Sunday, November 19, 2006

Get Well Gamers expand their network

The Get Well Gamers charity has managed to increase the number of hospitals in its network by more than 25% during 2006. They can now also accept electronic donations through Network for Good.

Get Well Gamers is one of the charities taking donations towards providing children's hospitals with video game related items. It's a great cause and well worth your donations.

The ESA Foundation Nite To Unite charity dinner raises $800K USD

The Entertainment Software Association Foundation's annual Nite To Unite charity dinner this year raised $800K to benefit Web Wise Kids, HopeLab, Working Achievement Values Education and PAX. The ESA Foundation will also establish a scholarship program to support minorities and women pursuing educational opportunities in the computer and video game field.

The ESA Foundation charity game pack raises over $1.5M USD

In 2005 The Entertainment Software Association assembled a pack of four games sold at retailers nationwide since the 2005 holiday season.

The $1.5M will be distributed to various children's charities, incl. assisting the production and distribution of 6,000 copies of HopeLabs' Re-Mission cancer game.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Child's Play 2006 is open for donations

Child's Play, the charity set up by the Penny Arcade people, has launched their 2006 campaign.

There are now more hospitals than ever, incl. one in Egypt.

Let's make this year a record breaking year, again.

Update: Penny Arcade has put up original Penny Arcade artwork for auction for the benefit of the Child's Play Charity.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Modified video game shows promise for stroke rehabilitation

The engineers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, are using a modified XBox to fasten the rehabilitation process of stroke patients.

The low cost system is used for hand exercises in virtual environments and is a good alternative or supplement to much more expensive rehabilitation processes that are sometimes prohibitively expensive.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Escapist Magazine on learning through gaming

Issue 59 of the Escapist Magazine concentrates on learning various skills through gaming.

The first article is about using puzzle games stop a multiple sclerosis patient's congnitive skills from detoriating with the disease.

The second article talks about how games can be help the learning process in the classrooms.

The article on racing games describes one gamer's experience in developing his real world racing skills by training on video games.

The next article discusses Piano Wizard, a piano playing training program which makes piano lessons more like playtime and cheaper than paying an instructor to teach your toddler.

The last article is about The Oregon Trail, perhaps the first really popular edutainment video game.

It's a great issue, as always.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy treating post-traumatic stress disorders

Exposure therapy has long been a successful method of treating post-traumatic stress disorders. It involves having a therapist guide the patient as he confronts memories of traumatic events. The article at Serious Games Source describes how the use of virtual reality environments can dramatically improve the process.

Traditional exposure therapy depends on talk and storytelling. What if the patient is so traumatized that he can't even talk about it? This is one of the problems virtual reality environments can really help.

Exposure therapy depends on the patient emotionally engaging in the treatment. Video game design has shown how immersive environments can help in that process, and that's exactly what the use of virtual reality environments is trying to achieve: making the patient feel more like they're really there. The goal is to make the environment to resemble the real environment of the traumatic event as closely as possible.

The use of virtual reality in exposure therapy appears to be particularly applicable when the traumatic event causing stress disorders has been experienced by a large number of people, for example 9/11 attack or war battles. Creating virtual reality environments to treat a single patient is prohibitively expensive.

This is an encouraging application of video game design learnings.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

World of Warcraft players care

In December 2005 Randy Patterson found out he had Burkitt's Lymphoma. It's a very rare and very lethal form of cancer. Randy had a tumor the size of a softball in his neck. It had to be removed and he had to go through rigorous chemotherapy treatment for the next three months after the surgery.

The chemotherapy and recovery from the surgery made Randy very ill. So ill he couldn't walk, let alone work. Losing his income he had trouble paying his bills. The utility company was threatening to shut down the power to his house, if $1,500 of unpaid bills weren't paid, and he was in danger of losing his house altogether.

He plead his State, charities, the Governor, the media, his Senators and even the US President. Nobody helped. Then his World of Warcraft guild heard about his trouble. And they helped.

One of the guild members started a PayPal fund and the money from the guild members started flowing in. The guild raised $4,000 for Randy and his family. He got to keep his house.

The best news of all, Randy beat his cancer and is now recovering quickly.

Youth violence at an all time low despite video games

Duke Ferris' article from 2005 shows how youth violence hit a new 40 year low in 2004.

The statistics quoted on Duke's article show that the number of juveniles arrested for violent crimes declined 30.9% from 1995 to 2004. This at the same time when video gaming exploded in the United States.

This is in direct contradiction with the popular, and wrong, anti-gaming argument saying violent video games breed violence. The crime statistics kept by the FBI and US DOJ, among others, just do not show that to be true. In fact, if anything, they show the argument to be completely false.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Video gamers make better surgeons

A study was conducted by Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City in conjunction with the National Institute on Media and the Family found out that surgeons who play video games performed the "cobra rope" drill faster than surgeons who do not play video games.

The "cobra rope" drill is a training exercise teaching surgeons how to sew up an internal wound.

Friday, June 02, 2006

In Praise of Video Games

Brian C. Anderson has written an excellent article on positive aspects of video games.

He talks about the moral lessons in the majority of video games and compares them to the moral lessons in many books teenagers regularly read. He gives examples of how video games can teach kids budgeting and problem solving skills.

He also corrects many of the most frequently published misinformation about video games. He states that the ESRB ratings are very informative and that the most reliable studies on the impact of video game violence clearly state there is no link between playing violent video games and violent behavior in the "real world".

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gamer demographics

The Entertainment Software Association publishes annual gamer demographics reports. The 2006 report is out.

In 2005, the average age of a gamer is 33. Up from 30 the year before.

25% of gamers are over the age of 50. Up from 19% the year before.

46% of all Americans expect to purchase video games during 2006.

35% of parents play video games, and 73% of those parents vote regularly.

Check out the report for more information.

I wrote about last year's report as well.

Monday, May 08, 2006

40% of adult Americans play video games

A new AP-AOL poll finds that 40% of American adults play video games.

Maybe now that MSNBC is reporting on it the mainstream media would stop treating video games as childs' play.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Profile of a virtual real estate mogul

Anshe Chung is a 33-year-old Chinese woman living in Germany. She teaches English, Chinese and German. She also makes a fortune selling real estate, but not by selling your ordinary German townhouses. Instead, she's the most successful land owner and real estate mogul in Second Life, a virtual world not totally unlike the MMORPG games more popular with video gamers.

She's reportedly earning more than $150K annually selling virtual real estate. That's real money, not play money. Her real estate company employs between 10 and 20 people at any given time and is paying taxes on the income earned in Second Life.

Anshe says she started playing Second Life trying to find out how real virtual reality can become. She quickly found the feelings experienced while playing are very real. In addition she noticed people making money by selling land, and decided to get into business herself. She runs her virtual business like a real business, which appears to be why she's been so wildly successful at it.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Good of Games

Andy at has written an excellent paper on the various positive aspects of modern games.

His paper touches on multiple issues, which include:
  • games have been a part of society from the times of ancient Egypt
  • games increase several cognitive skills of gamers
  • gamers make good employees and have better than average computer skills
  • exer-gaming is a great motivational tool to encourage exercising
  • games are invaluable training aids in many areas
  • games encourage learning
Andy's paper is a great summary of everything The Pixelantes stands for. It's a must read for anyone interested in covering video games/gaming from all angles instead of just feeding the masses with alarmist soundbytes from self-proclaimed experts.

Thank you for your article, Andy!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Oregon State prisons using video games to curb violence between inmates

In 1996 Oregon State Department of Corrections launched an incentive program that would pay inmates with credits in their accounts at the canteen. In 2003 the program was expanded to allow inmates with 6 months of good behaviour to use the credits to purchase their own TVs in their cells.

Recently the Oregon State Department of Corrections expanded the incentive program to allow inmates with 18 months of good behavior to purchase an all-in-one gaming device by dreamGEAR. The $35 gaming device includes 50 video games from the 80s. Apparently it is very popular with the inmantes.

The incentive program appears to be working as violent incidents in Oregon State prisons are down since 2003 despite the prison population getting larger.

Adults play more video games than teens

A recent study by The Consumer Eletrconics Association (CEA) found out that adult Americans play more video games than teens.

The study found out that one third of adults spend 10 hours or more per week playing video games compared to just 11 percent of teens.

Not surprisingly CEA concludes this presents the consumer electronics retailers with a huge opportunity as adult gamers are more likely to buy additional audio/video equipment to enhance their gaming experience than teens.

The study is yet another datapoint showing gamers as an increasingly affluent and influential demographic group.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Video games reduce youth crime in Edinburgh

The Moredun area of Edinburgh has high youth crime rates. Motor vehicle related thefts are about double than the average of rest of Scotland.

The police in Moredun is taking a very unorthodox approach to reducing youth crime rates in the area. They are holding weekly video game tournaments between the local Police Youth Action Team and a group of about 30 local youths who are known regular offenders.

The results have been phenomenal so far. Before the tournaments began, the police received 92 complaints of youth crime per month. They now receive 53 complaints on average every month.

The Edinburgh police is considering rolling out similar tournaments across the rest of Edinburgh.

Video games bring families together

A recent study by The Entertainment Software Association found out that 35% of all parents play video games, and 80% of the game playing parents play video games with their children. Two thirds said playing video games with their children has brought the family closer together.

85% of the game playing parents also said the parents, not the Government or retailers, should take the responsibility of monitoring their kids' exposure to video games. 60% of the parents said it's not the Governments job to regulate games sales in order to "protect" children from violent or sexually suggestive video games. Given that 73% of these parents are regular voters, the various video game related legislative efforts might very well do more harm than good to the re-election efforts of politicians trying to score "easy" points with their constituents with video game related bills.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Exer-gaming helps you lose weight while gaming

Exer-gaming or exertainment is a term used for video games that also make you exercise.

The hit product of this genre of games is the Dance Dance Revolution franchise (DDR) first released in Japan in 1998 as an arcade game. Over 90 different versions have been produced since then both as arcade and video games on Sony PlayStation (original and PS2), Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft XBox. The video game releases alone have sold more than 2 million copies. DDR arcade cabinets can be found in regular arcade halls and increasingly also in fitness clubs.

DDR is a rhythm game usually played on a dance pad with up, down, left and right panels. The dance pad is set on the floor - the arcade cabinets have elaborately constructed sets that incorporate the dance pads sometimes with hand rails. The game will display the arrows in ever increasing speeds on the screen. The player is then supposed to hit the panels on the dance pad with their feet as they appear on the screen. The arrows are synchronized to beat of the music played during gameplay, so if the faster the beat, the faster the arrows will appear and if there's a pause in the beat, the arrows will also pause. The gameplay is not entirely unlike the classic 80s party game Simon.

The State of West Virginia recently made a decision to purchase Microsoft XBox video game consoles and DDR games for all of its 765 public schools to fight childhood obesity.

While DDR is the most popular of the rhythm game genre, as these games sometimes are labeled, there are a wealth of options to choose from. Following is a short list of examples from most of the different sub-genres:
  • Britney's Dance Beat (yes, that Britney).
  • Drumming games, which include a drum controller. The idea is still the same as DDR's, but instead of hitting the dance pad with your feet, you hit the drums with your hands.
  • PaRappa the Rapper was probably the first rhythm game that attracted considerable support from gamers.
  • Space Channel 5 was an extremely popular rhythm game on the Sega Dreamcast game console.
  • Karaoke games are another popular rhythm game sub-genre. They can't really be labeled exer-gaming games though. Probably the most popular game in this genre is Karaoke Revolution.
Another major exer-gaming product group is exercising equipment incorporating games or connecting to video game devices. They either come with special software as in the case of the Peak Training System or various Tacx products designed for indoor cycling or just with the exercising equipment like The GameBike, which acts just like regular controllers on the PlayStation2 and XBox video game machines.

A very exciting new product group is made of devices that use digital cameras and motion recognition software to "see" how the players are moving and then translate them into movement of a virtual representation of the player. Applications range from virtual golf games and Kick Ass Kung-Fu to EyeToy (r).

Exer-gaming is one of the most quickly growing video game markets. The reasons are easy to understand when you look at the statistics of childhood obesity; 16% of boys and 14.5% of girls ages 6 to 11 were obese in 1999 and 2000. While going out for a quick jogging session might not appeal to children much, put them on a DDR dance pad with their friends, and the story is entirely different.

Here's an excellent roundup of exer-gaming.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Gaming for God - Christian online gaming communities

+CGO+ or Christian Gamers Online is a three hundred member online gaming community. The members are all actively religious Christians who love playing video games. For them online gaming is a great way to connect and communicate with fellow Christians, and also to spread the word of God.

Other Christian online gaming communities, such as Men of God International use online gaming primarily as a tool to evangelize. In fact, Owen Parker, of MGO, says "We're more than just a gaming clan-we're a full-blown ministry". They've essentially formed a virtual church with Sunday services, outreach programs and counseling services.

The emergence of these communities is explained by the increasing popularity of game playing and online game playing among Americans and especially young people. If there are missionaries in war torn places like Darfur and Afghanistan, why would online games be any different? Just like Parker of MGO explains,
taking the ministry to the network-connected masses is just culture catching up with technology.

An online adult gaming community I belong to has a number of devoted Christian members. They hold regular Play and Pray nights on XBox Live.

The person who started the Play and Pray nights works as a Pastor of Media at a large church in North Carolina, where he oversees all broadcast and worship media, and graphic design and publication teams. He writes about the Play and Pray nights:

I got the idea for ‘Play and Pray’ after I saw that several people in the online community I’m a part of were Christians, or at least interested in Christian things. I asked a few people if they would be interested in getting together before some games, sharing, and praying. We set a time and it happened. The Halo 2 Live interface really worked well, and when we got finished we launch into some custom games. We started meeting about once a week.

Later we started doing a Bible study as part of it. We even went through Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life”

The number of people who attending has ranged anywhere from 2 to 11. Not everyone who comes is a Christian, sometimes people just need some prayer and encouragement, or just to talk.

We are all just normal people with everyday problems, with one common factor: we love to play video games. The people who take part in Play and Pray get to know more about each other than their favorite gametype. They share real concerns and real joys. I have made some very close friends through this, even though I have never seen their face. The praying together brings us closer than simply playing together could.

It has never been my intention that this be anyone’s church. While this is a great thing, it can never take the place of attending church in person. That kind of corporate worship and interaction is just beyond the limits of the Live interface. But it is a very easy way for people who are interested in knowing more about Christ, but don’t want to go to a church, to be introduced to Christian ideas.

A regular participant in the Play and Pray nights writes:

The main reason why I decided to give Xbox Live a try was because I wanted to get away from the rest of the world for a while and just relax, let me mind go, and just enjoy doing something that I always have fun doing: playing video games. To me, it was just a great stress reliever. Well, that seemed to turn around very quickly when I realized that my competitive juices were probably going to get the better of me, and not only that, everyone else that I played with just seemed to take the game WAY too serious. I can't stand listening to people curse, take the Lord's name in vain, and just have a flat out disrespect for everyone around them. Not to mention the cheating, cheating, and more cheating.

I had searched for "Christian Gaming" sites before, but I never found one that suited me at all. It seemed to be all about PC gaming, which I have never been a fan of. Sooner or later, I came to find the "Play and Pray" meet-up that took place at different times of the week. I was tripping out. I had been looking everywhere for some fellow believers who I could just have a great time with, play games, and just fellowship in the Lord.

I have never been able to make the majority of the meet ups, but when I have, it's been a real blessing and a real fellowship. It was never fake. Whenever someone can get on a service like Xbox Live, and have prayer requests, prayer time and Bible study, you know that it's real. Not being able to see these people, you really have to listen to what they are saying, and you feel for them and hurt for them when they go through struggles. "Play and Pray" blended worship and gaming, and that's not a bad thing.

I am thankful for the Lord allowing me to find the "Play and Pray." I have met some amazing people who love the Lord and just want to serve Him. But, like anybody, these people go through struggles and pains, and to have a place like Xbox Live where we can connect and speak to one another about our problems, it's truly an amazing thing. I know for a fact that if I have something going on and I need prayer, I can send a voice message to one of these people and I know they will lift up prayers for me.

That's great, and it's something that I'll always cherish.