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Fighting materialized, virtual monsters can be cathartic in stressful and precarious times.
- Some of the most downloaded video game genres during the pandemic quarantine have been horror games designed to inspire terror and anxiety.
- Authors of a new study say that inserting yourself into a virtual horror realm could offer relief during times of stress by allowing you to engage and dominate materialized monsters and demons.
- They argue that the horror game appeal is similar to religious methods to grapple with fear and guilt (sin).
The ‘Mastering Monsters’ hypothesis<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQxMzIzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDY2MTAwNn0.LPQHHM2gBsw4qmNlGo3AQ0qahC3JF1A-sX_wC8zCBcc/img.jpg?width=980" id="9880d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a032e677c8a2fe2dac5219c5b6ee5bdf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Still image from "DayZ" game" />
Photo Credit: images.pexels.com<p>In a new study <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/preternature.5.2.0213?mag=the-therapeutic-value-of-horror-video-games&seq=1" target="_blank">published in the journal Preternature</a>, the authors suggest that disturbing video games may have a therapeutic role in today's precarious world by providing players the illusion of control. "Faced with physical and psychological dangers, human beings imagine them as monsters and seek to master them," they write in the paper.</p><p>This idea is exemplified by the authors through a critical analysis of the post-apocalyptic game "DayZ," in which the player enters the middle of a zombie infested landscape. The aim is simply to survive with bare minimum equipment and a fragile character. Death in the game is final, and the character has to be recreated to play again. Essentially, the goal is to keep the underdog character alive as long as possible despite the stacked odds. </p><p>Maybe it hits too close to home, but for some it might be exactly the kind of escapism they are craving right now. At least, that's what the authors suggest. They explain that when unfortunate and uncontrollable events start to occur in our worlds (i.e. coronavirus) we may personify them as malevolent forces intentionally out to destroy us; our health, our jobs, our relationships, etc. But these forces in our environment are not material and maddeningly elusive. Horror video games, on the other hand, solidify those fears into material monsters. They offer players a virtual realm in which they can embody a character that can actually fight and possibly destroy those forces. In this way, these games give individuals a sense of control in precarious times. </p>
What gaming and religion have in common<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2a96c300081fcaaa5845556a49256382"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/d9W0q6RqdV0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Much of the stress that stems from something like a pandemic or economic uncertainty is the helpless feeling about events entirely out of our control. Terrorizing video games offer the opportunity to actually <em>do something</em> about stressful events.</p><p>"The horrific experience of video games, and hence their cathartic appeal, emerges when a game produces a constant level of anxiety in players while allowing the players to act on it," the authors explain. They write that fans of "DayZ," "generally enjoy, rather than avoid, the combination of permanent death…and the drive to strengthen their characters and make them safe." </p><p>The authors argue that this is similar to religious tactics to grapple with fear and guilt (sin).</p><p>"Religion stems, in part, from our capacity to see agency in our environment," explains the study. "A strategy designed to help us avoid danger, but which also leads us to believe that there are forces at work just outside of our immediate awareness. The tendency to turn shadows into stalkers and fallen twigs into footsteps."</p><p>Both horror games and the belief in an angel / demon spiritual duality of the universe give us a sense of control over our destinies. </p>
Study details and conclusions<p>After surveying more than 7000 players of two online horror games, "Requiem: Memento Mori" and "DayZ," the researchers found that nearly 70 percent reported that the gaming experience was mildly to very cathartic. Another interesting finding was that 20 percent of the participants reported that since playing the video game they felt that things were less frightening than before. Though, most said that the games had not changed their daily life.</p><p>The authors believe that the dark forces faced in the electronic world of video games "represent the irrational, the repressed, and the wholly other." They go on to suggest that those experiences are reconstructed in the world of a horror game and manifested as tangible, albeit virtual, monsters that players feel are directly challenging. </p><p>"That these games exist shows that we need horror," they conclude. "The demonic and the monstrous appear in pop culture because they represent evil and our fears and anxieties. It is our human nature to be attracted to the horrific and obtain pleasure from encountering it because this is how we gain a partial and temporary victory over ourselves."</p><p>Ultimately, these findings seem to indicate that human nature seeks physical control, even the illusion of control, over our fates and fears whether it's through horror gaming, religion, protest, or another means. </p>
From ultra-realistic graphics to more intelligent A.I. characters, the 2020s will bring some mind-bending video games.
