Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Making history (Part 1) ....

By Dave Johnson

Lately I've found myself playing a lot of historically set games, or games with "alternative timelines". By this I mean titles such as LA Noire, Assassins Creed Revelations, Wolfenstein : The New Order and Bioshock Infinite (again - second play through, enjoying it even more the second time around!). As a graphic / concept designer and illustrator I've found myself drawing and creating my own stories and ideas for these sorts of games a lot lately. I am intrigued by the idea of 'what would the world have been like if X didn't happen' or 'what if Y came before Z'? I'll probably be posting more of my ideas in future blogs, but for now I want to look and explore why I'm drawn to these sorts of games.

LA Noire

The first game I've been playing a lot of lately is LA Noire by Rockstar.

It's an action adventure game set in 1947 where you take on the role of Cole Phelps, an ex American GI who fought in WW2. Having left the army, we find him at the beginning of the game as a rookie patrolman in the 1940's LA police force who is facing the opportunity to rise in the rankings. When a spate of grisly murders by the "Black Dhalia" begin to hold Los Angeles in their grip, Phelps is faced with solving the case and unmasking the killer. However with drugs. corruption and gang warfare threatining to tear the city apart, the case quickly takes a turn for the complicated.....

I already knew a little about the real life "Black Dhalia" murders that the game draws inspiration from. So I guess that part of my reason for being drawn to the game in the first place was educate myself and learn more about the crimes and 1940's America. I believe that gamers are on the whole quite an open minded, inquisitive crowd and enjoy being told fresh new stories from time periods they probably hadn't considered. This is probably why I am more drawn to historical games, as they offer me a chance to learn more about the world and it's past. LA Noire is a great example of a game that surprised and captivated a lot of people for this reason upon it's release.

So what is it that I like about this game so much? I liked Rockstars' previous Grand Theft Auto
offerings but got a bit bored with the offensive content and the constant destruction, murder and mayhem. I also feel that Rockstar games are so big and so long that often the story struggles to fill the gap between missions and the duration of the game. I seriously considered quitting GTA V in its' middle third purely because nothing really happened. It's descent into meaningless side quests, and 'shock value' moments to keep the player interested was something that I nearly ended the game over. It's a big Rockstar criticism and I approached LA Noire hesitantly because of this, but I'm happy to say it's the exception to the rule. It's story is fleshed out, twisting and genuinely fascinating. I couldn't wait to see what happened next.

Some examples of the LA Noire performance capture technology

LA Noire is a game that rewards the player for thinking, rather than aimlessly killing. Sure there are moments where a car chase through LA or a gunfight is required but they are always integral to the plot and have purpose, supporting the story. The main standout moments of LA Noire involve good old fashioned detective work and a knack for reading body language. This is where Rockstars' incredible performance capture technology comes into play, realistically rendering motion captured faces and all their nuances. A raised eye here, a scratched head there, an uncomfortable shifting of feet or maybe a steely gaze - these are just a few ways that your suspects will react to your line questioning. It's up to you to read, analyze and decide if they are telling the truth or lying. It's a game where seemingly everyone has something to hide or a secret to impart - the trick is to know when to be subtle and when to go in heavy with them.

Interrogations fully utilize the amazing performance motion capture,
being integral to the game and not just a gimic

It's a fantastic achievement with great graphics and sound to back it up. The city seems alive, bought to life by the period tunes and believable voice acting and sound effects. The combat is something that I feel could be improved, being a bit clunky, but the focus seems to be on brain power rather than muscle which I rather like. Too many games these days require you to get from A to B linearly and destroy everything in your path. This logic based, socially aware take on gaming is a refreshing change of pace and style.

Similarly some of the driving feels a little wayward in a few of the cars and fluid in others. On balance though, I think that this is intentional as it makes you want to find and drive every car in town to see them (the Ford H-Boy was just one of the obscure, highly secret cars I uncovered with a bit of searching. Talk about attention to period detail!). I don't normally like collecting things in games as a lot of the time collectibles can feel a bit arbitrary. However, my wife and I are up to 75 of 95 cars now and we intend to find the lot. We really don't to see the end of the game, but we want to. We genuinely enjoy being in the games' company. This is testament to the world the developers have made. It's never boring, there is always something to see and the player is encouraged to explore every corner of it to gain some sort of reward.

