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Women self-identifying as digital game addicts: Their interpretations of power

[This paper comes from 2007 and was completed for a qualitative methodology course at Ohio State University under the amazing Patti Lather. She encouraged us to try different methods of communication research results; so I did a comic book, which you can see here.]

What is digital game addiction?

A number of approaches, theories, and entire discourse communities have arisen in the past century to understand this thing called “addiction” (West, 2001; Bailey, 2005). According to West (2001), beginning with a behavioral psychology perspective, addiction “typically involves initial exposure to a stimulus followed by behaviors seeking to repeat the experience. After a number of repetitions of the behaviour-stimulus sequence, the addiction becomes established.” (p. 3). All the approaches, theories and discourses have attempted to explain this process of addiction. What leads to the initial exposure? What about the stimulus or the engaging with it leads to a desire to repeatedly seek it out? How does this repetition become so ingrained that it is hard, if not physically impossible, to stop using it?

Medical, psychological, sociological, anthropological, economical, theological — all have weighed in on what causes this repeating behavior that is seen as ultimately deleterious to the person, even to the point of being perverse and sociopathic. Addiction is seen by all as a loss of control, only the reason for this being lack of control changes depending upon one’s metatheoretical viewpoint. However, while many have used qualitative, phenomenological methods, such as in-depth interviewing, to understand the perspective and experiences of the addict, there has been no systematic attempt to theorize addiction from an interpretive or constructivist viewpoint (Davies, 1998; Hirschman, 1992; Larkin & Griffiths, 2002). That is, a common approach has been an a priori application of some theory developed from someone looking at the addict and not a grounded theorizing approach of looking at addiction as an addict.

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Based on a large online data collection effort back in 2006, the collaboration of GAMA, Ohio State University, and that other website, resulted in a pretty robust dataset that yielded a variety of interesting explorations.

By: CarrieLynn Reinhard and Brant Guillory, 20 April 2014

ABSTRACT

Central to our understanding of why people play digital games (either video or computer games) is to understand the reason people want to “play” a game in the first place.  Playing, once reserved for only real-life interactions among people, is now the venue for interacting with digital manifestations of reality; but the question remains, is this digital-based playing different than real-based playing?  The purpose of this study was to investigate the patterns of motivation and usage by card, role-playing, computer, and board game players, known in this study as hobby game players.  Through an online survey, we measured the reasons people play these games, as well as the milieu in which they play these games are played.  What does the game player like in a game?  Why does the gamer like this?  What motivates continued game play and preferences for types of games?  The results indicate that digital game playing shares several underlying motivations with its pre-digital predecessors, but in ways that are still different than tabletop gaming.

Read on at: Experiences of Hobby Game Players: Motivations Behind Playing Digital and Non-Digital Games

The Nintendo Wii U Experience

Thanks to the technology grant offered by my wonderful university, I was able to purchase a Deluxe Nintendo Wii U — which means it comes with Nintendo Land so that you do not have to purchase it separately.  As part of my ongoing series as Dr. Geek for Clearance Bin Review, I wrote about my initial reaction to and experience with the new console system, the new gameplay interface GamePad, and the Nintendo Land game.  This is what I wrote.

One of the first posts I wrote for CBR addressed the next gen — 8th generation — video game consoles.  At the time, a whole year ago, all we knew for certain was the next gen coming from Nintendo, the Wii U.  Anything on Sony and Microsoft’s updates to their respective PlayStation and Xbox offerings were purely speculative.  Since then, the Nintendo Wii U was released for the 2012 Christmas season, and more details have emerged on what consoles will be joining them: from the OUYA to the PlayStation 4, reportedly code-named Orbis, to the Xbox 720, reportedly code-named Durango.

