March 22nd, 2006

EDUCATION FILE: Games Have Power to Draw Teens Back to Libraries

How do you lure kids into a place they may be unlikely to visit on their own?

Um, pander to their interests?

According to the Grand Rapids Press, Cory Grimminck, a youth collection specialist for the Kent, Michigan District Library discovered through focus groups that video games are a "highly requested item" among teens. (AE: You don't say?) On April 1st, the library system's 18 branches will offer upwards of 30 PS2 games, none with an ESRB rating higher than T (13 and older).

Using games in libraries is not a new idea. The nearby Dorr Township Library has offered them since 2003.

"The kids have embraced it," said Dorr librarian Karen Brower, "....once you get them in here, you can say, 'You really ought to try this book.'"

Not every Michigan library supports the idea of attracting kids with video games. In Grand Rapids, for example, the Public Library rejected it more than five years ago.

AE: Attracting youngsters to the library is a good first step but what about making books available in places they already frequent? Imagine books on video store shelves right next to the movies they inspired. Instead of renting Die Hard for the umpteenth time, Junior might check out Nothing Lasts Forever.

Just a thought.

-Reporting from San Diego, GP Correspondent Andrew Eisen

Editorial Slams Tennessee Bill Seeking Violent Game Ban

One of the more disturbing pieces of game legislation we've seen is Tennessee State Senator Tommy Kilby's SB3981 which would completely ban violent games for players of any age.

GamePolitics covered this recently in an article titled Who Needs Ratings? Total Ban on Violent Games Proposed in TN.

With the First Amendment implications of Kilby's bill flapping in the wind, a Tennessee newspaper has come out against the measure. Today's edition of the Kingsport Times-News terms the proposed legislation "well-intentioned but flawed."

"It is one thing to restrict violent videos, quite another to attempt to ban them outright, even to adults who are presumably capable of making such decisions for themselves... But while we can all engage in the vain hope that such games wouldn't be created or marketed to anyone, common experience demonstrates that more laws aren't the answer. In the final analysis, it's really parents who need to be especially attentive to the media their children are exposed to."

"Such media depictions are not the sort of thing even adults should be consuming as a steady diet. But at least most adults have the experience and the moral perspective that comes with greater maturity so as to absorb these sounds and images without lasting harm - or so we hope and trust... In the end, however, the law is not a viable substitute for concerned parents who strive to remain actively engaged in their children's lives."

"Parents are ultimately responsible for the moral instruction and behavior of their children... Merely shifting the blame to the makers of video games or those who sell them is ultimately a cop-out. It's up to each of us to do what we can to improve society. And we can do that best by being attentive to our own children and their entertainment choices."

Survey: Adults Gamers Spend Significant Time Playing Online

Wasting time online is just for kids? Not according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

The CEA recently released a survey of adults and teens who game online. The organization queried 1,767 U.S. video game households during November and December of 2005.

Surprising to some, over 30% of surveyed adults reported playing online games for 10 hours a week, compared to just 11% of teens. Interestingly, younger teens spent more time online than older teens, possibly because older teens "may not have the free time for extra hours of gaming." While adults spent more time online, teens, especially teenage boys, were more likely to play online games vs single player.

Social interaction during gaming was reported as less for adults, with teens being 5 times more likely to game with a group of friends. Girls were even more likely than boys to game in groups, although teen girl gamers didn't spend as much time online as the boys. Amongst adults, women vastly outnumbered the men, although this was largely attributed to the large selection of "free" games such as online poker, puzzle games, and board games.

Consoles were the platform of choice for teens, and PC's for adults, although houses that had both preferred using the console. Portable consoles were the favourite of teens. Adults were also more likely to buy "accessories" for their gaming, such as new TVs/monitors, higher performance A/V cables, A/V receivers, and furniture. Adults were also more likely to use a dedicated "gaming" room.

Industry Analysis Steve Koenig was optimistic about the trend:

"A huge opportunity exists for retailers through the popularity of gaming... This will continue as next-generation game consoles, which capitalize on the eye-popping graphics afforded by HD technology, penetrate the market. We anticipate 19 million of these consoles will be sold in their first year on the market, totaling $8 billion in revenue."

-Reporting from Saskatchewan, Canada, GP North American Correspondent Colin McInnes (aka Jabrwock)

HEALTHCARE FILE: Games Helping with Brain Damage, Diabetes

Now who'd go around calling gamers brain-dead? Well, actually, I can think of one individual...