So in summary LA Noire is action packed, engrossing and a good history lesson, even if it is a little light on detail in places. I genuinely didn't know about the social problems of ex American GI's or the seedy Hollywood of the period so I definitely feel like I've learnt something I didn't know. The game has cemented in my mind that when a good story, an unexpected setting and great production come together, amazing things can happen. I would much rather see more of this cerebral kind of game than another first person shooter or racer.
Wolfenstein : The New Order

I had high hopes for this, I really did. Partly because it caters to a very nostalgic audience (including me) for which there is obviously a large market. The Wolfenstein games are regarded as some of the best old-school shooters on PC, so this modern offering seemed like it was going to be really great game. An established franchise, a devoted fan base and the latest generation technology. All with an intriguing premise and a thoughtful story. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot as it happens. For its' few standout moments there are a dozen emotional mis-steps, cringe worthy 'mature story' moments and some quite tedious game play. But let me start at the beginning and tell you why I personally got so excited about this game when I first heard about it.

Wolfenstein : The New Orders' premise is that the Nazis won WW2. It is a game that ponders over the implications of the Nazi party conquering the globe and spreading its' influence. As a big fan of alternate timeline games, I was keen to see a vision of the world where things have not quite turned out as we know them. There was an element of the interest in 40's nostalgia and 60's culture in me since the games story spans both decades.

It is a cliche but everyone knows even today that German engineering is amongst some of the finest in the world. To their credit, this is something the games art directors have captured brilliantly. Clunking metal, steam and lasers all find their way into the mix and blend well. What is perhaps not so well known that the game explores is Hitlers' real life interest in black magic and the occult. The Nazi party was covertly scouring the globe in the 30's in search of ancient artifacts to help secure victory and create the master race. Indiana Jones is probably the most successful franchise to explore this so I was keen to see these ideas and themes develop. The Indiana Jones world was a big part of my childhood too, being one of my main creative influences as a boy. The memory of being taken to see "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" in 1982 and being made aware of God, Hitler, evil, heroism and adventure cinema all at once in that dark auditorium will stay with me forever. After that, I was forever drawing Indy and creating my own adventure stories. It was one of the first films to inspire me to draw and create for a living. Because of this, I really, really wanted to like Wolfenstein.

Mid 2013 at the E3 show, things were looking good. From early videos and reports the game would seem to be musing on what might happen if the German victors fused science, magic and engineering together to rule the world. I fully expected to see some strange creations and to be fair when I played, I wasn't far disappointed here. There are some genuinely brilliant designs in there like the giant robot dogs :

and some of the creepiest robot / cyborg super soldiers I've seen to date :

The enemies are quite creepy and imaginative but predictable from gameplay point of view. When I completed the game, I was surprised to get the "Uber" achievement for beating it on it's hardest setting. I'd actually forgotten I'd set it to this, since it struck me as quite easy! Once the player figures out how to take on each enemy type, the game becomes formulaic and repetitive. The games' developer Bethesda have even tried to shoehorn in a leveling up system where you are granted combat perks for killing a certain number of enemies in a particular way. It sounds great in theory, except I discovered that you can acquire a good third of the perks just by replaying the first level. This makes you very handy in combat early on in the campaign, effectively making the rest of the adventure a very simple task.

The sound and voice acting are passable, but rarely go beyond very good. The characters speak some corny dialogue in some very cartoon accents and voices, which is mostly laughable. I can honestly say that my favourite part of the game was when a very modern rock soundtrack kicked in on one of the later levels. Being a fan of auditory surprises like this in games I felt it worked as the whole setting of the game is supposed to be an advanced version of 1960. Therefore, modern music seemed very appropriate and I did appreciate this. Unfortunately I was almost at the end of the campaign and it felt a lot like too little too late.

Without meaning to go on for too long, I'd like to come now to what I consider to be the games' two chief failings. Number one is the much hyped and anticipated version of a 1960's Nazi policed world. I was some way into the game when it struck me that the game could have been set anywhere at absolutely in period in history. There was barely anything in the environments that really gave off a 1960's vibe. It just felt like a wartime shooter and the story and concept was tacked on as an afterthought. If I'd have made the game I would have re written the story to take in actual 1960's events, retold through the games' narrative. From Cuba to Kennedy, the list of story possibilities is virtually limitless. The whole game clearly borrows heavily from the concept of the novel 'The Man In The High Castle' by Philip K Dick. That novel is realistic in the sense that it re imagines the outcome of actual wartime events that culminate in Nazi victory. The books characters are well plotted, sympathetic and believable. Wolfensteins' characters are poorly written, crass and ridiculous.

