Video Games & … Medicine?

While stumbling (it seems that StumbleUpon is a rich resource for blogging fodder) I came across an interesting website which I assumed to be a collection of thought-provoking games.  As I read through the website, however, and began to play some of the games, I realized that the games had been developed for a reason other than entertainment.  One of these games, developed by Singapore-MIT game lab, was developed to help clinically depressed persons see the beauty in life and ultimately relieve their depression. The game is called “Elude” and the website’s description of it says:

“Developed by Singapore-MIT Gambit Game LabElude is a dark, atmospheric game that aims to shed light on the nature of depression. You play a little guy exploring a beautiful yet forbidding world. The world has three distinct levels, each a metaphor for a different mental state.

The forest that you start the game in represents a normal mood. You can ascend to a higher plane – happiness – by climbing the trees in the forest. From, here you can leap joyously up into the sky by jumping on floating flowers and leaves. The leaves and flowers disappear after you have touched them and eventually none are left to keep you aloft and you plunge down into the third game area: depression.”

This struck me as odd; a video game supplying some medical remedy instead of a doctor or medicine.  But after considering this for a while, I began to realize, why couldn’t a video game help to cure someone of their depression?  A game has the potential to elevate someones mood, even give thema different outlook on life. But that largely depends on the elements of the game.  Does one connect with the character?  Does the story accomplish the goals it sets out to achieve? I ask these questions after playing a short online video game, but perhaps this concept could be expanded into a longer video game.  And perhaps it already has? Would you consider games like “The Sims” or “Second Life” to be an example of this game, being that a player can create a character in their image but give them a better/different life that they can control? Are there studies that show the effects of these games from Singapore-MIT game lab? Discovering this game has led to more questions than answers, but it is just another link between the worlds of video games and learning.

Play Elude Here

McGonigal TED Talk

To compliment the great post below (perfect timing!), I wanted to add Jane McGonigal’s TED talk where she discusses how gaming can improve in the near future.  For anyone that is unfamiliar with TED, it is a series of lectures ranging from artistic demonstrations to highly technical science research with person’s world renowned in their respective fields.  The talks are usually brief and extremely interesting.  How often, besides every Tuesday-Thursday of course, do we get to listen to a brilliant lecture? Check out this link to hear what McGonigal has to say.

Games From My Childhood: Civilization 3

I was recently digging through my desk at home when I came across the badly beaten and scratched but intact case holding Civilization 3, my favorite computer game from when I was younger.  For anyone that hasn’t played Civilization and/or hasn’t read someone’s game poster (shame on you), Civilization begins with you selecting a country (you play as the famous leader of that country–Lincoln, for example, represents the US) and starts with a nearly blank map and a settler.  From here you begin to build an empire, accumulate wealth and culture and wonders, build an army, meet other countries, and eventually destroy those countries.  Each turn advances you further into the future, with the end date at 2050 (Nostradamus?).  As you discover resources and expand your scientific research, you can upgrade your units and even build new ones relative to the time period you’re in.  An example of this is the military units you are allowed; you start with a basic warrior and end producing jet fighters.

Civ 3 was made in 2001, and it shows.  The graphics are extremely dated and simple, and it contains almost none of the modern aspects we now see in video games.  But that didn’t matter to me.  I loved this game because it was brilliant.  I could play for hours and not realize it.  Most of all though, even beyond the pleasure I gained from playing the game, was an affinity for history that I developed because of this game.  In the game as I met characters and discovered their cities, I became curious about the true history of those places and began looking them up on my own.  Without even realizing it, I was playing an educational video game.  And I didn’t care.

Years later, I found that Sid Meier (the game’s producer) is still hard at work, and has now developed Civ 5. Of course, I downloaded it immediately.  The graphics, the gameplay, and the countries are new, but the curious educational aspect is still very strong.  For anyone who has ever wanted to take history into their own hands, to build empires, build armies, wage war and accomplish world domination, this is the game for you.  But if you can find it, and you have a PC that will still run it, find Civ 3 and play it.  I promise you it will be the memory from your childhood you wish you had.

Scvngr Shakes Up SXSW

I found this post on, of all places, a social networking site. It discusses how the “Chief Ninja” (aka Seth Priebatsch, the 22 year old founder of Scvngr) is changing the world using his innovative social networking game, which adds a “social layer” to society.

Why Facebook is the Ultimate Computer Game

Think about it.

You create a Facebook account.  Then what?  You begin to accumulate friends, build a profile, and design what you believe is the closest equilibrium between the real you and the virtually desirable you.  Ostensibly, you are engaging in an activity, like any fundamental online game, that can be scored and measured using universal standards.  Obviously people will play the game differently; some will choose to gain the most friends, be tagged in the most pictures, or join the most groups.  Some people will design their profile hoping to attract “friends of value”, or people who possess certain desirable qualities that make the user feel as if they’ve “won” because these desirable people want to be one’s friend.  Updates and interface changes in past years has changed or evolved most of these aspects on Facebook, but there was once a time when your number of friends and amount of wall posts was public information.  Other social networking sites can be measured using the same or similar standards.  On twitter your profile has been boiled down to a picture, a brief bio, and basic stats which include how many people you’re following, how many are following you, and how many times you’ve tweeted.  And so the game begins.  The whole concept behind Twitter is that people will follow or unfollow you based on what you say. Yes, people tweet because they have something on their mind, but the basic function of Twitter suggests that to an extent, the user will carefully consider what they say because it could benefit or hurt their quest to gain followers.  Additionally, one’s “expertise” or “level” can be determined based on a simple algorithm using Twitter’s provided stats about the user.  In order for all of this to actually work, to sustain its competitive game-like nature, these sites thrive on the basic concept of human’s desiring affirmation from others.  We seek approval from others, shaping our own identities based on the responses of family and friends to our actions.  This is not a new concept; in fact it is a very, very old concept, however in recent years programmers and innovators have found a way to take one of our most basic and essential human aspects and digitize it.  It is truly remarkable how such a basic human truth has remanifested itself in a form applicable to the modern technology and trends of our generation.  With the understanding that harvesting this fundamental human truth can lead to great success, I believe that future social trends, no matter how technologically advanced they may be, will essentially boil down to what is known as “the human factor”.

The Benefits of A Timeless Time-Waster

Eagle-Vail airport, with it’s 5 terminals and planes that you actually have to walk onto the runway to get onto, understandably does not have much going on.  In today’s age where modern airline transportation is becoming more like space travel and less like boarding a bus, it is somewhat of a culture shock to be in an airport where you can stand in the center and see both ends.  It’s the end of spring break and we have arrived early for our flight.  There’s a small shop with no candy and a small restaurant with bad food.  The aisles are lined with sleepy parents and over emphatic kids, screaming about some card game where apparently the rules are not important in order for one to win.  With too much time to sit around, we wander the small airport, stumbling upon the holy grail of boring airports.  There, tucked between a wall and the bathroom, sits an old Pac-Man machine.  It was a curious site; the airport, like the town it resided in, was built in rustic, mountain/western fashion with lots of wood and forest green trim.  This neon colored 1970’s black box seemed like an oddity, but it was a welcoming site.  We immediately began to pool our change so we could play.  We passed the hour and a half wait very quickly, and happily boarded the plane having spent our time playing what proved to be a great time-waster.  I found that the most interesting thing about the game was the high scores.  I don’t remember if they were any more or less impressive than other games that I’ve seen, however their existence told me that over the years this game has served other bored travelers the same way it is currently serving us.  More modern airports, with their mall-like presence and endless sources of entertainment, might have been more appealing to another traveler, but we were perfectly content in that small airport playing Pac-Man, the perfectly timeless time-waster.

Ripped From the Headlines

The article/video I have posted was taken from “The Today Show” this morning.  It is about a boy in Texas who cannot physically attend school because of a weakened immune system, so he instead attends as an avatar. This is a cool video, but also an indicator of where education and technology are heading in the future.

Gaming Profile: Fallout: New Vegas

Hi guys.  I presented my poster on Tuesday and observed that beyond asking questions, a lot of you were curious about if it was a good game or not.  Posters are a great way to learn about how our games apply to what we are learning, but those of us who are always looking for new games to play, I thought this would be a cool way to highlight my game and review it for you here.  I know a lot of people are playing interesting games, and this might be a way for us to promote our games to each other.

Like I said, I am playing Fallout: New Vegas.  The game takes place hundreds of years in the future, after the country has been destroyed by nuclear war.  All Fallout Series games take place in some sort of “US Wasteland”; Fallout 3 was in D.C., and Fallout: New Vegas is obviously in the Southwest, called the Mojave Wasteland.  You play the role of a mysterious traveler known only as “The Courier”, who has a valuable package stolen from him at the beginning of the game.  Much of the main quest revolves around the Courier trying to get the package back, but after a few twists and turns, it becomes clear that the contents of the package are very important and also very dangerous.  The Courier must battle through dangerous gangs, unstable governments, critters, creatures and mutants in order to save the Mojave Wasteland from falling into the wrong hands.

The game can take hundreds of hours to play to completion, both because of its extensive gameplay and its emphasis on exploration.  The player can discover new areas to explore through dialog options, random wandering, and quests that require you to visit a specific location.  Some locations are small caves with weapons and ammo; some are huge labyrinths teeming with enemies.  In some ways exploration is necessary; a player must constantly search for ammo, weapons, food and clean water in order to survive the treacherous desert.  As the player proceeds further north towards New Vegas enemies become stronger and more dangerous.  A player must constantly upgrade their weapons and perks in order to stay in front of their enemies.  As you complete missions and kill enemies you gain experience points.  Those points go towards two things; your abilities, like how well you can pick locks, use energy weapons, and barter for goods, and various perks that enhance your character, like the ability to do 20% more damage against male enemies, or the ability to reload your weapons faster.

A key component to Fallout is karma; a player can choose to be good or bad based on their actions.  Little things like stealing food thats not yours are seen as small subtractions to your karma, while bigger decisions exist like whether you will use a nuclear facility for its energy or to destroy an entire army.  Your karma will change the way people receive you and also affect your dialogue options.  Additionally, the way you treat groups of people will affect your interactions with them.  If you kill members of a gang you will be banished from their territory, and every time they see you they will attack.  This attention to detail is what makes Fallout such an enjoyable game to play.

I was asked the question, “should I rent or buy this game?”  I would definitely encourage you to buy it.  It won an award for “Best Bang for Your Buck”, and also won an award for top RPG of the year.  The gameplay is long, the controls are fun and generally simple once you figure out how to use V.A.T.S. and your Pip Boy, and the story is engaging.  This will be one of the best games you have ever played, and if you really like it, the graphics and story line of Fallout 3 are very similar and would also make for an enjoyable game.  I hope you guys find this interesting and go out and get this game!  If you are playing it or would like to play it and have any questions, please comment here or come find me in class.

Mario Kart Love Song

I heard about this video last year and wanted to share it with you guys if you haven’t seen it before.  The song is actually really good and the lyrics are very clever.  On a weirdly sentimental note, growing up I really loved playing Mario Kart, and was completely mesmerized by the lights and colors of Rainbow Road, and I think this song captures the romanticized essence of the video game. Enjoy!

Glitches Get Stitches

I am playing Fallout: New Vegas for our individual gaming assignment and recently found a major glitch in the game.  After completing a mission, there is a line of dialogue with a character that gives you 350 xp and valuable health packs.  The glitch?  The line of dialogue never goes away, so you can infinitely collect these health packs and experience points.  At first, I thought I had hit the jackpot.  Like a madman I used this glitch, rising levels and gaining valuable perks, but soon that feeling of euphoria turned into guilt, and that guilt into shame.  This was not a cheat; I did not have to enter anything into the system or manipulate the game in any way, but I felt like I had cheated by using this glitch.  I really enjoy the game I’m playing and wouldn’t want to give myself any kind of unfair advantage because I know it will change my gaming experience.  It pained me to do so, but I knew the right thing to do, and turned off the game without saving, starting the game over from before I started using the glitch.  I started the game with significantly less experience points and stim packs, but I felt good about playing the game the right way.

The Frustrations of Free Online Games

Well, I did it again.  I spent over an hour last night playing one game on  I couldn’t even tell you what the name of the game was, and yet I wasted the golden hours of my work-time window on this stupid game. The game involved shooting a squirrel/chipmunk/critter out of a rocket, and as you collected acorns, you gained points that you could put towards upgrades, which would help you launch the critter further, ultimately gaining you more points.

It is apropos that today’s lecture should be about motivation and engagement, because I believe that both aspects play a large part in our learning.  Last night, however, my time spent playing that frustrating online game led me to challenge the concepts that we have discussed in class.  I believe that motivation and engagements are only two tips of the triangle, and that reward, or compensation, must also be considered in order for the concepts we have discussed in class to fully be realized.  In sports, for example, a victory in a game accomplishes all three of the aforementioned concepts because it is a step towards the championship.  In video games, fully thought out and developed games for gaming systems, gamers are often rewarded or compensated for their success with bonus games or material, unlocking new content, or new gameplay options.  Hundreds of other real-world examples, including grades, competitions, and extracurriculars, exist to support this theory.

The point is that we engage in these activities because we know that when we finish them we will be better off than when we first began.  There is a distinct difference in these games than a game like Tetris or Solitaire, which one can play simply for the value of wasting a little time.  A distinct line is drawn between the simple time-wasters and the multi-dimensional games.  The problem that I have experienced is that these free online games fall directly in the middle.  The games are developed and lengthy enough to be motivating, but not engaging enough to produce any feelings of value, ultimately leading to the frustration of free online gaming, which leaves you with the feeling, “That’s it? I played that game for over an hour!  I don’t feel accomplished.  I just wasted a lot of time.”

You Can’t Play That on a Mac!

No one ever said Game Stop employees were known for their customer service abilities, but to actually laugh at a customer??  Unheard of.  But apparently when I asked if the new Civilization 5 would work on my MacBook Pro, the employees burst into laughter.  And it got worse from there.

Employee/Jester #1 called in Employee/Jester #2 so he could tell him what I had just asked.  Employee/Neil Diamond #2 proceeded to laugh louder than the first, and then in a sing-songy voice said “that’s what you get for buy-ing a Mac!”  After their tears had dried, they explained to me that Mac is about the worst PC gaming platform, and that despite my owning Windows Parallel, Civilization 5 would not run on my computer.

I was so disappointed.  Civilization 3 had been one of my favorite games from childhood, and I had been looking forward to the new Civilization since Sid Meier announced it last year.  Dismayed and tired of being laughed at, I bought Fallout New Vegas and left.