- The video game industry will be worth an estimated $200 billion by 2022.
- The growth of the industry is helping to advance gaming technology, which will allow for new types of gaming experiences.
- Some gaming evolutions likely to occur in the 2020s include ubiquitous ray-tracing technology, smarter A.I. characters, and big-budget virtual reality attractions.
Ray-tracing<p>For video games to look realistic, they need to convincingly mimic how light behaves in the world: reflections, shadows, and changes in light after characters manipulate the environment, say, by shooting a hole through a wall. In most video games, like "Minecraft", light is "baked into" animated scenes. It's static.</p>
NVIDIA GeForce Minecraft RTX - RTX On/Off Gameplay
Reactive A.I. characters<p>One frustrating part of modern video games is that non-player characters (NPCs) tend to be clunky and awkward. They're generally limited to uttering a few lines of dialogue, or performing a few predetermined actions. But with better artificial intelligence, we might soon see NPCs that can react to players' unique behavior, remember past interactions and alter the game's storyline accordingly, similar to what Spirit AI is doing with its <a href="https://spiritai.com/product/character-engine/" target="_blank">Character Engine</a>.</p>
Bethesda Softworks<p>Michael Zyda, the Founding Director of USC's Computer Science Games Program, <a href="https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/future-video-games-could-react-to-players-emotions" target="_blank">told IEEE Spectrum</a> that he foresees A.I. characters tailoring their behavior based on the player's emotional state.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"For example, say a pirate character is trying to make your life miserable but he senses that you're happy," he said. "The pirate's goal is to change your emotional state to angry by communicating with you in some way. Next thing you know, he's able to interact with you like a human would.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Characters from novels or stories could be turned into interactive forms so we could talk to them. For example, someone might want to play Hamlet or one of the other characters in the play. Using artificial intelligence, Hamlet and others will be able to express emotions, have behaviors, and share knowledge. You might even be able to rehearse your lines with other characters. This is not like watching a movie—this is you interacting with others and being completely immersed in the game."</p>
Virtual reality theme parks<p>Virtual reality is becoming increasingly popular, and its gaming market is expected to be worth $33 billion by 2023. A recent survey shows that most game developers <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/future-ar-vr-survey/" target="_blank">agree</a> that VR gaming headsets will continue to sell and evolve. But these products have a key limitation: locomotion. There are currently several common ways to move yourself (or your player) through a virtual world, such as: using a joystick, walking in place, or pointing and teleporting.</p>
Here's why generalists triumph over specialists in the new era of innovation.
- Since the explosion of the knowledge economy in the 1990s, generalist inventors have been making larger and more important contributions than specialists.
- One theory is that the rise of rapid communication technologies allowed the information created by specialists to be rapidly disseminated, meaning generalists can combine information across disciplines to invent something new.
- Here, David Epstein explains how Nintendo's Game Boy was a case of "lateral thinking with withered technology." He also relays the findings of a fascinating study that found the common factor of success among comic book authors.
Americans lost $116.9 billion gambling in 2016.
- Gambling addiction has been shown to have the same pharmacological effects as opiates.
- Eighty-five percent of all gambling revenue comes from slot machines.
- Casinos are designed to disorient and confuse patrons, from the lighting and carpeting to the key of machine sounds.
