Gaming Round Up – Learning, Research, Addiction and Design

World Cyber Games
Great stuff covering the breadth of neuroanthropology – learning, research, addiction, art and criticism, and thinking about games and game design. One immersive round-up.

For our latest onsite, you can see Can Video Games Actually Be Good For You?, Robbie Cooper – Immersion, and the Contemporary Culture of Entertainment.

Also, the last round-up on video games, brain and psychology is one of our more popular posts, and includes links to more on-site stuff. Or simply check out our video game category.


Alvaro Pascual-Leone & Lotfi B. Merabet, Take Two Video Games and Call Me in the Morning
Scientific American article on how it can, with some quite context on how to think about plasticity, motivation, and virtuality.

Michael Abbott, Teach Me to Play
Great post at The Brainy Gamer about learning styles and game designs. See also his reporting from the Games for Change conference, Flashes of Light

Ben Silverman, Is Gaming Good for the Mind?
Certainly helps seniors with cognition. And it’s a commercial game, Boom Blox on the Wii.

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Monday Morning Artist: Robbie Cooper

Immersion Gaming by Robbie Cooper
Robbie Cooper is a photographer and videographer who mixes his artistic work with an ethnographic eye and a neuroanthrological sensibility. After all, this is someone who goes from Gilles Deleuze to Paul Ekman as he describes his work!

As a photographer Robbie has recently focused on capturing our digital representation of our selves – the avatars we create in online worlds like Everquest and World of Warcraft. Previously he had done photojournalism in Africa. As a video artist, he shoots stunning and provocative video, capturing people in some of their most intimate, involved moments with a clear and human-centered approach.

Avatar by Robbie CooperHe published his avatar photographs in the glossy book The Alter Ego, featuring portraits and bios of gamers from the United States, Europe, China, and Japan. You can read more about the book in reviews by Colin Pantall and Escapist Magazine, as well as read this interview with Robbie and his co-author and listen to some good coverage of Alter Ego on NPR.

On his homepage you can access a good slice of these pictures, complete with a text overview you can all up. This is the Alter Ego series in the Immersion side of his work. For just the photos you can go directly to this slideshow from the NY Times.

The NY Times also featured his Immersion video, which captured young gamers as they played. The portrayal of their involvement is intimate and intense, and I recommend either the Times video for the quality (you can also get even better video on Robbie’s homepage through the Immersion – but it’s a few more clicks).

The Immersion video is also up on YouTube so I’ve embedded it below. Alongside the video, you can see the Immersion photo series on Robbie’s website – it’s there in the Immersion link after you click on Simulations.

His latest work builds on the Immersion approach. This time it’s Immersion – Porn (yes, you can get the video on that link). In this video informants introduce themselves and then we get to see their own immersion into themselves, top-up only. It was produced exclusively for Wallpaper.

I’ve also been enjoying his Immersion blog. Of late he’s had a humorous take on Ekman’s emotional faces, an intense video of close combat in Iraq, and babies as challenging both science and philosophy.

Link to Robbie Cooper’s homepage and art.
Link to Robbie Cooper’s Immersion blog.

Can Videogames Actually Be Good For You?

By Ryan Hoff, Kasey Kendall, Harrison Smith, and Gabriela Moriel
Games and Learning
We’ve all heard people say that video games are increasingly violent and have a negative impact on kids’ behavior. But video games can actually be beneficial to a child’s development!

Video games are used in almost every classroom setting in the United States. Many games, like Math Blaster and Star Fall, focus on promoting students’ cognitive development and strengthening problem-solving skills.

Even seemingly non-educational games such as Sonic the Hedgehog have found their way into the classroom where students play the game in order to better understand Odysseus’ journey home. Playing an adventure game like Sonic the Hedgehog where the player must complete a series of missions or tasks and overcome various obstacles, students can learn not only by simply reading the Odyssey but also by interactively participating in their own quest.

Professors are even proposing the idea of developing a new public school with a game-centered curriculum, as this Christian Science Monitor article Video Games Start to Shape Classroom Curriculum states. Katie Salen, an associate professor of design and technology at the Parsons School of Design, describes this new approach:

“Kids are challenged to step into identities—mathematicians, scientists. They are immersed in and interdisciplinary setting, and instead of completing units, they go on a series of missions or quests, each of which has a goal.”

The Development of Interactive Video Games

The progression of interactivity throughout the history of video games plays a central role in current research of the potential benefits of video games. As video games have become more interactive over time (especially in the last decade), they have increasingly become a medium for the development of cognitive and problem-solving skills.

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One Day at Kotaku: Understanding Video Games and Other Modern Obsessions

kotakuKotaku is a gaming site, full of news, opinion, and lots of readers’ comments. People hooked on video games go there for a steady stream of stories from around the world. On this particular day, January 12th, a range of pieces captured why the video game phenomenon has so much to tell us about our modern obsessions, from sex to shopping, drugs to drinking. These eight stories show us the powerful convergence of people looking for fun and industries looking for profit. From pleasure to despair, this convergence is the story of our post-modern lives. It’s not commodities anymore, it’s activities.