But none of them are out.  The Wii U has been for three months now.  And, well, it definitely has not made the same type of revolutionary splash that the Wii did.  In fact, Nintendo recently lowered their sales forecasts.  They claim to have sold 3.06 million Wii U games since their release, but that they are only expecting to sell 4 million units through March, almost 30 percent less than their previous projection of 5.5 million.  Experts and gamers alike are claiming the reasons for the lackluster sales are due to the games currently out — or, more to the point, not out — and the poor communication by Nintendo as to just what the hell the Wii U is.  As the New York Times points out, the Wii could make a splash because its motion-based interface was so different from the consoles on the market — there was a clear distinction between the Wii and its competitors.  However, the GamePad of the Wii U is essentially an amalgamation of a Wiimote, a tablet/smartphone, and a traditional game controller.  Being a chimera can turn off hardcore gamers, who like the traditional game controller, and casual gamers, who like the touchscreen or Wiimote options.

But, it is the first of the 8th gen video game consoles.  And that makes it a momentous occurrence in the long history of digital games.  Thus, I have wanted one.  And, since I can argue that having one is useful for my research and teaching purposes (as it absolutely is!), I was able to acquire one for my university (the same awesome university that also purchases a 3D printer for our teaching and research).  It arrived yesterday, and I brought it home to set up as I figured I would need hours to do so given the horror stories on the matter.

Even from the box I could get a sense about what I was getting into.  The box said there are separate AC adapters, for the console and for the GamePad (the tablet device interface), meaning that the game controller does not have batteries like the Wiimotes.  When I finally held the GamePad, I was glad there were no batteries, as the slim battery pack in the controller helps to maintain a lower weight — indeed, the controller weighed less than an Xbox 360 controller in my hands.  The weight was comparable to a Kindle Fire HD, as was the size: even the screens were basically the same.

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Also on the box, Nintendo wanted to highlight how this is the first Nintendo console designed for digital television sets with 1080p high definition resolution.  Stating this proudly was combined by indicating that the box included an HDMI cable to accentuate the high def.  However, in seeing only that cable included, a question immediately sprang to mind: does this mean you can only hook the Wii U up to an HDMI ready television set?  Luckily, in examining the console, it clearly had an AV Multi Out port, allowing you to hook up the Wii’s AV cable to connect to a more traditional television or audiovisual system.  The console also has four USB ports, two of which are in front with an SD card slot.  It also comes with its own sensor bar, which is necessary for Wiimotes to be additional game controllers.  However, unlike the Wii, there are no ports for GameCube controllers; meaning that while the console may be backwards compatible to play older games (that is, Wii games, nothing older than that), it will not be possible to play those games with older controllers.

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The console is visually bigger than the Wii console, and with far more fan vents, so they must be clocking that processor up — and they have to be, to crank out the 1080p, which does look prettier than the Wii graphics.  It is nice to be black — because that’s totally original — but, just as an aesthetic note, why ugly it up with a horrible light gray power cord?  They kept the black theme going with the new sensor bar — was it too much to ask to have it for the console’s AC adapter?  Just inconsiderate…

And why does the HDMI cord smell like Band-Aids?

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Anyway, from the beginning of the set-up, I could see how they were going to handle the trade-off of having to attend to two screens instead of one.  At times, each screen would offer different information about what was happening, with the GamePad screen being the focus for times of actual interaction.  The TV would give the instructions, and the GamePad would accept the answers.  Heck, they are so integrated that the GamePad can become a TV remote, making the Wii U far less focused on physical movement and returning to the idea of video games cultivating couch potatoes.  And the GamePad is designed for comfortable holding, not for fast motions like the Wiimote: it has built in grips and stand, allowing it to rest in the hands far easier than any tablet on the market.  It also has rather good stereo sound, and a head phone jack to allow you to enjoy it in peace.

After the set up, the download did take about an hour.  During this time, we switched over to the PS3 to watch The Daily Show, so you can switch over to other functions on the television while the GamePad remains connected and interactive with the console.  Oh, and game designers, please realize that the cycle of updating, downloading, installing is killing gameplay.  There is no more infuriating sound than soothing download music.  And why do I have to update the game software the second day I play it?  People want to play games, not wait for games, and no amount of pretty graphics will make up for constant updating.

