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More Than Just Fun and Games

by Jennifer Post Stoudt

In 1972 Nolan Bushnell put a little known, coin-operated arcade game named Pong in a neighborhood bar. Patrons loved it so much and they jammed so many coins in that it actually stopped working temporarily. And that was just the beginning.

From Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac Man, Donkey Kong and Frogger to Grand Theft Auto, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Diablo and the Dark Age of Camelot, video and computer games have come a long way.

“Gaming is a huge industry,” says Matthew Garrison, assistant professor and chair of the Digital Media Department. “It generates more money than Hollywood.” Albright’s Digital Media Department teaches courses in both Maya and Director, the industry standards for creating games.

Sixty percent of all Americans age six and older, or about 1.45 million people, play computer and video games, according to the Interactive Digital Software Association. And with the variety of game types that are offered today – role playing, action, first person shooter, sports and Massively Multi-players Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG), the newest type of game to hit the market – there are a lot to choose from.

But what’s the attraction?

Charlie Anderson '06Charlie Anderson ’06, a digital media and marketing major who has his sights set on working in the gaming industry doing cinema-graphics, says, “The whole purpose of a game is to create a pseudo environment that you can place yourself in. With today’s technology, the animation is so realistic, you feel like you’re actually there.” In role playing games especially, says Garrison, “You can think of it as metaphysical, or an out of body experience. The mind is completely experiencing the digital/cyber world – you really do sort of forget yourself.”

In role-playing games likes Laura Croft, one of the most popular according to Garrison, the player takes on an identity and navigates a very complex world. These games take about 40 to 80 hours to complete. The newest and most interactive games on the market, Massively Multi-players Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG), actually take place on the Internet. “It’s a whole new social construction,” says Garrison. “The player encounters a different cast of characters each time they come on.”

“Playing action-rich video games like car racing and shoot-em-ups can improve visual perception and allow people to focus on many tasks at once.”

– as reported by CNN

In the Dark Age of Camelot, a MMORPG based on King Arthur legends, Viking mythology and Celtic lore, a player chooses from one of 15 races and over 30 social classes to become a character who will then set out on an adventure. He will fight monsters, meet other players, make friends and enemies and defend his realm. What makes this game different from others, says Anderson, is its use of Instant Messenger. “That’s the thing that makes it so addicting. You have the basic concepts of role playing games combined with the addictiveness of AOL. You can talk to people, barter, trade…make friends online.” On one afternoon in September, as Anderson logged on to play, 693 people were playing on the server — a far cry from the days of Pong and Asteroids.

But according to a report on CNN, they’re not all just “fun and games.” Video and computer games have a health benefit as well. The report stated that “Playing action-rich video games like car racing and shoot-em-ups can improve visual perception and allow people to focus on many tasks at once.” It was also reported that game players had less “attentional blink” – a lag in perception that occurs when processing multiple tasks – and were better able to switch tasks.

David Kristula ’04 agrees. “Gaming challenges the player to be organized, plan ahead, everything you want a college student to do.”

The story boarding, scripting and cinematic quality of many games are very intensive, says Garrison. “It really takes strategic thinking, problem solving skills and critical thinking to navigate them. The worlds are extremely complex and multi-layered.”

According to an August article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, James Gee, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has gone so far as to say that video games hold the key to salvaging American education. In the article, the professor goes on to say that, “Research shows that people learn best when they are entertained, when they can use creativity to work toward complex goals, when lesson plans incorporate both thinking and emotion, and when the consequences of actions can be observed.” Video games, he says, immerse people in worlds, making them rely on problem solving skills to reach defined goals. He even believes that games such as Grand Theft Auto should be used in the classroom to teach students things like values and ideology.

Garrison says, although he doesn’t think all games would work in the classroom, some may be of value. For instance, “If you’re teaching about world politics, you could introduce students to a game like War Craft, thinking in terms of Winston Churchill being faced with a similar situation in World War II.”

Basically, he says, “Gaming is a vocabulary of real-time experience. Depending on the experience provided, it can be as educational as you want it to be.”


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