Inside the brain of a gambling addict - BBC News<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="257ab91c0e6c1f097b14873dc6a21355"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/BF5SzIN63w8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>And the problem <em>is</em> serious. As Chris Hedges writes in his latest book, <em>America: The Farewell Tour</em>, 20 percent of gambling addicts attempt suicide, the highest percentage of all addictions. Though the opioid crisis is <a href="https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates" target="_blank">not slowing</a>, there are <a href="https://www.hrsa.gov/opioids" target="_blank">governmentally-funded efforts</a> combating it. Cigarette manufacturers are required to post warnings in large fonts alongside photos of diseased lungs. Smartphone addiction <a href="https://futurism.com/scientists-find-smartphone-addiction-alters-brain-chemistry" target="_blank">rewires our brains</a>, but we haven't had the courage as a society to face that one yet. From alcohol to sex, at least nominal attempts at curbing behavior are attempted. For the most part, gambling escapes this fate.</p><p>The extent of online data collection was an eye-opener for many, but Hedges exposes the insidious lengths casinos collect information in order to keep customers hooked. Player cards allow management to "manage 20,000 behavior models per second." The seemingly innocuous machine branded with your favorite superhero or television show adapts to your playing rates as it learns your behavior. If you become fatigued, there's a fix for that too. According to the author,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These profiles know at what point a player accumulates too many losses and too much pain and walks away from a machine. A few moments before the pain threshold is reached, a hostess will magically appear with a voucher for a free meal, drinks, or tickets to a show." </p><p>In 2016, Americans lost $116.9 billion dollars gambling; 85 percent of that was dumped into slot machines. Gambling replicates the pharmacological effects of opiates. The casino floor is purposefully designed to disorient and confuse. Right angles are a no-no on carpets, as they offer a physical option. Sharp angles ground you in space, humanity's version of a fork in the road. Casinos suspend time, and therefore space, which is why there are no windows. Cluing you into your circadian rhythm might cause you to leave. </p>
A new show at The Fountains of Bellagio is choreographed to a medley of DJ/producer Tiesto's songs on September 17, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Image source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images for MGM Resorts International<p>Once gambling is in your bloodstream, it crosses industries. A <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306460318311900?via=ihub" target="_blank">new study</a> published in <em>Addictive Behaviors</em>, from the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, notes that over half of regular gamblers (those who gamble at least once a month) trade cryptocurrencies, which the researchers compare to high-risk stock trading. When gamblers engage in both, the likelihood they'll suffer anxiety and depression, gateways to suicidal tendencies, increases. As Lia Nower, director of the center and co-author of the study, notes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"People who trade cryptos look very much like those who trade high risk stocks such as margins and options. Therefore, those who like risky stocks are also more likely to jump into the cryptocurrency trading market compared to those who, for example, invest in stocks over the long term."</p><p>For decades, gambling was listed in the <em>DSM</em>, the bible of the American Psychological Association, as an impulse-control disorder. After 15 years of debate, pathological gambling <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-brain-gets-addicted-to-gambling/" target="_blank">was moved</a> into addiction disorders in <em>DSM-5</em>, due to the chemical influence it has on our brain's reward system. Gamblers and drug addicts even share genetic predispositions. </p><p>As Hedges writes, the rush of gambling provides stimulation during a time of a dysfunctional political system, decreased labor rights in the gig economy, and social stagnation in which virtually no serious issue is entertained without having to choose sides. In times of such uncertainty, we seek comfort at every turn. While conducting his famous stimulation experiments with rats and pigeons, behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner used slot machines as the guiding metaphor for his study, which found that the animals compulsively press levers when they don't know when or how much they'll be rewarded. Follow the mammalian chain of command and we arrive at the strip. </p><p>Hedges interviews cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll, author of <em>Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas</em>. Whether you gamble or not, according to Schüll high-risk thinking is affecting all of us, also by design. It's the atmosphere of the moment, and the forecast is not sunny. She concludes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you look at the way a casino is designed, and you remember that Trump is a designer of many casinos, including his non-casino properties, they follow the same design logic of disorientation and trying to sweep people away from themselves, away from rationality, away from a position where they have clear lines of sight and can act as decision-making subjects."</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>.</em></p>
A new report says there's not as much evidence of physical harm as you might think.
- Leading pediatricians say the assumption that screen time is behind problems is not really supported by research.
- The danger has more to do with a screen being a gateway for unwanted intrusions into a child's life.
- While recommendations are difficult based on the limited amount of research that has been done, the report offers a few.