After the system was ready to actually be a video game console, setting up a new user account meant creating one of my favorite things with the Wii, your Mii.  The Wii U provides four options for this avatar creation: from scratch, which is comparable to Mii creation with the Wii; from photo, where the GamePad will snap a picture of your face and merge it with the Mii; from connecting with your Nintendo 3DS, to import your avatar from that device; or by scanning a QR code, which allows you to download pre-designed avatars.  I opted to have my GamePad use my face, which was quite a comical process.  After merging my face onto the Mii’s face, I could further modify how it looked with the standard Mii customization controls.

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Finally, I was ready to play a game.  We had purchased the Deluxe Set to have the game Nintendo Land, specifically designed for the Wii U, to experience the full capabilities of the system.   The game opens in a 3D plaza, brightly colored in high def, and this robotic creature, Minooka, greets you to walk you through the plaza’s purpose, and also shows up in each mini-game to provide guidance on how to play the game.  The 3D plaza is navigated through a combination of moving the GamePad around and using the screen as a view finder, while coordinating by the two thumbsticks to move the avatar (left) and control the camera (right) with more finesse.  Experiencing the plaza in this matter really felt like an augmented reality experience, and made me wonder if we could create interfaces for virtual worlds like Second Life this way, then perhaps more people would be willing to go into those worlds.

Now, the plaza is just a social gathering area that apparently has some personalization capabilities, but it is not the main reason you play Nintendo Land.  The game contains a dozen mini-games, each of which represents some Nintendo licensed character or game that has become famous over the years (you can tell they are famous because they keep popping up in the Smash Bros. Brawl games).  Three games require multiplayer — “Animal Crossing Sweet Party,” “Mario Chase,” and “Luigi’s Ghost Mansion” — so I could not experience all of them.  But I can break the remaining nine games down into those I liked and those I did not.

“The Legend of Zelda Battle Quest” has a single player mode option other than the multiplayer, but I was not a fan.  You had to use the thumbsticks to both aim and fire arrows at approaching monsters, which made targeting and fighting clumsy, and it was hard to know what screen to focus on.  ”Balloon Trip Breeze” seemed to be a silly waste that required you to look at both screens almost simultaneously, although you are admonished by Minooka to try to focus on the TV screen.  ”Metroid Blast,” like the Zelda game, has both modes, and in the single player mode you are operating a flying craft while shooting at enemies.  I’m sure someone who has played a lot of FPS games in 3D environments would be able to handle the navigation and fighting mechanisms, but I again found it clumsy and hard to control.  ”Octopus Dance,” from the world of Mr. Game & Watch, requires you to dance along to the beat and instructor, using the thumbsticks and the motion sensors of the pad.  This game would have been far better as a true motion-based game, using the Wiimotes and Balance Board.

“Pikmin Adventure” is a scaled down version of the other Pikmin games, where you can focus on the GamePad and use a stylus (which, I have to say, should have been included with the game for the amount of games that wanted me to use one) to throw pikmins and destroy enemies.  The game has a single player and multiplayer mode, and in the single player an assistant Mii is sent along with you.  I found the controls very easy to handle as it was all focused on the GamePad and did not require too much manipulation, i.e. too many different types of controls simultaneously.  ”Yoshi’s Fruit Cart” is a clever game that correctly utilizes both screens in an inventive way.  You are tasked with gathering fruit and avoiding obstacles, and to do so, you have to draw the path you will take through the screen.  But, the positioning of the fruit and obstacles are only seen on the TV, while you have to draw the path on the GamePad.  Because you are not required to look at both screens simultaneously, having the information differentiated between the two makes it a true cognitive challenge.

“Donkey Kong’s Crash Course” is an interesting combination of motion sensors and game control buttons, but at least you can focus on the GamePad screen as you navigate the obstacle course.  And it is funny to crash and burn.  ”Captain Falcon’s Twister Race” relies primarily on the motion sensors and GamePad screen, but will utilize the TV screen in a particular way. The racing car is seen from the top down on the GamePad screen, and rotating the pad steers the car.  But when going through a tunnel, your view of your car is blocked, and you have to look to the TV screen to navigate.  It is an odd way to run a race, but you get used to it, and rather immersed in it.