Not once did the game feel like an imaginative alternative version of the past, just a standard slightly old fashioned wartime shooter.

My second major complaint is the depiction of the German people. It seems that these days whenever anyone tackles the German war in games and movies, they always seem to depict the Germans as morally bankrupt psychopaths (see "Inglorious Basteurds" by Quentin Tarantino or the zombie 2009 movie "Dead Snow").

Yes, clearly Hitler and the Nazi party committed unspeakable atrocities in the war, but it's fair to say that many Germans was pressured into following a cause which they probably didn't believe in. With the exception of a few recent examples of the last few years such as 'Call Of Duty : World At War' game directors always seem to fall into the trap of presenting all Germans as madmen. From an ethical stand point, it annoys and upsets me that developers can't move on from this stereotype. Wolfenstein's many human enemies and chief antagonists Colonel Willem 'Deathshead' Strauss (a sadistic surgeon and doctor), Frau Engel (a toyboy loving Nazi commander and torturer) all suffer from this backward stereotype. 

I am all for education in wartime games, but I wish that a balanced view would be established. We do need to talk about the past as a society to learn from our mistakes - why can't we do it in a sensitive fashion? Game makers should take a lot more responsibility since much of their target market are our young next generations of society. It will be their inheritance one day, and we need to get them to understand just how traumatic the past has been for everyone.

To build on the this point, something else I noticed that irritated me was the music in the end credits. After launching a nuclear strike on Berlin and toppling the Nazi regime for good, we hear a very sentimental piece of music over the credits. It is admittedly beautiful, but misplaced. Bear in mind we have fought through Nazi zombies, robot dogs and mad surgeons to get to this point. The music lyrics seems to suggest a wistfulness about war that the rest of the game clearly reveled in. To me, it confuses and trivializes the whole issue of what the game developers were trying to say. Which brings me to the end of my thoughts on the game with a final summing up. Wolfenstein : The New Order never really becomes sure of what it is, or what tone it is adopting, ending up as an uneven mess. Mainly I worry about the lasting impression this will leave on gamers and their understanding of conflict. The only thing it did for me was to make me more sure of the kind of games I want to make in future and the growing need for responsibility in the medium. I have come to the conclusion that game developers have a great deal of power in that they can educate through a medium that many find fascinating. However there are still those who need to realize that certain subjects (such as war) need to be handled with a large degree of sensitivity, particularly where there is an important story or subtext. The danger is many will think the views games represent are ok to carry over into the real world.

In part 2 of this blog I will be looking at Assassins Creed : Revelations and the brilliant Bioshock Infinite.

Ethics - The impact of computer games in society

By Dave Johnson

Some years ago I got back into contact with an old friend (who we'll call Chris), who I'd previously had a disagreement with. At that point we had not spoken for two years, and when we met up again it was a wonderful, yet nervous moment. The reason for our disagreement had been over the person that he had planned to marry. Without being too detailed, I felt that she was just not right for him and was taking advantage of him in a lot of areas. So after a final argument, I pulled out of his wedding plans and we didn't speak again for a long time.

I mention all this because it was his story when we met again that I found amazing. He revealed his marriage had lasted three months and ended in divorce, sadly followed by the death of his older brother from a brain hemorrhage. His friends drifted away. His job suddenly felt meaningless.

Feeling lost and depressed, my friend completely retreated from the world into his hobby of online gaming. At the time World Of Warcraft was beginning to become prevalent, with new players joining by the thousand on  a daily basis. Chris, feeling empty and void established a daily routine. Everyday he would routine home from work, eat a small meal then get online. He would play until 3am the next morning, sleep for 5 hours then get up for work. This routine was exhausting his mental and physical health yet the thought of his gaming fix kept him going.

