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>
This video game designer's creations have been said to work "neurological magic."
- Video game designer Bennett Foddy's games hack players' neurology to allow them to embody the subjects on the screen.
- Foddy plays with perceptions of sensation to explore how gamers "become" the digital characters.
- Research indicates that video games can change how our brains perform and their structural makeup. For instance, enhancing several kinds of focus.
Bennett Foddy’s games<p> New York-based game designer <a href="https://twitter.com/bfod" target="_blank">Bennett Foddy</a>'s programs are about the neurological sorcery in gaming that allows players to embody the subjects on the screen. Foddy's creations, many of which are free to play via the flash-enabled internet browser of your choice, are not overly intense or for "hard-core gamers." They're light-hearted, addictive, and have limited controls that are easy for non-gamers to pick up on, though mastery is not so simple. The gaming wizard's latest creation, <a href="http://www.foddy.net/GetOnTop.html" target="_blank">Get On Top</a>, is a game hidden in his 2016 gaming time capsule <a href="http://www.foddy.net/2016/12/sportsfriends/" target="_blank">Sportsfriends</a>. The two-player browser version uses your keyboard for input, with arrow keys controlling one figure and AWD controlling the other. "It's designed to sit with one other person and play for hours," the website explains. (Learn how to enable Flash <a href="https://www.umass.edu/it/support/support-center/howenableflashyourwebbrowser" target="_blank">here</a>).<br> <br> </p><iframe src="https://i.pinimg.com/originals/3f/92/e6/3f92e6da96846d8b8f67b4aaebc6d36f.gif" width="800" height="540" frameborder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowfullscreen=""> </iframe><p> <a href="http://www.foddy.net/Athletics.html" target="_blank"><br> QWOP </a>, one of Foddy's more popular creations, is a simple and diabolically addictive game about sprinting down the straightaway on a track. It can be played on PC or a smartphone mobile browser. The screen shows a man lined up to race the 100 meter dash, and you must press the QWOP keys to manipulate his left and right calf and thigh muscles to (hopefully) propel him forward as fast as you can. (The cult classic game was even featured on the U.S. version of The Office on the sitcom's season 9 premiere.) In 2012, it was updated so that it could be played with two people at once. </p>
The phenomenology of gaming<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMzUzMi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjE1OTY4NX0.l8SNLasRL-u4rxewa0PCp1TRqDpYaAwBoRDOqMP7_m0/img.png?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C32%2C0%2C87&height=700" id="59bbf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="20fc395a3d0b296de7fce60457010f33" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="GIRP climbing game" />
Photo Credit: Foddy.net<p>In a 2011 piece for <a href="https://www.wired.com/2011/03/qwop-girp/" target="_blank">WIRED UK</a>, Mark Brown wrote that Foddy's games are about "turning gaming's heavily abstracted and automated actions – like running forward or scaling a perilous cliff face – into brutal simulations of the most intense micromanagement." </p><p>For Foddy, it's about playing with perceptions of sensation to explore how gamers come to embody the digital characters in the game. </p><p>"When you play a [video game]," Foddy <a href="https://www.wired.com/2011/03/qwop-girp/" target="_blank">explained</a>, "as long as there is a very short time between your formation of an intention to act and something happening on screen, there's a kind of neurological magic which makes you feel like you are the character, rather than just controlling a little guy on a screen." QWOP is unique in that it does this by making a "deliberate disconnect between your intentions and the character's actions." </p><p>Another of Foddy's games, <a href="http://www.foddy.net/GIRP.html" target="_blank">GIRP</a>, enhances the experience of embodiment. The game, whose hero is a rock climber, turns your keyboard into a cliff face. The player needs to finger-tip grip the keyboard as if he or she is white-knuckle clinging to a cliff. In this way, when you play this game you phenomenologically become the daring climber as your consciousness moves through the electronic space in the virtual reality of the game. </p><p>Foddy, who studied addiction at Oxford, designed GIRP to hijack the neurological reward-system by allowing players to set their own achievable goals in the game. WIRED's Brown described GIRP as "maddeningly compulsive."</p>
How video games affect the brain<p>Video games can change how our brains perform and their structural makeup. A 2017 study published in <a href="http://frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00248/full" target="_blank">Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed that</a><a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00248/full" target="_blank"></a> video game players display enhancements in several types of attention such as sustained attention (the ability to focus on an activity over a long period of time), divided attention (focusing on multiple pieces of information at once), and selective attention (the process of focusing on a particular object in the environment for a certain period of time). Moreover, the areas of the brain that play a role in attention are more efficient in video game players as compared with non-gamers. Gamers also don't require as much activation to stay focused on demanding tasks.</p><p>There is evidence that gaming increases the size and competence of regions of the brain that are responsible for visuospatial skills, or an individual's ability to identify visual and spatial relationships among objects (for example, hitting a ball zooming towards you with a baseball bat before it smacks you in the face). <a href="https://qz.com/1050472/video-games-can-either-grow-or-shrink-part-of-your-brain-depending-on-how-you-play/" target="_blank">The 2017 research</a> also suggests that video games that require players think spatially can increase the gray matter in the right hippocampus. </p><p>So go ahead and game the plague away. <a href="http://www.foddy.net/" target="_blank">You can find Foddy's games for free here.</a></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>
About 21 percent of gamers in the United States are over the age of 50.
- More than 164 million Americans play video games on their phones, computers, or gaming consoles.
- An entire fifth of American gamers are over the age of 50.
- Results of studies suggest games can improve memory and reduce signs of aging.
Turns out those violent video games might be a blessing in disguise.
- Looking at data in the U.K. suggests that the more girls play video games, the greater the chances they'll pursue a STEM degree, regardless of what kind of game they play.
- Currently, there is a dearth of women taking up STEM degrees.
- Although it isn't clear whether there is a causal relationship here, encouraging girls to play more video games may also encourage them to study STEM subjects.
The researchers found that it didn't matter what type of game girls played; playing any type of video game encouraged women to study STEM.