Demons on the Web

Vaughan Bell of Mind Hacks makes the New York Times today! So finally a picture of the man! He is seated in the garden outside the Department of Psychiatry at the Universidad de Antioquia, where he now works in Medellin, Colombia.

The NYT piece Sharing Their Demons on the Web begins:

For years they lived in solitary terror of the light beams that caused searing headaches, the technology that took control of their minds and bodies. They feared the stalkers, people whose voices shouted from the walls or screamed in their heads, “We found you” and “We want you dead.”

When people who believe such things reported them to the police, doctors or family, they said they were often told they were crazy. Sometimes they were medicated or locked in hospital wards, or fired from jobs and isolated from the outside world.

But when they found one another on the Internet, everything changed. So many others were having the same experiences.

The article goes on to discuss this “extreme” online community that gives peer support a whole new meaning! Mind control, stalking and paranoia become the delusions of the net. “The views of these belief systems are like a shark that has to be constantly fed,” Dr. Hoffman said. “If you don’t feed the delusion, sooner or later it will die out or diminish on its own accord. The key thing is that it needs to be repetitively reinforced.”

On the other hand, Derrick Robinson, a janitor in Cincinnati, says “It was a big relief to find the community. I felt that maybe there were others, but I wasn’t real sure until I did find this community.” Mr Robinson has gone on to become the president of Freedom from Covert Harassment and Surveillance.

Vaughan estimates that there are a small number of these intense sites that are frequented around the Internet. I ran across a similar phenemenon exploring pro Ana websites that support anorexia a couple years back. But Vaughan has published everything! The article ‘Mind Control’ Experiences on the Internet: Implications for the Psychiatric Diagnosis of Delusions (pdf) appeared in Psychopathology (also available here through Scribd).

As expected, Vaughan documents the NY Times article over at Mind Hacks. He described the outcomes of this research in an earlier post on Internet mind control and the diagnosis of delusions. As Vaughan concludes about this research:

This is interesting because the diagnostic criteria for a delusion excludes any belief that is “not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture”, whereas these individuals have formed an online community based around their delusional belief, creating a paradox.

‘Party on, dude,’ pre-Columbian style

Red fine-walled ceramic snuff bowl from Puerto Rico
Red fine-walled ceramic snuff bowl from Puerto Rico
The UK Telegraph has run with a story, ‘Stone Age man took drugs, say scientists,’ about recent discoveries by a research team led by Quetta Kaye, of University College London, and Scott Fitzpatrick, of North Carolina State University. The drug taking ‘paraphernalia’ were dated to approximately 400 to 100 BCE, and were found in the Caribbean island Carriacou, 400 miles from where they probably originated on the South American continent. Daniel’s usually the one covering the posts on drugs (see, for example, his recent Drugs Round Up and the older Addiction Round Up), but I thought I’d put in my two cents on this one.

According to the Telegraph, the best guess for the mind altering substance involved is cohoba, a psychedelic substance produced from the ground seeds of the cojóbana tree. According to a quick surf around the web, cojóbana is likely a common name for Anadenathera peregrina, a tree native to both the Caribbean and South America, which also happens to be a good source of dietary calcium (the miracles offered by Mother Nature never cease).

Continue reading “‘Party on, dude,’ pre-Columbian style”

Video Games, Brain and Psychology Round Up

After earlier round-ups on video games (#1 on gaming in itself, as a social form; #2 on social science and game design), I am adding this third round up covering gaming and mind/brain research.

Together all three round ups provide the background for approaching video games through neuroanthropology. Ideally this background would then serve to inform specific research on gaming, which I have addressed previously in discussing avatars, MMORPGs, and Grand Theft Auto, probably my most synthetic piece.

To place that work in context, you can also check out the popular post One Day at Kotaku: Understanding Video Games and Other Modern Obsessions. See also: video games and the neuroanthropology of interaction and gaming and cultural perception.

This round-up draws more on published research than the previous two. At times the best I could provide is a link to an abstract; where possible, I have tracked down pdfs. And if there are other good papers out there that I don’t mention, please leave a comment!

