CBC.
  11. Intersecting Oppressions And Online Communities: Examining the experiences of women of color in Xbox Live by Kishonna L. Gray (2012) Information, Communication & Society 15(3):411-428.
  12. Flash Game Makes Players Beat Up 'Tropes vs Women' Creator by John Funk (6 July 2012 11:35 am) The Escapist.
  13. XBox Girls Get Revenge by CollegeHumor (Sep 8, 2010) YouTube.
  14. Survey: poor work conditions and sexism give games industry a bad rap by Tracey Lien (Jun 24, 2014, 12:00pm EDT) Polygon.
  15. Women in Games by Gabe Newell (July 10, 2014) Imagur (archived from June 10, 2015).
  16. Is pervasive sexism holding the professional fighting game community back? Sexually charged language toward a female competitor at the Capcom-sponsored, … by Kyle Orland (2/29/2012, 10:26 AM) Ars Technica.
  22. Men who harass women online are quite literally losers, new study finds by Caitlin Dewey (July 20, 2015) The Washington Post.
  24. How Far Cry 3's "Dude Bro" Led to Changes in Far Cry 4: Creating the "anecdote factory" by Laura Parker (July 18, 2014 at 2:05PM) Game Spot.
  26. Digital Arabs: Representation in Video Games by Vit Sisler (2008) European Journal of Cultural Studies 11(2):203-220.
  27. Hispanics and Blacks Missing in Gaming Industry by Damon Packwood (Sep 13, 2011) New America Media.
  28. Video games’ race problem goes all the way to the top: What we really need to fix is an insular industry, and a gaming culture that punishes people for bringing up race by Sidney Fussell (Wednesday, Dec 11, 2013 5:57 PM UTC) Salon.
  29. BioWare on Racial Diversity in Dragon Age 2 by Cuppycake (Jan 5, 2011) The Border House.
  30. Can Video Games Curb Racism? by Jeremy Hsu (October 24, 2014 11:16 am) Discover Magazine.
  31. Video Games And Motion Sickness
  32. Office Chair, Posture, and Driving Ergonomics
  33. Interactive video games can cause a broad range of injuries, Science Daily
  34. Warning stated in practically any modern game manual. Related is the infamous Pokémon episode.
  35. Multiple anecdotal cases; this is generally a given risk for anyone who doesn't take some time out of their day to exercise.
  36. Researchers: Video games hurt brain development, CNET
  37. Computer games 'cause brain damage', CNN
  38. Video Game Brain Damage Claim Criticised, New Scientist
  39. Video Games Boost Brain Power, Multitasking Skills, NPR
  40. How video gaming can be beneficial for the brain, Max Planck Institute
  41. How Every Awful Video Game Thing Was Born
  42. Inside the Epic Online Space Battle That Cost Gamers $300,000, Wired (Though this was probably worth it.)
  43. Jail for couple whose baby died while they raised online child, CNN
  44. What makes video games addictive?, The Economist
  45. My favourite waste of time: why Candy Crush and Angry Birds are so compulsive, The Guardian
  46. This is the same thing that can cause both rats and people to become compulsive gamblers.
  47. Multiplayer Online Video Gaming (MMORPG) Playing In Excess: A Process Addiction?, East Carolina University
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