Then something strange began to happen. Being a regular daily player, the others online would begin to expect to see him around a certain time of day. Small talk began on the message boards which slowly turned into more fully formed conversations. Friendships began and trust was gained. Slowly, Chris began to talk more and more freely between quests and raids. The clan he was in became his family, support and network. At the same time due to Chris's achievements in the game, he rose to prevalence within his clan. Led by Chris, new players joined them and his online family grew. The real, outside world remained as bleak and depressing as ever yet the online world was thriving, exciting and full of possibility. Chris was hooked and there was no daily substitute for his gaming fix. He was tired, listless and disenchanted by life, yet his online comrades kept him going. Then they began to meet and socialize in real life. Chris re discovered life, human interaction and the feeling of happiness again, even though it had cost him much.

All things must eventually come to an end. In Chris's case he knows where to draw the line and can recognize warning signs. It helped that the game was beginning to wane for him. So 6 months and many battles later, Chris didn't turned the game on one day. In fact he never turned it on again. He saw that it had been his support, his friend, his lifeline and that he had learned to socialize again through it. He had won not the game, but real friends, probably the greatest prize there is. Now it was time to return to the real world, wiser and happier and spiritually richer than he was before. The game had served it's unexpected purpose.

Some years later Chris has remarried and has two young children. He still plays games because like many, he believes they have a value. Now it is to relieve the stress of work and family life and he has been able to get his children sharing his hobby His story has both positive and negative aspects to it, and as such represents good arguments for and against games playing.

The negatives

Many gamers suffer from sleep deprivation and lack of productivity
 due to an addiction to what they are playing

Excess playing time
Chris's story is not uncommon. But what is perhaps a little unusual about it is Chris's ability to control it to stop. Many are not so restrained or fortunate. We read stories in the papers and see on the news all manner of articles where games are demonized. They are often blamed for the ills of society where violence and anti social behavior are at fault. We hear tales of people caught up cycles of continuous gaming behavior that lead to poor performance in life and in the workplace. This is brought about by players clocking up thousands of hours of game time that deprive them of sleep. There have been reports of high school and college students not attending their classes due to games addiction. In one example, a couple left their young child to die whilst they played in the internet cafĂ© next door.

Of course excess playing time can also result in a whole host of physical ailments. These can include carpal tunnel syndrome, stiff neck, sore back, headaches and dry eyes. Also it stands to reason that because a player is sitting in one place for long periods of time, they may not be getting enough exercise. This number of risks that this carries are obvious, including excess weight gain and an overall weakening of the muscles. Insomnia is another very real risk since an over stimulation of the brain can result in sleep loss at night. This in turn can lead to depression and weight loss which has the knock on effect of poor performance in the players' life and study or workplace.

Anger issues and a lack of social skills are sadly the problem of many gamers 

Separation from reality
One of the many attractions of the gaming world is the idea of escaping from reality, if only for a short time. Such escapism can stimulate imagination, promote learning and social skills and result in a balanced, intelligent individual. The themes of many games can however, often deal with some extreme or dark subject matter. Games with themes of murder, theft, racing, warfare or violence often carry a warning on the box to let players know that they should be mentally equipped to cope with the subject matter.
There have been numerous cases of players attempting to copy games in real life, often resulting in tragic consequences. The game 'Manhunt' saw your character  trying to survive in dark, violent, often strange situations. A publicized murder in the UK was committed by a man who claimed to be obsessed with the game. Other games such as the Grand Theft Auto series have been banned in many countries as they encourage online violence that could easily be played out for real.

Medical research that has been carried out at the Institute for Medical Psychology Center for Humanities and Health Sciences in Berlin shows that "there is only weak evidence for the assumption that aggressive behavior is interrelated with excessive gaming in general."

However, other doctors disagree. They believe that the role a player takes in a video games violence is that of an active aggressor, rather than a passive onlooker. Dr. Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University, strongly believes that there is a danger that this can carry over into real life.
In terms of online gamers view and understanding of social moral codes, it would be easy to argue that the online world is not a place for the faint hearted. Homophobic slang, sexual and racial insults are commonplace in a gamers world. Obviously it is very easy for people to mentally assess themselves fit when buying the game. But whether the player falls prey to being responsible for offensive behavior or is on the receiving end, mental scars or effects will be obvious.

Many gamers become isolated from others through a compulsion to play alone

Social Isolation
For people with anxiety or interaction issues, the idea of being in a room playing a game or talking when they want to online is an attractive one. Many console gamers can sit for hours on end and not speak a word to anyone. Their social skills become underused and they deteriorate. Indeed many PlayStation players agree that when the PlayStation Network temporarily went down a few years ago, it was the best thing that could have happened. Millions of players were forced to meet up with friends and play games in the same room. They are reported as having forgotten the simple buzz of conversation and banter, and the social element that many online games miss out on.

Many people fall victim to only engaging with social activities when they absolutely have to, only interacting if necessary.

Conversely, many MMO gamers rate their online friendships as being more valuable than offline ones. They feel comfortable being part of an extended online circle who all communicate in a language that is understood only by them. To counter this, many others advocate trust in online as a good thing but difficult to judge. Their is no substitute for meeting people face to face and learning to evaluate others through evidence rather than instinct.

Gamers families can often pay the heaviest price when the users' hobby becomes all consuming

For many it will be those around them pay the price of the hobby, as well as the gamer. Relationships can suffer, families can split and children can be particularly badly affected. Indeed this is often the case because parents are often completely unaware of the content of the games that their child is playing. If there is already an obvious level of immaturity in the individual, this negative impact can manifest itself in anger, aggressive, racial and homophobic behavior or even trying to 'act out' scenes from the game. This leads to destructive behavior that impacts the home, outside world and society at large.

Sometimes a gamer can also become so consumed by a game that they want to talk about nothing else. This is likely to drive a wedge between themselves and loved ones.

In terms of the cost to themselves, people who are thought to be suffering from video game addiction may ignore their responsibilities. This can also include their responsibility to themselves.
Signs of this can include unhealthy weight loss, dehydration, basic hygiene, changing their clothes regularly and brushing their teeth.

Though in recent years games have become more prevalent in education, there are still many drawbacks to the medium. Games that cater to subjects such as Maths, English, Art, Cookery and Mental Gymnastics cannot answer any questions that a student may have. They are very much 'What You See Is What You Get', being unable to expand or elaborate on something that a student may find as a point of interest. It can also be extremely difficult for the student to see the game as being an educational tool and not just 'another game'. Furthermore this idea can be backed up when we consider that what gets learnt in a game can rarely be applied to real life. Understanding every day things such as the plot or text of a book, the perfection of instinct and taste in cooking or even analyzing a utility bill are things that a game is unlikely to cater for. Because of this many gamers will probably always deem these as entertainment and are unlikely to consider them as serious educational tools.

In terms of young children and games, they are often receptive to new ideas when learning on a game. But when they enter the traditional classroom environment which often requires greater concentration, it can be difficult to adapt. This is because they have been conditioned to believe in an environment that is fast paced, action packed and visually quite grand. A childs' classroom often struggles to compete with the bright visuals, catchy music and sense of escapism that a game can provide. As such a childs' attention span can diminish significantly when faced with traditional learning methods such as books. As the writer R.F Mackay says in in the article "Playing to learn" :

"We may think we're pretty smart, but in fact we have very little notion of how humans learn. Kids know: They play games. Until, that is, they go to school. That's when the games stop. And often, so does the learning."

The positives

Hand eye co-ordination
There is strong evidence to attribute increased hand eye co-ordination development to video games. Patients that need to rehabilitate have shown to recover far faster using games such as Wii Sports. The virtual representations of Golf, Tennis and Bowling promote the recovery of major muscle groups, cerebral and muscle memory and physical co-ordination. It should also come as no surprise that when the Wii was launched, one of the major buyers were old peoples homes. The opportunity to gently exercise the body as well as cognitive faculties came as welcome to residents who were previously unable to go outside.

Similarly, a study conducted by a surgeon at Beth Israel State Hospital in New York found that surgeons who played games out performed their peers. They were found to make far fewer errors in the operating room.

Computer users who play games have also been found to navigate around the monitor screen quicker. Studies show that on average they point and click 100 milliseconds faster than novice users.