How many hours are we talking about?<p>Children and young adults find themselves in front of screens all day. Between computers at school, computers they use for homework, phones, and TV, it's pretty relentless. According to the study, the average person in the group they studied — 109 UK respondents from ages 11 to 24 — spends 7.5 hours a day basking in the cold glow of a device.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA4OTU1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzcwMjEwOX0.EZSwOpjYlXMOPZmQ4cSd9GM00j5BW6ra34BR36l8fes/img.jpg?width=980" id="28b4c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1435af26a9a61272951c75b219b37f8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Correlation or causality?<p>Earlier research examined for the report finds correlations between more than two hours of screen time and poor diet, and a negative effect on mental health, with an increased likelihood of depression. There's also some hint of a connection to reduced educational outcomes and sleep and fitness, though the authors describe this as "weak." The study's respondents had their own views of the cost.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA4OTU3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTQ1MjkxOH0.9RsKp84cpeyqFvCjgpreBQDfDr70WKHv8p1BIizISLg/img.jpg?width=980" id="43c34" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="18f6494d38cff576c38525a4ae52b0be" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
So is there a connection?<p>The report says that presented with <em>some</em> kind of connection, there are four possible interpretations. Quoting the report:</p> <ol> <li>Screen time is directly "toxic" to health. This view is popular outside the scientific literature, but has essentially no evidence to support it.</li> <li>Screen time alters behavior and thus leads to negative outcomes. There is some evidence for this when it comes to diet: Watching screens can distract children from feeling full, and this may be contributing towards increased energy intake mentioned above. Also, children are often exposed to advertising while using screens, which appears to lead to higher intake of unhealthy foods.</li> <li>Screen use exposes children and young people to harmful content, through cyberbullying, watching violence or pornography, unrealistic imagery (unrealistic body shapes) or through monitoring online status (e.g. likes) with their peers.</li> <li>Screen time displaces positive activities. Analysis of what leads to positive well-being has consistently supported socializing, good sleep, diet and exercise as positive influences. All of these can be displaced by screen-based activities, which may lead to an "opportunity cost" in terms of other beneficial activities. For this reason we feel that this is the main way in which screen time and negative outcomes may be linked.</li> </ol> <p>With the immediate discarding of Item 1, we step away from there being some physical damage being done by screens themselves.</p><p>With #2 describing the unhealthy ways in which screen time can distract from important sensations such as a need to eat, it should be mentioned that this also has a positive upside: Screen viewing can also distract a person from not being <em>able</em> to eat for lack of food, and it can provide sometimes-necessary emotional escape from difficult circumstances.</p><p>The third possibility is the most frightening to parents: The intrusion of bad actors in their child's life. Cyberbullies can devastate a young spirit, while social sites publish status rankings, host influencers who can damage a young person's self-image, and others deliver content of which parents disapprove.</p><p>The damage inflicted in the fourth scenario is simple: If one spends all of one's time onscreen, there's no time left for other activities. This is not unique to screen time, though. Any overwhelming area of interest can eat up too much time for doing other things.</p>
What the report recommends<p>As we wait for further, more granular, research and clearer answers on this issue, the RCPCH advises beginning with a calm family discussion in which four questions are considered:</p> <ol> <li>Is screen time in your household controlled?</li> <li>Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?</li> <li>Does screen use interfere with sleep?</li> <li>Are you able to control snacking during screen time?</li> </ol> <p>In addition, it suggests parents pay attention to the behavior they model via their own screen usage, remembering to: </p> <ul> <li>Have a plan and stick to it.</li> <li>Be aware, but not intrusive or judgmental.</li> <li>Think about your own media use.</li> <li>Prioritize face-to-face interaction.</li> <li>Be snack aware.</li> <li>Protect sleep.</li> </ul> <p>The young people questioned by RCPCH have their own simple suggestions.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA4OTYwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzE3NzMzOH0.OQQ9J571QckI2eNR81dmWNFPlV1H3Px7aIynBBQ3QFg/img.jpg?width=980" id="c04e8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99f8cc5a70074ba5e2968664615c821e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />