Tuesday, December 20, 2005

More work stuff

It's been a while since I've updated everyone on what I've been working on. Well, I haven't exactly been sitting around with my thumb up my ass. I've actually been getting some work done. Need proof?

Over at GameSpy you can check out my work on these:

While over at the Electric Playground, you can read these:

And finally, in this month's Play Magazine is the following piece:

Zero Hour article (Play Magazine, January 2006) Posted by Picasa

Some of this stuff is older, and only just getting around to being published. Other stuff has been written within the past week. Either way, there's a lot of my stuff out there right now (woo hoo!!). And things are only going to be getting more busy with the coming year. I'll keep all of you posted as usual. In the meantime, check out the stuff that's out there and let me know what you think.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Getting Desensetized

There's a new study forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, which supposedly finds that people who play violent video games experience an increase in aggressive behavior and a decreased reaction to violent imagery.

"It's already well known that playing violent video games increases aggressive behavior and decreases helping behavior," said Brad Bushman, a researcher at the University of Michigan. "But this study is the first to link exposure to violent video games with a diminished reaction to violent images."

The research was conducted by Bushman, a U-M professor of psychology and communications studies and a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), along with fellow researchers Bruce Bartholow, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Marc Sestir at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"Most of us naturally have a strong aversion to the sight of blood and gore," Bartholow said. "Surgeons and soldiers may need to overcome these reactions in order to perform their duties. But for most people, a diminished reaction to the effects of violence is not adaptive. It can reduce inhibitions against aggressive behavior and increase the possibility of inflicting violence on others."

On the surface, this study looks potentially damning for the video game industry. However, after a closer look at the details of the study, one can't help but question the results. Take a look at some of the research techinques used to come up with these findings:
For the study, the researchers asked 39 male undergraduates how often they played their five favorite video games, and how violent the games were. The researchers also assessed participants' irritability and aggressiveness, asking them how much they identified with statements like the following: "I easily fly off the handle with those who don't listen or understand" and "If somebody hits me, I hit back."

Next, the researchers outfitted participants with electrode caps to obtain EEG data, including the average amplitude of a particular type of brainwave, known as P300, which is believed to be an indicator of how people evaluate a stimulus, such as a photograph. After doing so, the researchers showed participants a series of images. The content of the images was emotionally neutral (a mushroom, a man riding a bicycle), violent (a man holding a gun to another man's head) or negative but nonviolent (a dead dog). While participants viewed the images, their brain waves were recorded.

After viewing the images, participants were told they were competing in a reaction time task with another person to see who could press a button faster following a tone. The slower person would supposedly receive a blast of noise through a pair of headphones, with the intensity and duration of the blast determined before each round by the previous round's winner. Actually there was no partner, but participants' tendency to administer long, loud blasts of noise is a widely used, reliable measure of aggression.

What the researchers found was that participants who routinely played violent video games responded less to violent images, as measured by a diminished amplitude of their P300 brainwaves. But this was not true of their response to other, equally negative, nonviolent images. The researchers also found that the smaller the brainwave reaction to violent images, the more likely participants were to behave aggressively in the reaction time task by blasting their "partner" with loud, unpleasant noise.

Read at face value, the research seems a bit flawed to me. The noise test is a key example. Basically, each of the 39 male participants were told to hit a button as fast as possible. The loser would get a blast of loud noise ... with the volume and length of the noise determined by the winner of the previous round. If the blast is detemined over a period of sequential rounds, then each "winner" knows that he's subject to losing the round and getting hit with the consequence he set. On the other hand, if the participant thinks that he's setting the level for the next set of competitors, he's still likely to set the bar at the same level he would expect to be given to himself. Truthfully? That's not violence ... that's competition at best, and pissing contest between guys at worst.

As far as the image test goes, these participants were college students ... not teenagers. Before I graduated high school, I was already reading pulp fiction stories by the likes of Raymond Chandler (a great author) and Dashiel Hammett. I also had seen much worse than a picture of a man with a gun to his head in my history classes. Would a picture like that get much of a stimulus reaction from me? Probably not ... though not because of anything like video games. And to be perfectly honest, I've been around guns before and even had them pointed at me. And yeah, I'm sure THAT caused a peak in my P300 brainwaves at the time. By their own admission, there was no change in how participants were affected by the "negative but nonviolent" imagery.

I'm more than a little curious to take a look at the full study once it's published. Unfortunately, with all of these studies trying to prove one thing or another, I've become more than a little desensetized ... not to violence, but to these damned studies. Here's the frightening thing about studies, with a little time, money, and ingenuity, and with the right test group, I could put together a study showing that cute and fuzzy bunnies can drive people to acts of road rage.

Too often, researchers go into a study looking for a particular answer. Many times that expectation of a predetermined outcome causes those responsible to skew things in their favor, intentionally or not. The scientific method is supposed to begin with the question, not the hypothesis:
  • Define the question
  • Gather information and resources
  • Form hypothesis
  • Plan experiment
  • Do experiment and collect data
  • Analyze data
  • Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypotheses
  • Communicate results

This method is generally meant to be cyclic in nature. Once the data is interpreted, new hypothesis can be formed an tested as well. I've seen far too many cases though in which researchers spend too much time trying to prove their hypothesis, instead of letting the raw data lead them to new ideas and interpretations.

Anyway, that's enough of a soapbox moment for the moment. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Don't call it a comeback!!

Yeah yeah, so it's a cheesy subject, but it's also oddly fitting. I know I've been out of touch for bit (well, publicly at least). I know I'm always saying how swamped I am with wirk (and I am), but things are really nuts at the moment for a lot of reasons.

First, let's tackle the big personal issues:

I found out recently that my dad is going to have to go in for some neck/spine surgery. He went in for an MRI last week and, based on how the results go, he'll need to have some work done to fix some compression in the spine that's causing pressure on some nerves. I've been checking in with him to see how things are developing. He's up in VA, and there's really no one there to be with him. So, whenever the surgery is scheduled, I'll be taking off out of town for a bit to be there for him during the surgery and afterwards to help him out. Growing up, my dad and I weren't necessarily close, but as we've both gotten older, our relationship has grown. Nowadays, even if he wasn't my dad, he'd be a damned good friend ... one of the best in fact. And as you guys know, I'm always there for my friends.

Also on the personal side, I've been trying to take some time to unwind a bit ... basically taking some time for myself. I've been running around like a chicken with his head chopped off for a while now, so I needed to take a bit of a breather to collect myself. All work and no play makes Jack (or in this case, David) a dull boy. So I've been trying to do a little more to get away from the ball and chain that is my PC. Been trying to catch up with a few old friends, as well as making some new ones. Hey, what can I say? Even *I* deserve a break from time to time.

Of course there were a couple of other things that kept me from updating a little more on the blog here. First off was the trip to Vegas. I posted earlier about how that trip went. Admittedly, I've been having a lot of fun with my Xbox 360 since I got back. Of course, I think it's hilarious that the 360 is capable of so much, and yet the game I'm most addicted to is the cheap $5 arcade-style game, Geometry Wars Evolved. It's like Smash TV meets Asteroids. Playing that has got me itching to bring the classic systems out of mothballs to play some of my old favorites. Speaking of favorite games ... if ANYONE out there has never experienced the classic game Zombies Ate My Neighbors ... GO FIND IT!! I'm playing it almost as much as my 360, and it's probably the one game they'll have to pry from my cold dead hands.

Back to the 360, I wrote up a review for the 360 version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted for GameSpy. The game is a lot of fun, but the real story is in how great the game looks ... especially with the environmental effects like lighting and reflections. It looks amazing, especially in hi-def. I've also had a buch of reviews go up over at the Electric Playground website. I'll try to get around to posting links later, but in the meantime, go check out the site.

And since we're on the subject of Electric Playground (and by association, Greedy Productions), there's a lot going on over there. Things are finally cranking again on the EP website. I'll be posting a lot more material over there now that things are working, and everyone is working to really push the site to a new level. You'll be seeing a lot more in the way of updates, more interesting articles, and even a few surprises down the road. There's even some work being done to redesign the site to reflect the changes in the show as well. I'll also be working a lot more closely with Greedy Productions on a couple of other projects they're working on. I'll even be contributing some script writing series of video packages. Basically, it all adds up to equal more work for me (WOO HOO!!).

And speaking of more work, I wrote up a piece on Zero Hour for Play Magazine. When it hits the stands, I'll let all of you know. In the meantime, I'll let everyone know to keep their eyes peeled for news coming out of Play. I'll be working with Dave and the guys more, providing material and such, and helping out with a few cool new plans that they have in store for the near future.

So, does that cover everything? Not even close ... but if I threw everything out here at once, what motivation would you have to keep coming back, eh?

Oh yeah ... one last thing. I haven't forgotten about you guys who have actually asked about the fan club plans. Heh. Y'know, I keep commenting on how I want my groupies, and having a groupie recruitment drive (HA!), but someone pointed out one thing ... what about the guys? One suggestion that's been made (which I think I'll run with) was keep going w/ the whole "rock star" mentality, and have both "Groupies" and "Roadies". I'm also trying to come up with some cool and unique merchandise for people to have fun with. Thanks to a bunch of my friends in the comic industry, you can expect to see some REALLY cool visuals in the near future. Posters, t-shirts, teddy bears, and yes ... due to popular demand ... the infamous fan club thong will all still be available, though with some fun new designs. I want to set up some other things for people who are genuinely interested in the fan club idea too. So throw out some suggestions. I'm even chipping in a lot of goodies from the "swag bag".

BTW ... those of you with particularly sharp eyes may notice some minor tweaks I did to my profile picture. Bonus points to those of you who recognize the signature on the handheld's new skin.


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