More everyday skills that benefit from the activity include the common task of driving. Drivers with a video games background have better spatial awareness, can track objects faster and isolate dangers.
Indeed, there have been numerous examples of drivers saving lives through trained, instinctive thinking and quick reflexes. This is an example of a driver attributing his survival to video games. Scroll down in the article to view actual dashboard camera footage of the incident :


Jane McGonigal, a designer and developer who believes that gamers hold the key to world problems

Thinking and strategy
 Problem solving,  developing a plan and finding a way past a problem are all ways that video games excel over other forms of medium. Games developer Jane McGonigal strongly believes that gamers hold intrinsic qualities that could hold the key to solving many world problems. She is thinking beyond the actual games like "Halo" and "Angry Birds" to look at the behavior of gamers and why they make such good candidates. She establishes her argument with some convincing points. Jane tells us that the 21st century world in which we live is far more real and dangerous than any game. We face natural disasters, poverty, disease, war, climate change and social and economic problems. Her solution is to pose these problems to the online gaming community since they are natural decision makers and problem solvers. They are also all connected to a community of vast ideas and vast diversity including a rich bank of ideas

Jane goes on to argue that the average person feels disconnected from their workplace, seeking stimulation and challenge elsewhere. The global community currently racks up a staggering 71 billion hours a week playing games, which if channeled towards world crises could solve a lot of problems. They are also creative, coming up with think-outside-the-box solutions on a daily basis.

An acceptance that they will fail is also a strong characteristic. It means the average gamer is relentless, striking at a problem again and again until they yield results. She sums up her thesis by stating :

"If presented with real-world problems, the 1 billion gamers on the planet are ready to collaborate with scientists, economists, pathologists, and various experts. However, as she said, "it's up to us what challenge we want them to tackle next."

Future impact
Many individuals in society, myself included, suffer from depression. It is a terrible illness, since the sense overwhelming feeling of hopelessness can eat away at you, creating feelings of hopelessness and despair. It is comforting in many ways then that while the media often blames gaming for the ills of the world their are some who defend it. Studies have shown that gaming activities can actually make people feel better about themselves. Experts say it is to do with the level of challenge games represent, adapting to the player so achievements are always within reach. This type of challenge makes us feel good, since we feel as though we have earned any rewards (such as in-game experience points or unlocking a new level of game play). Players can often perceive these achievements as hard work. Therefore when they are attained we feel as though we genuinely earned them, adding to our self esteem.

Game developers and scientists are now uniting in the hope they can tackle depression, a major cause of disability. This is especially prevalent amongst young adults. Statistics show that up to a quarter of young people will have experienced a depressive disorder by the age of 19. Due to shortages in trained councilors and the reluctance of some young people to seek traditional help, this means that fewer than a fifth of young people with depressive disorders will actually receive treatment.

screen shot 2012 05 07 at cinema 640.0 300x300 Playing at a better future: Could video games improve your life?
A screenshot from SPARX, a game for
recovering depressives
A research group led by Professor Sally Merry at the University of Auckland have developed a game specifically for this purpose. The game is called SPARX and is a first person action/adventure RPG. Players are charged with the task of restoring colour to a drab, gloomy world. To this they have to kill creatures called GNATs (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts), which upon dying will restore colour and vibrancy to the environment.

The idea of the game is for the player to learn to interrupt and readdress negative thought patterns. At the beginning and end of each level, a character called a 'guide' explains what the objectives are, gauges the players mood and gives them a challenge to complete outside of the game environment. SPARX monitors how the player is doing, and if they are seen to be struggling refers them to a clinician. A trailer for the game is available by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlvtX5K1PSs.

Current research statistics for the game are impressive. Results show that  SPARX has helped reduce anxiety, depression and hopelessness in young gamers. 60% of players completed the game whilst 86% played through the first 4 levels with many saying they would recommend the game to their friends. This strongly suggest that the game could be a way to treat people who do nat have access to traditional therapy, or those unsure of traditional methods.

From a completely different standpoint, the economic angle, games design has created a multi billion pound industry with jobs and opportunities. There are now more job roles than ever, ranging from art workers, designers, programmers through to marketing and PR positions. Additionally, many games consoles programming and hardware dictates how products are designed outside of the games market.

Impact on mainstream application development
Back in the early days of computers, users were expected to have a level of technical knowledge and experience before they could even operate one. Many operating systems were text based, relying on users to have a knowledge of code and command inputs to get the computer to work properly. Early games such as 'Pong' and 'Space Invaders' developed hardware such as joypads and joysticks. They were also among the first to have developed graphical user interfaces. These inventions allowed the user to interact easily with the program on screen and began an easier relationship between people and machines.

This early design in interaction was originally attributed to games, but has gone on to develop and become present in many everyday devices. The most recent inventions of the past 10 years, touchscreen and wireless technology were originally designed to increase the user experience in games and interact in an intuitive, fluid manner. Having been inspired by the gaming industry, many everyday items now feature the exact same technology to the point where the consumer fully expects it. DVD players, TVs, tablets and smartphones are just are a few of the many products with user movement capability and wireless networking built in to them. Cables have become a thing of the past.