Why not start off with an aircraft carrier? Golden Tee Joins the Navy, Ships Out on Supercarrier covers how Lieutenant Mike Hall wrote to Incredible Technologies, the manufacturer of the popular arcade golf game, “about his love of the game and his longing to play it while at sea.” Incredible Technologies donated the game, the Navy invited the company to the USS John C Stennis to “see just how important the machine will be to recreational life at sea.” A rather straight-forward feel-good story. It’s where most of us live our lives, including the 5000 crew members who can now golf at sea.

The next one, One Man Zelda Band, shows how video games inspire a cultural genre of creativity, how these activities becomes more than a game and move onto artistry, meaning, and, in this case, some inspired music from the composer and gamer Diwa De Leon. But still, in this video we’re talking about a real obsession. Think of the time and effort that went into this production!

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Gaming Round Up

As part of my on-going interest in video games, here is another round up. Besides some top picks, this one covers social issues, game design, academic research, some funny stuff, games and more games, learning and education through gaming, and a surprise mix-up ending.

I know, I know, this is way too long, but I guess this might be my own obsessive ritual. But if you really do want more, you can check out my last video game round-up, which had a brain/psychology flavor and linked to my own stuff here on the Neuroanth blog.

Top of the List

Brain Crecente, Three Developers Explain LittleBigPlanet Level Design to a 7-Year-Old
If you want the basic basic about how to make a great game, this is the place to start. Plus, how cool for this kid!
Designers have more insight into human nature than most anthropologists and neuroscientists (after all, they rely on people to get what they are doing…). And when trying to explain that to a kid, they get like your favorite uncle after a few beers crossed with Yoda. Some wisdom here… and a few exploding barrels.

Andy Chalk, LittleBigPlanet Delayed over Religious Controversy
The highly anticipated Sony game is delayed because a featured song contains Arabic words taken from the Qur’an. Some Muslims consider it sacrilegious to mix popular music and holy text; the initial discussion started on Arabic gaming sites.
For more on the song “Tapha Niang” by Toumani Diabaté, a Grammy-award winning musician from Mali, see this article. You can also listen to the song here.
Toumani Diabate defends the use of the Qur’an in his music, calling it both normal and a way to inspire people towards Islam. Even more reactions here by players, Sony and others interested parties. Finally, the American Islam Forum for Democracy objects to the censorship.

Jeremy Adam Smith, Playing the Blame Game: Video Games Pros and Cons
A balanced piece on how video games affect adolescents based on the research of Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner

Social Issues

Michael Abbott, Games to Help
Several examples of games that aim to make a difference – money to cancer, social awareness, and more

Jay Alabaster, Japan’s Online Social Scene Isn’t So Social
“Welcome to Japan’s online social scene, where you’re unlikely to meet anyone you don’t know already.”

Kate Schneider, Video Games Social, Not Violent, Study Finds
Teenagers socialize through video games – not just sitting in a basement blowing things up alone

Newser, Online Gamers Leaner Than Your Average Couch Potato
Watching TV is the big potato; gamers just have more mental health problems. At least among EverQuest players. For more on this study, see here and here.

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MMORPG Anthropology: Video Games and Morphing Our Discipline

By Daniel Lende

World of Warcraft is a MMORPG.  And what is that, you ask?  A  massively multiplayer online role-playing game, in this case the most successful one in existence.  It is run by Blizzard Entertainment, based on fantasy role-playing (i.e., swords and sorcery), and has more than 9 million subscribers worldwide.  These subscribers pay a monthly fee (currently $14.99 if you pay month-to-month) and for that, Blizzard says, “thousands of players adventure together in an enormous, persistent game world, forming friendships, slaying monsters, and engaging in epic quests that can span days or weeks” in the realm of Azeroth. 

Blizzard has built a game that appeals to both causal and persistent players, though most of its monthly income is derived from people who put in lots of hours (Ducheneaut et al. 2006;  It relies in part on an underground economy, including Chinese “gold farmers” ( to help create some of the in-game wealth that rich players can then utilize in achieving higher and higher levels and better and better items and spells.  Besides the joys of “leveling up” and coordinating massive attacks on either mythical monsters that no one hero can slay alone or on other “guilds” of human players in Azeroth, research has shown that “in keeping with current Internet research findings, players were found to use the game to extend real-life relationships, meet new people, form relationships of varying strength, and also use others merely as a backdrop (Williams et al. 2006; ).” 

They also piss each other off.  One of the main draws of Wow is PvP, person versus person play.  Just as with first person shooters, there is plenty of fun in the single-player game, the mastering of a particular level or killing a “boss” (a hard monster or enemy), but a lot of the persistent fun is in making those rag dolls fly—in winning “the game” when playing against others.  A new art form has developing in filming these encounters: “the proliferation of players, clans, Web sites, and community forums for creating, consuming, and commenting on WoW movies is remarkable” (Lowood 2006; ).  The one I will talk about today has been seen over two million times on YouTube. 
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