But in at least one real-world case, video games, as part of a larger program of treatment, have actually helped bring a severely damaged brain back to life, reports CNet.

The patient, 9-year-old Ethan Myers of Colorado, was involved in a terrible 2002 car accident. Doctors said he would never walk, talk or feed himself again after he awoke from a month-long coma. However, after starting game-flavoured treatment using a system snappily-named CyberLearning S.M.A.R.T. BrainGames (pictured at left), his parents report that "in the last year, we've seen the Ethan we knew before the accident."

For his part, Ethan said, "I'm doing the exact same things as [classmates]. I'm getting buddies and stuff. I couldn't remember where I put stuff and now I can. I remember school stuff and people's names."

The $584 BrainGames system utilizes "neurofeedback" technology, a form of conditioning that rewards users for producing specific brain waves, like those seen during relaxation or concentration. Based on a system designed by NASA to keep pilots calm and awake, the game modifies the controls of the game so that when the brain reacts in a particular way it becomes easier to control the action - thus rewarding the development of otherwise strained or damaged grey matter.

This isn't the only time, of course, that games have been shown to have positive effects on health - not only the cranial effects of Nintendo's Brain Training which GamePolitics reported on recently, but also in regard to diabetes management.

Nintendo, in association with Californian developer Realtime Associates and a Washington doctor named Harold Goldberg, have developed a system to help diabetics use PC's, smart phones, or, oddly enough, GameCubes to test their blood sugar levels and send them off to their doctor.

Not that Neurofeedback is without its detractors, such as New York's Dr. Andrew Adesman - "We have some very effective treatments for kids with ADHD [other than neurofeedback], I'd be concerned about parents pursuing expensive and not very established treatments in lieu of more proven therapies."

Some critics may also point out that BrainGames - unlike standard therapy, education, and drugs like Ritalin - is not covered by health insurance.

Only time will tell us who's right.

-reporting from the U.K., Mark Kelly, GP International Correspondent

CNN is Looking For a Few Hardcore MMO Gamers

GamePolitics was contacted recently by a producer for CNN. The network is pulling together a feature on hardcore - and even addicted - MMO players. They're hoping to conduct interviews and are looking for people who would be willing to appear on camera to talk about their gaming habits. Here's what we received from CNN's Sarah Fogel:

"I am a producer at CNN and we are working on a story about gaming enthusiasts. We're looking for people who play EverQuest or WoW all day - everyday. Playing the game makes them happy."

"I'm not going to pretend to be an expert at WoW or EverQuest - nor will I pretend to know the first thing about what makes them so appealing and fascinating. That's what I'm hoping some of you can help me with. I'd ideally like to have a gamer 'show' my correspondent how the games work - have her experience the game with someone."

"We could talk to hundreds of 'experts' but those of you who play these games are far more interesting and informed - we want to speak with you and hear from you about these games and what makes them so addicting. What is it about them that make it hard for some people to do anything but play the games? I am looking for people who are hardcore players - I'd love to know about your gaming habits and how much time you devote to playing, perhaps at the cost of other aspects of your life."

"If you think you can help me with our story, or you know of someone else who might be willing to speak with me, please email me."

"I am also looking for any guidance on how CNN could possibly film in a gaming house - I'd be grateful for any advice. Many thanks - Sarah

GP: This isn't for everyone, obviously. But if you are interested, please e-mail Sarah. Feel free to circulate this to other sites, as she seems genuinely concerned about talking to serious gamers.

D-Day in Michigan: Federal Judge Hears Video Game Law Arguments

Keep one eye on your favorite game today, and one eye on Michigan.

This morning, lawyers for the video game industry will square off against the Michigan Attorney General in a federal court room in Detroit. At issue is the industry's lawsuit to stop Michigan's video game legislation which was signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm (seen signing the bill at left) on September 12th.

The law, scheduled to go into effect on January 1st, was blocked by a preliminary injunction issued November 19th by Federal District Judge George Caram Steeh. GP readers can view the injunction ruling.

It's impossible to know whether the judge will decide the case today. He could issue his ruling from the bench or take the matter under advisement. Both sides will be listening carefully to Judge Steeh's comments, looking for an indication as to which way he is leaning on the matter.

Stay tuned to GamePolitics for updates.