In terms of developments by games for games, products such as the Wii sensor and Kinect now make the  player into the controller. Advancements in the field allow the computer to react to the player by literally reading their body movements.

Surgeons are now being trained to perform better using advanced game software

A final example of how games are impacting the world is how they are being used to train professionals in jobs. Surgeons are now given realistic onscreen simulations to complete. According to the article 'The Future Of Games: Can Games Impact Your Life?' by Slaton WHite :

"During 2001-2003 Rosser JC Jr and his researchers conducted a study about video games improving the reflexes and overall skill in laparoscopic surgery. (2.a - pg. 154) They compiled the results of the study in an article called The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century. 33 participants were recruited and were submitted to tests and skill before and after they played 3 video games that were chosen specifically for this study. (2.a - pg. 154) Overall the 33 participants scored 33% better on a skill test called Top Gun. (2.b) Participants that played more than 3 hours a week scored 42% better. Many surgeons now play video games that require precise movements similar to those used in laparoscopic surgery in order to keep their ability and reflexes high"

Similarly soldiers are taught awareness, combat strategy and field training in first person style shooters.  Games present an opportunity to develop essential skills in what could be life threatening situations. The benefits do not just stop at professionals either. The game 'Capable Shopper' by Jennifer Ash, Zach Barth, Peter Mueller, other students, and the Adult Services Division in Albany aims to teach everyday skills to the disabled. The game has two parts to it, one with a lsit of dishes they can prepare and the other with a grocery store. Players must find the ingredients they need by navigating around the store. The game was hugely successful, leading them to install the game permanently at the Center for Disability Service’s Adult Services Division.

Gaming can be a social activity that bonds people and brings lifelong friendships

Emotional Benefits
It is fair to say that games have become an art form in their own right, on a par with book, films, TV, radio, music and art. The best games these days aim to tell stories that educate, inspire, entertain and inform. They get us to explore and see the world through new eyes, retaining information long after the game is over. This is achieved in conjunction with striking visuals and the use of sound to create stirring music or memorable sound effects. Every effort to connect with the player on an emotional level is made, so that on completion the game will live in the memory.

Emotional connections are also made through the use of competitive online games and high score listings. From my own experience, some of the best game experiences I have ever had have been through playing online with my brother. Working in a team to fight zombies, solving puzzles together and sharing advice, experience and equipment have all helped us bond. There have also been times where through games such as Rock Band my whole family have been able to join in the fun and spend time together. The majority of my family are not gamers and quite different in their hobbies so it was nice to do something that everyone could share and enjoy in. These are some of my experiences, but they are by no means unique. Players the world over find friendships through games everyday. They communicate as a community, inform and support one another. Since the early days of man, games have been there to help us understand each other, learn and laugh together.

The modern day equivalent of high score listings and leader boards spurs us on to better our abilities and challenge the world around us. We compete together and against one another, and as such learn social skills as well as gaining insight into others. Indeed as I write about in my blog posts 'Making History', games should be educational. Not only being educated about ourselves and what we can do, but our very world - its' past, its' present and its' future. Through the age old medium of stories, gaming offers us the chance learn about history, current issues and concerns for the future.

There are however elements of peer pressure in this education. For example the latest online games by Rockstar often require the forming of gangs or posses to succeed. This obviously requires several friends to own a copy of the game which is potentially expensive. But the quality of the games and the memories that are stored by playing with friends live on forever, which to me is worth the price alone. In contrast to this there are so many free-to-play alternatives through sites such as Facebook or downloadable apps that peer pressure need not be an issue. Players can choose to tailor their gaming hobby to their level of disposable income.

Skill trees in 'Skyrim' allowing players to create unique characters

The endless customisation options of 'Skyrim' allow players to create
 unique characters and compare skills and achievements

Similarly single player gamers can get their friends in on the action too. In game achievements, trophies, secrets, easter eggs and of course completing the game are all experiences that players can compete to find. Levelling up in games is also a great way to introduce competition between single players. Skills, abilities, equipment and perks are all elements game developers use to make no two players alike. Competitions can be created by comparing characters and game advancement, extending longevity and adding to the fun.