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But of them all, “Takamaru’s Ninja Castle” might just be my favorite.  This is the game you see in commercials where the young boy is using the GamePad to throw throwing stars at the television screen.  You are doing this to destroy paper ninjas before they destroy you.  The graphic design of the game is clever, like a puppet show that seeks to kill you.  And the controls are perfectly suited for the Wii U, and do well to showcase what the console is capable of.  You are looking at the TV screen the entire time to determine where you enemies are, and flicking your finger over the touchscreen to throw weapons at them.  You also draw certain symbols on the screen to activate special powers, and tilt the GamePad to reload your weapons.  The ability to reload means you can just throw out a barrage of weapons if you are not particularly a patient marksman, as I tend not to be with FPS games.  The controls are far better for fighting than in the Zelda game, and the controls for navigation work because there are none — the game controls that for you.

An interface with more options for controlling gameplay means there are more ways to design games to capitalize on those control options.  The array of games in Nintendo Land that I could play indicate how designers have taken these options into consideration.  In my opinion, some have done this better than others.  And overall, I do miss the actual physical motion that was required to play the flagship games of the Wii.  Given that there is no way to strap the GamePad to your arm and flail it about the room, that revolutionary aspect is gone.  Sure, you can make Wii-style games that play on the Wii U with the Wiimotes, but then that is the point of making the GamePad?  The only real benefit would be in the enhanced graphics, which will be a bigger sell when titles are released that would capitalize on them, like an upcoming Legend of Zelda game.

In order for Wii U to be modestly successful, their game designers will need to do two things.  First, the designers needs to figure out a way to take advantage of the unique combination of the various control options on the GamePad in a way that is not cumbersome by asking us to do too many types of control simultaneously.  Second, they also need to determine how best to help people negotiate the dual screen nature of the games by considering how hard it can be to shift focus and attention between the two screens in order to keep up with quick action.

But above all, they are going to need to convince us why we need to invest in this system when, as a casual gamer, we already have gaming apps on our tablets and smartphones or, as a hardcore gamer, we already have as good of graphics and controls on our current PS3 and Xbox 360 systems, with far more advanced graphics and controls upcoming from those same companies.  I think there is the potential to create very immersive experiences with the GamePad, as the way I experienced the plaza of Nintendo Land and the battle with the ninjas demonstrates.  And games that only require the GamePad, that can be played when someone is doing something else with the TV, is another great potential, allowing me to get lost in my races or my pikmin without fear of annoying those around me.

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So, ultimately, would I recommend buying one?  Only if you, like me, are a tech geek who likes to have the newest toys.  But I would recommend everyone else wait until the games library is beefed up.  Wait until there are some titles that you know you will want to play repeatedly — that is something Nintendo is good at — and then invest in one for your social gatherings and solitary downtime.  And, if you would like an additional tablet for the house to stream movies through, then the GamePad is no bulkier than a Kindle Fire, and perhaps easier to hold.

But if this system is any indication, then the 8th gen consoles may be the consoles of the long wait times for updating, downloading and installing.  So that’s exciting.

Overall, I think it has potential, but it also has some pretty big hurdles to overcome: the primary being, how to convince people to purchase it who are either playing with apps on their tablets or waiting to shell out money for the advanced graphics of the next gen PlayStation and Xbox.  I am not really sure there is a real good argument, unless it is being made to die hard fans of Mario, Link and Samus.

2013 and the Future of Gaming

My last two posts for Clearance Bin Review as Dr. Geek have been considerations for the future of gaming given some technologies that are scheduled to be released this year.  These technologies all share a common aspect: they appear to be challenging the traditional console gaming market, whether by hardware, interface, or game distribution.

