Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Eight biggest gaming myths

Video games lead to violent kids, girls hate video games, only kid’s play video games, video games lead to insomnia..., and the list is endless. However, how many of these are actually true and how many are mere myths.

In an essay published, MIT Professor Henry Jenkins debunked some of the most common myths related to video games. Jenkins wrote this essay in conjunction with a PBS Documentary, The Video Game Revolution. Here's bringing to you the biggest eight gaming myths.

Video games lead to an epidemic of youth violence
A Finnish online site recently removed a game called Kindergarten Killers and issued an apology. This followed the unfortunate incident where a lone gunman killed nine fellow students and a teacher before shooting himself at a Finnish school. But are video games alone to be blame for such psycho acts?

No, says a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. According to the study, video games do not incite teen violence and can actually improve social interaction. The researchers discovered that 97 per cent of teens aged 12-17 play video games, and that their gaming activity has become an important part of their social experience - dispelling the myth that gamers are anti-social outsiders.

Children who play games together are more likely to volunteer, raise money for a charity or participate politically than those who play alone, the study found.

Scientific evidence links games with youth aggression
According to Jenkins, claims like these are based on the work of researchers who represent one relatively narrow school of research, "media effects." This research includes some 300 studies of media violence. Jenkin writes that most of such studies are inconclusive and many have been criticised on methodological grounds. In these studies, media images are removed from any narrative context.

He adds "Subjects are asked to engage with content that they would not normally consume and may not understand. Finally, the laboratory context is radically different from the environments where games would normally be played. Most studies found a correlation, not a causal relationship, which means the research could simply show that aggressive people like aggressive entertainment. That's why the vague term links is used here."

Children are the primary market
Kids are a big customer for video games, however, it is a myth to say that children are the only market for video gamers.

According to Jenkins, the center of the video game market has shifted older as the first generation of gamers continues to play into adulthood. Says a Nielsen//NetRatings study, as game consoles have become increasingly sophisticated, families have incorporated them into their centralised home media centers, which include the television, digital recording device, digital music player and the PC.

Microsoft and Sony are positioning their Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles as entertainment hubs for gaming, music and photo viewing amid a fierce battle for dominance. Sony in particular is making a huge bet on the living room, having installed a Blu-ray high-definition DVD player in each of its new PS3 consoles.

Girls don't play computer games
The fact that only men play video games is a history. Today, there's a fast-growing posse of female gamers that is capturing the attention of video game makers and expanding the market beyond male-appeal games like Grand Theft Auto.

Girls and young women are a "pot of gold" for the industry, said George VanHorn, senior analyst at market research firm IBISWorld. "The gaming industry has market characteristics that many would die for."

According to IBISWorld, 38 per cent of US gamers are female, up from 33 per cent in just five years. Software makers have churned out a throng of non-violent, easy-to-play games in a bid to capture so-called casual gamers -- those who don't spend a lot of time on games -- and women make up a big part of that target audience.

Females accounted for 21 per cent of the industry's total sales growth last year, according to Anita Frazier, a video game industry analyst from the research firm NPD Group.

Another factor that is making girls and women a greater force in gaming is the crossover of casual games from the online world to consoles like Nintendo's Wii.

Games have the same impact on kids
According to Jenkin it is commonly believed that since the US military uses games in training, the children playing such games are being similarly conditioned to be aggressive in their everyday social interactions.

However, Jenkin argues that military uses games as part of a specific curriculum, with clearly defined goals, in a context where students actively want to learn and have a need for the information being transmitted. There are consequences for not mastering those skills.

Research shows that simply playing digital games means the players -- young or old -- are exercising their problem solving skills without consciously doing so.

Another advantage according to researchers is the scope players have to take risks that would be impossible in the real world because of physical consequences -- a good example is the training pilots get on flight simulators.

Video games are not a meaningful form of expression
Again, it is commonly believed that video games don't offer any meaningful form of expression. Debunking this myth Jenkin argues that several earlier games were little more than shooting galleries where players were encouraged to blast everything that moved. However, current games are designed to be ethical testing grounds. They allow players to navigate an expansive and open-ended world, make their own choices and witness their consequences.

These games provide a medium that allows players to experience guilt over the actions of fictional characters. In a movie, one can always pull back and condemn the character or the artist when they cross certain social boundaries. However, while playing a game, a player chooses what happens to the characters.

Video games are socially isolating
Another biggest myth regarding video games is that they turn kids into loners. However, the Pew Internet & American Life Project study found that for most teens, gaming is a social activity and a major component of their overall social experience.

"Social game play is thought to offer the possibility for youth to have collaborative and interactive experiences, experiences that potentially parallel may real-world political and civic activities," the report states.