A Meaner, More Calloused Digital World? Not According to Researchers

Anyone who’s ever spent any amount of time gaming has had to field criticism from outspoken people that gaming leads to real-world violence.  Like clockwork, any time someone commits a heinous act of violence, the media & politicians will inevitably find a game console in their house & start making leaps that Evel Knievel would be envious of.  In their misguided politicking & fear-mongering, they overlook several basic laws of statistics.  For example, roughly half the population of the United States (155 million according to 2015 statistic) play videogames in some capacity.  Four out of five households contain a gaming device of some description.  Yet these incidents, despite becoming disturbingly frequent, are rare in the broad scheme of things.  Certainly a lot rarer than would be statistically expected if there was a direct link between gaming and violence.  Think about it.  At that level, every other person you met would be a raving psychopath.

While I think most people would agree that young children shouldn’t be playing extremely violent games, the literature linking violent games with aggression has always been suspect.  In fact, in 2013 the Consortium of Scholars, a group of 230 researchers, wrote an open letter to the American Psychological Association asking them take a more rigorous, less bias look at the topic.

“Numerous scholars expressed concerns that the composition of the task force comprised individuals who had taken conflict-of-interest public positions on video games prior to being included on the task force, and that the resultant meta-analysis was methodologically unsound… Concerned that the APA’s task force nomination process was nontransparent and appeared to be ‘stacked’ with scholars who had taken anti-game positions publicly in the past, over 230 scholars wrote to the APA when the task force was originally convened requesting that they retire all of their policy statements on media violence.” – Ferguson & Colwell, 2016

Aside from methodological issues with the conclusions drawn in such research, which would be horribly boring to read about, one of the biggest issues in this line of research is the main assumption behind it.

“Media scholars have often postulated digital game effects consistent with ‘hypodermic needle’ approaches in that no consumers are ‘immune’ to the effects of violent digital games or that the effects should be similar to exposure to violence in one’s family or real life.  Advocates of this position suggest that aggression is due to cognitive scripts learned from watching others and that media violence does not differ from real-life violence in this respect. However, this assumption of equivalence between real-life and fictional violence is a significant assumption.” – Ferguson & Colwell, 2016

In plain language, past media scholars have designed their research under the assumption that we are passive consumers.  Just as a hypodermic needle injects its contents directly into our system without any control on our part, any media we consume bypasses conscious processing, morals & personality predispositions, & will have a direct impact on our behavior.  It’s essentially brainwashing, or perhaps subliminal messages (which, by the way, has been disproved as a real thing).

Most of us would not be surprised to find that modern research views humans as active consumers.  Yes, what we’re exposed to can influence us in a number of ways, but how much it affects us depends on a variety of factors, including our own personalities, how close the incident is to us, & how we process it.  Seeing my father beating my mother on a regular basis will have a greater impact on my behavior than seeing a random bar fight on my way home.

Furthermore, modern research has shown that, contrary to conventional opinion, children do actually have a strong sense of distinction between reality & fantasy, as well as reality & play.  It’s a common technique in research designed to study aggression in children to observe how a child plays with toys or other children after viewing violence.  You can look up the videos yourself by Googling any combination of Bandura & Bobo, but essentially what Bandura’s imitative learning experiments showed was that children who viewed adults playing with an inflatable Bobo the Clown doll violently would themselves play with the doll violently.  However, it’s a far stretch to suggest that the same child who punched an inflatable doll would turn around & punch another child, & an even greater stretch to say that repeated viewing would result in a child more prone to acting aggressively toward others.

Even among animals, there exists a strong concept of play.  If you watch puppies or kittens play fight, you’ll notice that despite how rough they might become, there’s always a limit & a keen sense of when that boundary is crossed.  All is takes is their playmate yelping, & the playing instantly stops.  So if animal children understand this, why would we not think that human children, an arguably more intelligent species, would have an even more developed sense of this?

In their article “A Meaner, More Callous Digital World for Youth?  The Relationship Between Violent Digital Games, Motivation, Bullying, and Civic Behavior Among Children,” Ferguson & Colwell achieved results that not only found no correlation between exposure to violent games & antisocial attitudes, they found no correlation between exposure to violent games & bullying, & no correlation between exposure to violent games & prosocial behavior.  In fact, they found no significant difference between the attitudes & behaviors of children who did play games versus those who didn’t.

Even more amazingly, their results actually showed a correlation between exposure to violent games & higher civic behavior.  Civic behavior is essentially being involved in their community in a positive way, like volunteering.  In other words, not only were children who played violent games not more aggressive (the only measure in their test that affected antisocial & bullying behavior was being older & being male), but they were more actively engaged.  The researchers suggest one reason for this results is that “gaming in general is a social activity & that may be particularly true for action-oriented games.”  Given that most “violent” games tend to be shooters, which have a strong multiplayer component, this reasoning makes sense.  While online gaming can certainly have a toxic element, it can also foster friendships, teamwork & camaraderie.

Another intriguing finding was that they found no relationship between the amount of parental involvement & the amount of exposure to violent games.  In other words, even parents who supervised or even played games with their children didn’t prevent their children from accessing violent games.  This might sound counter-intuitive for gamers like myself that grew up with our parents having no idea what videogames were about, but just consider that statement.  Gamers who grew up.  Many people who grew up gaming are now raising children of their own, & encouraging them to take up the hobby themselves.  I find this to be a heartening thought.  I never had anyone to play games with growing up.  I lived out in the country, none of my friends gamed, & my parents weren’t that into it either.  They never made me feel bad about my games, but they never shared in the experience either.  But now there are parents who want to engage with their children in this pastime.

They don’t go into in this research, but I have a strong suspicion that parents are a big mediating factor in how the content in games affects children.  When a parent takes a vested interest in their child’s hobbies or activities, it opens up a lot of room for discussion.  So even if they are playing games with questionable content, it offers parents the opportunity to talk with them about it.  Contrary to what most people seem to think, we aren’t born knowing how to problem solve, or think through things.  It’s a skill that has to be learned & trained over time.  Games can pose a lot of questions, even without meaning to.  And even if you’re not pondering the universe, it creates a channel between you.  Being engaged makes kids realize that you’re interested in them & what they have to say.  And that means they’re more likely to discuss things with you in the future.

Overall, I found this article very encouraging.  Gaming is here, & it’s growing bigger every year.  It’s good to know that, if we let it, it can be a positive influence as both a hobby & a way to bring people together.

Article cited: Ferguson, C.J., & Colwell, J. (2016, July 18). A Meaner, More Callous Digital World for Youth? The Relationships Between Violent Digital Games, Motivation, Bullying, and Civic Behavior Among Children. Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

–  GamerDame

 

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Game Review: Condemned 2

The trick to making a good videogame sequel, in my opinion, is to carry over the best aspects of the previous game while tweaking any problems gamers had, and adding something new.  Already Good + Fix Bad + New Feature = Good Sequel  It seems basic enough.  So in this equation, any problems ought to come from the new stuff, as developers have no way of knowing how gamers will react to it.  But all too often, I find that developers stumble at the very first hurdle, dropping what made their first game good or unique.  I’m not really sure who’s to blame when this happens.  Did the developers completely miss what made their game good in the first place or think the new was better than what was already there?  Or do publishers push to incorporate what’s popular to make more money?  I’d personally rather a game do one things really well, even if it doesn’t appeal to the mass market, than do multiple things poorly.

That’s not to say I think Condemned 2: Bloodshot (seriously, why give it a subtitle if the number’s in the name?) is bad, just… Well, let’s take things methodically.

Condemned_2_Bloodshot

Condemned 2 picks up eleven months after the end of the first game.  The madness affecting the homeless in the city has reached its boiling point, and is spilling out of the condemned areas into the mainstream.  After receiving a message from Malcolm Vanhorn, the old man who offered questionable guidance in the previous title, the FBI’s Serial Crime Unit brings Ethan Thomas back into their fold, current drunk bum status notwithstanding.  After tracking down Vanhorn, Ethan discovers that the antagonist from the first game, SKX, is still at large.  And there may be an even greater force behind all the madness going on.

At its core, Condemned 2 hasn’t changed much.  It remains a first-person psychological horror game where you use whatever you can get your hands on to take on the crazed enemies trying to kill you.  But some systems have been tweaked.  For one, the shift is more towards an action-orientation than survival horror.  Guns & ammo are far more readily available.  Ethan has also been using his homeless time to gain some new skills, as he can perform combos & chain attacks, & is far more efficient with just his fists.  The investigation system has been massively overhauled.  Players are actually expected to examine crime scenes & make inferences from the evidence presented, rather than just following button prompts.  The game grades you on these sections, which awards various perks after the mission is over (ex. less damage from firearms).  It even offers a simple stealth mechanic later on, where walking slowly allowed you to sneak up on enemies.


Narrative: From a technical standpoint, the story in Condemned 2 is better than previously.  I mentioned in the last review that I found the story lacking in real meat in Criminal Origins.  Bloodshot improves a little in this area.  The storyline feels more coherent & better paced, & actually shows progression in a story arc rather than just chasing a killer through various creepy locales.  I also enjoyed that it attempts to solve the unanswered questions from the last game, mainly why everyone’s going crazy & what Ethan has to do with it.

ps3_condemned2_24I found the characters much more fleshed out this time around.  Ethan seems to have transferred his uptight attitude onto Dorland, a stick-in-the-mud agent who is clearly not shady, in exchange for something a bit more snarky.  And frankly, more realistic.  Although I find it hilarious that the FBI would automatically trust a disavowed agent with their equipment, I enjoyed Ethan’s personality more this time around.  He reminds me of myself if I were just fed up with everything.  Like he realizes that despite have hallucinations, he’s still the most sane person left on the planet.  The supporting characters also have distinct personalities, & act like real people.  Watching them interact was enjoyable.

But note that I said earlier “from a technical standpoint” the story is better.  The major flaw in the story for me, & this is purely a matter of personal taste, is the whole cult conspiracy thing.  I don’t mind stories taking a supernatural twist, but I felt the Oro cult just wasn’t handled well.  I’ve never liked the cliché of a secret cult controlling the world.  And why would a cult want to bring out people’s violent tendencies if it disrupts the system they’ve created to control the masses?  Maybe if there was ever a Condemned 3 these problems could be ironed out, but that’s not likely to happen.

Overall, while the plot is better is some areas, it fumbles in others, leaving me feeling lukewarm.  Score: 3


Mechanics: Certain aspects of Bloodshot have vastly improved, mainly the forensics.  I loved the changes made to the investigations.  It truly made me feel like I was playing a special agent.  In general, they weren’t too difficult, but require the player to pay attention to the environment & use logic to piece things together.  Some of the technology is still a little outlandish, though.  How did I send a blood sample?  Does my fancy tablet have one of those sensors like the blood sugar monitors?

I have mixed feelings about the changes to combat, however.  While I appreciate Ethan being better able to defend himself, especially with the shift toward action, I didn’t find the combat as visceral as the first game — one of the best, most effective parts.  In particular, I didn’t like the chain attack system.  Enemies don’t stagger, so it’s almost impossible to chain attacks together without getting hit.  I just ended up wailing on them until one of us died, which I feel goes against the purpose of the changes.  I also felt the game leaned a little too much toward action, especially near the end.

793820-condemned-2-bloodshot-playstation-3-screenshot-a-foe-or-anAnd that leads us to my biggest gripe about Bloodshot: it’s just not as scary.  For a horror game, especially the follow-up to game that nailed the horror experience, that’s pretty damning.  That’s not to say it didn’t have it’s moments.  The beginning levels struck that same tension-riddled core as before.  But toward the end it all fell apart.  I think the problem was two-fold.  Firstly, incorporating more action segments, thus necessitating making you more capable & less vulnerable, takes away the fear of the encounter.  It removes the threat.  Secondly, it lost the effective level design.  You start out in these cramped, dilapidated buildings, & it feels just as good (ie. bad) as you remember.  But then the levels open up.  It loses its atmosphere.  Bloodshot is at its best when I was nervously navigating the narrow halls of an old apartment, dreading the blind corners & just waiting for the next guy to literally jump out at me.  Or when my only options were to run or die.  But there just weren’t enough of those moments.

Because the horror element was such a letdown, despite the vastly improved forensics, I have to bring the score down.  A scary game that’s not scary is no good.  Score: 3


Aesthetics: Overall, I thought the presentation was good.  The character models were still too blocky for my tastes, but hold up relatively well.  The designs of the enemies were nice & varied, & you could tell just by looking what sort of of attack style they’d have.  The environments were nicely done, in a horrible sort of way, & I liked that the locations varied.  It was also nice to go to places that weren’t falling apart.  However, I did notice that the lip syncing with Rosa would sometimes be off.  Not sure if that was a problem with my game loading or what.

Condemned2_sc011The sound design was definitely the best in this area.  The voice acting is far improved, particularly for Rosa.  I don’t think any of the actors from the first game reprised their role. The game also shows understanding in how to use sound, or lack thereof, to build atmosphere.  I don’t think there’s any music in the game.  Just the ambient sounds of creaking buildings or scurrying enemies.

Overall, while not the prettiest game by today’s standards, it knows how to set the mood through visuals & sounds.  Score: 4


Replay Value: Average.  You can replay any level once you’ve completed it, & after beating the game for the first time you unlock FPS mode, which gives you unlimited ammo when you replay the game.  However, unless you’re trying to get a higher rating, there’s not much reason to go back.  There’s also a multiplayer aspect, but I didn’t mess with that.  Score: 3


Breakdown

Untitled

Final Score: 3

Final Word: Overall, I don’t feel that Condemned 2: Bloodshot was as good as its predecessor.  Although improving in certain areas, it lost what made it truly unique.  When the game is trying to scare you, it’s fantastic, but it lacks the same punch, making it hard to recommend for horror game enthusiasts.

–  GamerDame

Title: Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Consoles: PS3 & 360
Rating: M
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publishers: Sega & Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: March 11, 2008

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Filed under 3, Horror, PS3, Reviews, XBox 360