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In my article on the upcoming console system Ouya, I discuss how the open source philosophy of certain circles (and even the very foundation) of the web is now influencing a new concept in video game design; it will be interesting to see how much of a dent the Ouya, at $99, is able to make in the marketplace dominated by big names in consoles and game development.  In my other article, in which I review the implications for gaming that came out of the recent Consumer Electronics Show, I consider how these new technologies — from NVidia’s new handheld system to Oculus Rift’s virtual reality headset to Valve’s attempt to create hardware for their Steam system — reflect this attempt to revolutionize what has become a stagnant console gaming industry.  There is so much potential for, if not revolution, then at least evolution this year in the arena of gaming that I do hope at least some of these technologies make it to the consumers, as it is up to them to decide what path we should take.

Hypersexualism in Gameplay and the Problem of the Action Heroine

The history of consumption of video games and computer games has largely been of one-sided demographics: the notion that men are more likely than women, boys more than girls, to play the games that had been the backbone of the gaming industry.  This notion has also become entrenched in the stereotype of the gamer as young adult or adolescent males.  With the rise of casual gaming through online games, social games, and mobile games, we have seen this gender gap shrink, and even reverse.  However, such a change is if one considers gaming as a whole; when considering video, computer and even MMO gaming to online, social and mobile gaming, the gap still sees more male players than female players.

For years, various studies have been conducted to explore this gendered gap, resulting in various theories.  In 2005, for my master’s thesis, I conducted a study to explore the reason behind this gendered gap by focusing on how women are represented in video games.  The portrayal of women in games has received both empirical and critical scrutiny, finding that this portrayal is consistently in the vein of sexuality and submissiveness.  One particular portrayal, hypersexualism, is embodied in the archetype of Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, whose advertised body size is 5’9″, 132 lbs and 34D-24-35.

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Playing Digital Games as Scaffolding

[This is a research proposal from 2005 on how a child’s cognitive developmental level could interact with digital games’ formal features.  The entire proposal, with references, can be found here.]

Introduction

The history of the mass media has born witness to a chief concern: how will interacting with this or that medium and/or its content impact our children?  So it was with film, comic books, television, the Internet, and now digital games.  The term digital games is used to refer to any form of interactive gameplay that requires a level of computer technology in order to operate, and thus subsumes games that could be found on computers (i.e. computer games), consoles or even handheld devices (the latter two are referred to as videogames).  Regardless of the actual device one uses to play the game, such games all share the characteristics of visual stimuli that are responsive to the input of the player due to the processing capabilities of the game’s programming.

It is this responsiveness aspect of digital games that has worried society and set it apart from television or any other visually-based medium.  Researchers who study television have repeatedly used social learning theory’s proposition of observational learning to explain how television could teach aggressive or other bad habits to the child viewer.  In digital games, the ability for the child to virtually perform aggressive behavior allows for a different type of learning through direct modeling, and such modeling may increase the possibility of the child engaging in the negative behavior after playing the game.  At the same time, this interactive feature, along with other aspects of digital games, has been studied as providing greater cognitive abilities due to the requirements of the gameplay.

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As it applies to other media, whether or not playing digital games can have an effect may hinge upon the ability of the child to attend to and comprehend the game with which they are engaging.  This supposition arises out of research in education and media studies regarding the link between attending to some stimuli, the ability to attend the stimuli, and thus the capacity for learning from that stimuli.  Being able to perceive and comprehend a stimulus can result in higher attention, which can lead to greater comprehension and then more learning.  This attention/comprehension (A/C) cycle is also dependent upon the cognitive capabilities of the child, as some children may be more or less able to attend to and/or comprehend the content of a stimuli based on their cognitive developmental age.

While digital games do share some formal features with television and film, the level of active participation required to engage with the games sets them apart.  While some of the research then on attention/comprehension of television content may be applicable to digital games, this added dimension to the games requires approaching this medium as a unique entity.  This entails conducting research as to how well children at different cognitive development levels can interact with digital games.

The first part of this study was designed to understand how well a young child can interact with this active medium:

Research Question 1: How does the cognitive developmental level of a child interact with the specific formal features of digital games to impact the child’s gameplay experience?

As a means of understanding the comprehension aspect of the A/C cycle, as well as exploring a basic level effect possible from gameplay, this study also explored how engaging with a specific digital game may impact the child’s cognitive abilities.  In this case, the cognitive ability of interest was spatial reasoning:

Research Question 2:  Does engaging with a digital game that is based on spatial reasoning skills provide scaffolding for children of less developed spatial reasoning skills?