Games and Neuroscience

Shawn Green and Daphne Bavelier, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Video Games
Pdf of a comprehensive chapter that appeared in the book Digital Media: Transformations in Human Communication

Klaus Mathiak & Rene Weber, Toward Brain Correlates of Natural Behavior: fMRI during Violent Video Games
“We propose that virtual environments can be used to study neuronal processes involved in semi-naturalistic behavior as determined by content analysis. Importantly, the activation pattern reflects brain-environment interactions rather than stimulus responses as observed in classical experimental designs.”

Niklas Ravaja et al., Spatial Presence and Emotions during Video Game Playing: Does It Matter with Whom You Play?
Yes it does—playing against another person is different than playing against a computer

CS Green & D. Bavelier, Action-Video-Game Experience Alters the Spatial Resolution of Vision
“Compared with nonplayers, action-video-game players could tolerate smaller target-distractor distances. Thus, the spatial resolution of visual processing is enhanced in this population. Critically, similar effects were observed in non-video-game players who were trained on an action video game; this result verifies a causative relationship between video-game play and augmented spatial resolution.” Gaming can also reduce gender differences in spatial cognition.

Fumiko Hoeft et al., Gender Differences in the Mesocorticolimbic System during Computer Game-play
“males showed greater activation and functional connectivity compared to females in the mesocorticolimbic system. These findings may be attributable to higher motivational states in males, as well as gender differences in reward prediction, learning reward values and cognitive state during computer video games”

MJ Koepp et al., Evidence for Striatal Dopamine Release during a Video Game
Pdf of well-received 1998 Nature paper on reward, dopamine and gaming. Slightly dated now with its view of reward and dopamine, but definitely a foundational piece.

Niklas Ravaja, The Psychophysiology of Video Gaming: Phasic Emotional Responses to Game Events
Ever wonder why it’s fun? Both positive and negative game events when players actively involved in playing elicited “positive emotional responses in terms of facial EMG activity” (pdf)

Games and Embodiment

James Paul Gee, Video Games and Embodiment
Recent article in Games and Culture laying out Gee’s view on gaming and human thinking as both “situated and embodied”.

Continue reading “Video Games, Brain and Psychology Round Up”

Video Game Round Up #2

I did a previous round up on gaming, which covered some basics on gaming, criticisms of the activity, some funny stuff, games as art, some anthropological work, and games and learning.

Here’s another round up, where I have focused on more traditional social science/anthropological themes, as well as related articles and blogging about game design.


Sande Chen, Towards More Meaningful Games: A Multidisciplinary Approach
“how to ratchet up emotional intensity – through narrative design, visuals, and music – to create more meaningful games”

The Brainy Gamer, The Elusiveness of Meaning
“Ueda’s process begins with an image and grows from that place, informing the way the game plays, how it feels, and what it means… The meaning of the image is conveyed through a beautiful weave of gameplay and narrative.”

Kyle Stallock, Diablo Fans Petition Against III’s Artistic Direction
New game demo with brighter environments and more color creates a fan backlash: they want a visual style for Diable III “coherent with the universe it belongs to”. See the video report here

The Escapist, The Age of World Builders
“That’s when it really hit me: This wasn’t just some level in a game. This was my vacation home in a digital environment.”

Ian Bogost, The End of Gamers
Gaming matures as a medium, and takes myriad forms

Owen Good, Can a Game Be a Tearjerker?
A journalist asks, and online readers respond about their saddest gaming experiences.

The Brainy Gamer, Narrative Manifesto
Video games and delivering “genuinely interactive narrative experiences to the player”


Brent Ellison, Defining Dialogue Systems
Dialogue as interaction, and how to build that into a game

Continue reading “Video Game Round Up #2”

Michael Wesch and You Tube

Michael Wesch, anthropologist of the digital age, delivers a lengthy lecture at the Library of Congress on the emergence of You Tube and the uses of video in an Internet age. Viral trends in video, global consumption, and the creation of meaning and connections… Lots in this talk, plus some funny clips.

We’ve featured Wesch and his videos before. He also runs a blog/video site entitled Digital Ethnography. His reflection on “context collapse” is quite interesting. Now here’s his talk.