Archive for the ‘Games and violence’ Category

After 520 days locked in a mock spacecraft, six astronauts with the European Space Agency have finally returned home.

The all-male crew of the Mars500 mission—three Russian, two European, and one Chinese—spent nearly a year-and-a-half crammed into a windowless box to answer one question: can people stay healthy and sane while rocketing to Mars and back? To ensure that the answer was as accurate as possible, conditions had to match the physical and mental stresses of an actual voyage to the red planet: The astronauts rarely showered, ate standard astronaut rations, and took blood and urine samples throughout the mission. They communicated with their families through email and video messages, and only had each other for company.

For 17 months. Yikes.

It may not sound like fun (and if it does, you should have yourself professionally evaluated), but it’s a critical question to answer—and, as it turns out, a risky one to ask. The last time scientists tried this, it ended in disaster: Two of the men came to blows while a third tried to force a kiss on a female crew member. Not the European Space Agency’s proudest moment. So this time, they changed things. First major difference: no women (damn!). Second: they had Counter-Strike.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Counter-Strike is a first-person shooter (FPS) that pits two teams against each other in a virtual battlefield. Your team wins by either reaching a set objective before the other team, or by wiping the opposing force off the digital map. It was one of the first games played professionally, and is still popular on the professional circuit today. For the Mars500 astronauts, it was a life-saver. Not only did it help to pass the time, it kept the crew sane and prevented outbreaks of violence: The crew could burn off stress and settle disputes or disagreements with a few rounds of Counter-Strike. By the end of each match, tensions dissipated and harmony was restored.

So, how did the mission turn out? Though they were bedraggled, gaunt and a bit ripe, all six emerged from their isolation smiling and intact. Said China’s Yue Wang, the youngest of Mars500’s crew,

We rarely finish these long-term experiments and we did it as a team. We are family members, we built a very close, solid relationship. We trust each other.”

To read the full article, follow this link.

Execution of Thomas Armstrong, 1683

Human beings have a tendency towards violence. Even the most casual observer of history knows this. Just examine all the interesting, innovative and frankly horrifying ways we’ve designed to injure and kill one another: the rack, drawing and quartering, bayonets, stoning, Columbian neckties, landmines, firebombs, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons—the list is nearly endless. In fact, our propensity to violence and the variety of means we’ve created to carry it out makes one wonder how the human species has managed to hang on this long.

But it may all be over soon. Late in the 20th century, we developed a truly horrible weapon, one targeted at the most psychologically vulnerable of us—our children—and that turns all exposed to it into ruthless, mindless killers. We invented the videogame.

Sounds kind of silly, right? But that’s exactly what videogame detractors would have us believe. Think about it: if there’s a violent act committed by one of our youth, videogames are identified as a—if not the—cause. This is nothing new. Emergent media has always suffered from suspicion and accusation—comic books, radio, TV, movies and videogames have all been viewed by many as harbingers of doom, heralding society’s imminent collapse.

Not to be blunt, but they’re wrong. The fact that we’re having this exchange proves it. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s latest figures, 72% of US households play videogames. That’s a lot of potential killers. And yet we’re still here. Go figure.

Now, before you accuse me of whoring for the media, let me make something clear: I don’t feel that overexposure to violent images in any form is a good idea. As a parent, I take my responsibility to filter what my son sees and experiences very seriously—and I would expect others to do the same. At the same time, I grew up watching TV and movies and playing games, and they didn’t turn me into a socially-maladjusted serial killer.

A recent article in USA Today addresses this very issue, and confirms what gamers have known all along: when it comes to violence, focus on the player, not the game. While it’s true that no one knows exactly what makes a person violent, recent research suggests that personality has a lot to do with it. According to psychologist Patrick Markey of Villanova University,

If you’re worried about a video game turning your son or daughter into a killer, don’t worry about that. But is your kid moody, impulsive, or are they unfriendly? It’s probably not the best idea to have that child play violent video games. Video games are not simply good or bad for everybody, but for some individuals who have certain dispositions, if they play video games they’re much more likely to be negatively affected.”

In other words, use a little common sense, parents. Pay attention to your kids, and keep an eye on what they’re watching and playing. And get involved. Here’s a thought: if you’re really worried about what games your kids are playing, play with them. It’s a great way to gain a little knowledge (and a whole lot of perspective) and interact with your kids. And you might even enjoy it.

Just hide the kitchen knives before you do.

You can read the USA Today article here.

And here’s another article on videogames and violence in kids.

Check out  the Entertainment Software Association’s website here.

And download a fact sheet about games and gamer demographics here.