If it can be found that younger children can learn new cognitive skills by engaging with digital games, and yet they are limited in doing so due to the cognitive requirements of current games, then hopefully the end result of this research would allow game designers and educators to take the next step to developing games for younger audiences.

Highlighting the attention/comprehension cycle

Learning either bad behaviors or good cognitions from the content of a mass medium is dependent on whether or not the content is even being attended to and comprehended.  Fundamental to the definition of digital games, visual attention has been shown to be important in attracting young children’s attention to the screen.  According to research, attention to a medium is an active cognitive transaction between the viewer, the medium and the viewing environment.  Visual attention can be cued into being active due to features of the content and/or medium (to be discussed shortly), and it is the very nature of digital games that creates a need for active visual attention.

Not only are digital games potentially more attractive and thus more likely to garner more attention due to the visual action inherent in them, but the nature of active participation, or interaction, necessary to further the game’s content also attracts children.  According to research, there is a predictable pattern that children are attracted to activities that allow them to have involvement or control over the content.  In the case of digital games, it is likely a child will be very active in attending to the game not only because the interaction requires it to further the content but also because they are interested in having a measure of control as allowed by the medium.

The link of attention to learning also requires consideration of comprehension.  A child cannot simply look at a page to learn about what Jane and Dick are doing.  The child needs to be able to comprehend that the words and pictures refer to Jane and Dick doing something.  Thus, in the model from attention to learning, comprehension plays a significant role.  However, the relationship of attention and comprehension resulted in somewhat of a chicken-and-egg dilemma: is comprehension necessary for a child to attend to something; does a child need to attend to something first to comprehend it; or is there an interactive nature to the relationship?

While researchers have come down on either side of this A/C cycle, some researchers maintain that attention and comprehension reside not in a linear relationship but in a cyclical loop.  This is the belief that visual attention is maintained by the viewer’s ability to comprehend the content and the need to answer questions posed by comprehensibility of the content.  When content is harder to comprehend, then attention to it may be higher, but learning from it may be lower than if the reverse was true.

As digital games have such a high level of active participation required, this interaction would engender continuous attention to the visual stimuli; thus, there is a cycle between the interaction and visual aspects of digital games to assure that the player’s attention is on the game.  This assurance should hold at all levels of comprehensibility, and possibly at low levels on incomprehensibility, where the player may remain motivated to overcome an obstacle.  However, at higher levels of incomprehensibility, frustration may mount to the point that the game is discarded, thereby breaking the A/C cycle.  The perception of incomprehensibility may vary depending on the player’s cognitive ability level as it impacts their ability to process the information of the game and interact with the game.

According to research, the control of viewing a medium is with the viewer, based on experience with the medium, familiarity with the specific program, level of cognitive development, and general world knowledge.  In specific to viewing television, they promote the idea that children have a schemata for how to comprehend television content, and that children without this schemata will not attend to the television should some alternative activity be provided.  Thus, a child’s age, which relates both to cognitive ability and overall experience with a medium, would impact the A/C cycle, and this interaction would then become dependent on the features found in either the content and/or the medium as to how well the resulting attention, comprehension and learning would be.

Formal features and attention/comprehension cycle

While sharing characteristics with other media, television is studied separately for its immediacy and interwoven nature in everyday life.  Besides this medium specific characteristic, there are other attributes of the medium that can be found across its content, and these characteristics can become perceptually salient features in that they elicit attention from the viewer, such as action, pace, visual techniques, verbal and nonverbal auditory events.  These features of television can serve to cue in the viewer when to attend to the content as well as guide how to interpret it.  These characteristics can also be found in most digital games as content features, but it is mostly the difference in medium features this study proposes to explore.

Television and digital games differ along the dimension of active participation.  While there are television shows designed to elicit participation from the audience, these programs do not allow moment-to-moment manipulation of content, an interaction possible in digital games due to the processing capacity of the computer and possibly artificial intelligence programming.  Interactivity as a feature places a demand for certain levels of biological and cognitive development from the player.

A primary skill in being able to engage in this interaction is the ability to coordinate what one sees with the movements of one’s hands in order to properly interact with the stimuli.  According to Piaget, such hand-eye coordination, a sensorimotor skill, can provide the foundation for later cognitive abilities, which is why the attainment of this skill is located within the first few years of life.  This is a skill attainable via non-mediated experience, like all the skills related to television and digital game features.

Another feature and skill is divided attention.  Divided visual attention is the need for dealing with simultaneous events at several locations on the screen.  While it may be useful in television viewing to pick up incidental or peripheral information, divided attention is imperative in digital games where any part of the screen may require the player’s attention at any time or else the game is over.  In fact, those with more experience playing digital games do indeed show better ability at being able to spread their attention around the screen, an ability that has useful real-world applications.  This divided attention informs another cognitive requirement, parallel processing, which refers to taking in information from various sources simultaneously and incorporating this information into a coherent whole.

The ability to coalesce information from across the screen leads to another aspect of gameplay.  The rules are not all spelled out and often times the fun of the game, that which draws players to it, lies in the challenge of determining the way to succeed.  Not only does the player need to understand the content patterns, but the player must be able to understand how to coordinate the interactivity skills as well as how to attend to the variety of visual information being supplied.  Inductive comprehension then occurs in regards to both content and medium features.  Digital games are thus a confluence of numerous elements that demand and facilitate different forms of participation and activity.

But like television attention and comprehension, the chicken-and-egg scenario again arises.  Are these skills necessary for engaging successfully with the game, or can they be manifested by interacting with the game?  Or could it be that some necessary level of skills is required to even begin to engage with the game, but then through engagement these skills can be heightened?  As others have speculated, younger children may not have enough real-world perceptual experience to properly comprehend formal features as representing certain types of information.  As discussed in the A/C cycle, that could then mean the player would be less likely to attend to this content, which would further weaken their comprehension and their capacity to learn from the game.

While engaging with computers and digital games may increase cognitive skills, the content may be too abstract or too symbolic for preschoolers and young children to be able to cognitively handle, let alone master.  Digital games also require active participation, and television researchers acknowledge that while children can and do engage in active viewing of television, this is a strategy that develops across time through experience.  If the game features elements based on cognitive skills the child as not yet mastered, then their attention will be diminished by the lack of comprehensibility they find within the game.  Thus, the features of the game’s content as well as those of the medium itself may prevent younger children from successfully engaging with the game.

Hypothesis 1a: Less cognitively developed children are expected to perform worse and like the game less than more cognitively developed children when playing the chosen game, Tetris®.

Hypothesis 1b: Children who have more digital games and overall computer experience should perform and like the game best.

As mentioned above, a fundamental feature of gameplay is the need for divided attention to be able to monitor all parts of the screen.  However, children may also be likely to engage in selective attention, wherein a certain aspect is focused on while other information is filtered out as irrelevant.  Research has typically shown that younger children are less able to selectively attend than older children, but this does not mean the child will be able to effectively divide attention either.  While the younger child may look all over the screen, it is unclear whether or not this would improve their gameplay.  A younger child may randomly look at one spot at a time when they should be looking somewhere else.

Hypothesis 2:  Younger children will spend more time looking at various random locations on the screen than older children.

Research Question 3: How will differences in using selective attention versus divided attention impact gameplay outcomes and evaluations?

Learning from digital games

Social learning theory predicts that children can learn behaviors and cognitions if they observe said activity being positively modeled.  This theory has long been applied to mediums that allow only observation; however, digital games are not one of these media. Greenfieldsuggested there were three types of learning: enactive, done through use of the body; iconic, done through use of a visual system; and symbolic, done through the use of words.  All three types of learning are possible from digital games, coinciding with social learning theory, but it is the enactive possibility that contains both concern and promise.  Digital games could be a tool for socialization, based on the theorizing of Vygotsky about the possible use of cultural artifacts and tools to be used to improve cognitive abilities in children, or how society can teach their youth by example rather than rote instruction.  Being interactive could allow digital games to be a source of enhanced learning, but virtually embodying the cognitions and behaviors of some game characters could also increase exposure to risky, inappropriate content.

There have been numerous studies exploring the link between violent video games and aggression in the player.  Both correlational and causal research has found a link between playing violent games and either acting, thinking or feeling aggressive.  The main concern lies in the active participation aspect of video games, which is said to lead to increased learning due to rehearsal and repetition.  Research has found that immersion in a virtual reality game lead to higher levels of aggressive thoughts as well as physiological arousal.  But immersion and interaction are two related but distinct forms of cognitive engagement with a digital game.

Other studies, looking specifically at interaction, have compared playing a digital game to watching someone else play the game.  If a child’s ability to interact with a violent game would be more likely to increase aggression, then there should be a difference between these two children.  However, this has not been observed to be the case.  This difference between interaction and observation was also found in the context of more positive results.

While perhaps just a stepping stone between exposure and negative effects, another branch of digital games research has looked at how the use of such technology can foster cognitive skills like visual and verbal intelligence.  Use of computers and digital games have been found to improve children’s ability to comprehend spatial relations, fine motor skills, premathematical knowledge and even self-concept.

Scaffolding was a concept derived from the work of Vygotsky to describe how a more cognitively advanced tutor could instruct and aid in the development of certain skills for a learner.  As long as the learner is within a proper zone of proximal development, which would be a cognitive developmental level advanced enough that the new task is not completely impossible, then this gradual instruction process should allow the child to further their development, possibly even reaching new abilities faster than would have occurred without the scaffolding.  The concept, applied to the education field since the 1980s, has been studied most recently with the possibility that computer technology could provide similar results in classrooms where the teacher may not be able to interact with each child individually.

As a computer technology, digital games may provide this same scaffolding in the context of informal learning and entertainment.  Digital games can model behavior needed to overcome an obstacle, such as learning how to manipulate shapes to fit with other shapes or where to point a gun to kill a bad guy.  Not only does the game allow the player to enact these behaviors and abilities under a reward-punishment framework, but often this modeling occurs over numerous attempts, and it is this repetition that can ingrain these behaviors and abilities in the player.  Thus, in order to successfully interact with a digital game, a player must be able to model the encouraged behavior or ability, which may require numerous repetitions in which the behavior or ability is refined.

For this particular study, the debate between good and bad effects is set aside to focus on spatial abilities and attention.  Three important factors to spatial representation: spatial relations ability, capacity to rapidly mentally transform objects; spatial visualization; ability to deal with complex visual problems which require imagining the inner movements of objects; and perceptual speed, ability to rapidly encode and compare visual forms.

Digital games may aid in the formation of these skills through repetition and trial-and-error experience, which is a part of scaffolding.  This has been found, but among older children who theoretically would have already acquired an understanding of these spatial abilities.  Children in Piaget’s preoperational stage have difficulty with spatial problems and may be less likely to be able to engage with a digital game for which this ability is necessary (Hypotheses 1); that is, the game may be less comprehensible, requiring more attention and resulting in less learning.  However, children at a later period of preoperational may be able to further their spatial abilities by engaging in such a game, and thus the game would serve as a scaffolding device.

Hypothesis 2a: Repeated exposure to the digital game should improve the child’s spatial abilities when compared to control group of same level, but the child would not increase to meet with different level.

Hypothesis 2b: Children at the end of preoperational should show the most improvement in their spatial abilities after playing the game.

Women and Video Game Addiction: Experimenting with research narratives

MsPlayer

This is an experimental research paper relaying women’s stories, gathered with Sense-Making Methodology interviews, of times they felt they were addicted to video games.  My analysis, and thus the framing for this paper’s “narrative”, focuses on the dynamics of power in and around the women’s lives during this period of addiction. This representation of the research paper was constructed to play with the ideas of a dialogic research paper and the validity issues of how a researcher can provide voice(s) to those studied.

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