Features

LINK FWD: HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS

LINK FWD: HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS 150 150 GAMESFWD

Since its inception in 2008, Game Forward has been collecting links related to Serious Games, Health & Fitness Games, Educational Games, Game Accessibility and Virtual Worlds. This article will serve as a link repository that will be updated and edited on a monthly basis.

We have separated our links into three categories; Education and Research, Groups and Organizations and Hardware and Software Developers. If you feel that a link to your website should be included by Game Forward, please leave a comment below or send a detailed e-mail to links[at]gamefwd[dot]org. Please note that we are not interested in participating in advertising-style link exchanges and have set up these articles as a resource for people interested in the subjects we cover. Thank you for your co-operation.

7-128 Software – 7-128 Software delivers affordable, family friendly, computer games that are “Simply Entertainment” to everyone, regardless of special challenges. This mainstream casual computer game company makes many of its games accessible.

Apps in My Pocket Ltd – Apps in My Pocket Ltd applications are designed to blend the best educational practice with the 21st century magic of the iPhone.

Arkadium – Arkadium creates innovative game solutions for consumer brands, ad agencies, online gamers, and any company looking to expand their presence.
Blue Lightning Labs    http://www.bluelightninglabs.com    Educational iPhone app developer.

Benjamin J. Heckendorn – Creative console and hardware moder.

Bent 360: Media Lab Inc. – A non-traditional player among digital agencies, Bent 360 is focused on developing “branded entertainment” content and technologies for brands, giving advertisers a way to engage audiences actively through entertainment, rather than interrupting their entertainment with messages.

Bigben Interactive – Bigben Interactive had grown into Europe’s leading manufacturer and distributor of video game console accessories and a major player in the distribution of video game software.

Brain Center International – Brain Center International is a scientific society specializing in the field of neuroscience. Building on very recent scientific discoveries, our experts in the fields of psychology, medicine and computer science have developed the NeuroActive brain training program featuring interactive multimedia software containing fun exercises whose benefits are optimized via artificial intelligence.

BrandGames – BrandGames specializes in leveraging computer game technology in business communications. They combine compelling corporate storytelling and highly immersive simulations to enhance organizational performance and individual development.

BreakAway, Ltd. – BreakAway, Ltd. is a leading developer of entertainment games and game-based technology products. They create entertainment experiences that enable people to master skills and concepts in virtual worlds, and transfer this expertise to develop tools that provide game-based solutions for real world problems.

Brightmind LABS – BrightMind LABS deliver therapy to children by fusing immersive computer gaming principles with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

BTS – BTS develops flexible discovery learning platforms that allow for rapid and cost effective customization to meet clients’ varied strategic learning objectives.

CogniFit – Based on its unique approach and continuing success, CogniFit is quickly becoming a world leader in developing a wide variety of powerful and effective brain exercise programs that promote cognitive health and lifetime brain fitness.

Concentric Sky – Concentric Sky offers web development and consulting services with a focus on emerging technologies such as Social Media and the iPhone. From simple websites to integrated mobile applications, they deliver innovative solutions that exceed your expectations – not your budget.

Consafe Logistics – Consafe Logistics is one of Europe’s leading suppliers of mobile logistics solutions to customers using logistics to improve their competitiveness. They develop, implement and support solutions throughout the whole supply chain, mobile IT solutions, consulting within logistics and process improvements.

Corporation Pop – Coportation Pop is a design company that crafts effective solutions that deliver the unexpected and challenge the predictable. They do this irrespective of media – from beautifully crafted books to immersive virtual world communities.

Datel – Datel has established its reputation for excellence by developing videogame peripherals that are both innovative and creative.

Digitalmill – Digitalmill is a consulting and development firm focusing on efforts that take advantage of modern-day videogame design, technologies, and related resources in innovative ways.

DreamBox Learning – With the global reach of the web and the power of software, DreamBox Learning delivers the effectiveness of great teachers to benefit any student, anytime, anywhere.

eDimensional – eDimensional has grown rapidly and emerged as the leading manufacturer and worldwide distributor of cutting-edge gaming accessories.

Emotiv Systems – Emotiv Systems has developed a technology that utterly transforms the way we interact with computers: the Emotiv EPOC™ technology and interface.

Enabling Devices – A company dedicated to developing affordable learning and assistive devices to help people of all ages with disabling conditions.

Escape Hatch Entertainment – Escape Hatch Entertainment, LLC is a collective devoted to utilizing an effective team of extremely skilled developers to collaboratively create the industry’s most innovative and successful products.

Evil Controllers – Evil Controllers specializes in custom modded Xbox 360 controllers designed to enhance game play for a variety of different game genres.The company takes advantage of the fact that computers are programmable, coming up with modified video game controllers that have the power to turn single shot and semi-automatic weapons into full automatic weapons. Through innovative design and ergonomic upgrades tailored for specific types of games, Evil Controllers provides gamers with custom controllers that best fit their needs.

Exergame Fitness USA – Exergame Fitness is the global leader in Exergaming products and medically driven programming.

FiatLux Imaging – FiatLux Imaging is the only free advanced visualization software for CT and MRI imaging data that runs virtually on any modern platform.

Fonix Speech – Fonix Speech offers speech technology solutions for mobile/wireless devices; interactive electronic games, toys and appliances; computer telephony systems; the assistive market and vehicle telematics. Fonix Speech provides developers and manufacturers with cost-effective speech solutions to enhance consumer devices and systems.

Forterra Systems Inc. – Forterra’s private, secure virtual worlds allow you to plan, rehearse and train in a safe realistic environment. You make your mistakes in the virtual world, so you can avoid them in the real one.

Game Production Services – Game Production Services creates serious games and immersive mixed-reality environments for education, training, and marketing.
HopeLab    http://www.hopelab.org/    HopeLab is a nonprofit organization that combines rigorous research with innovative solutions to improve the health and quality of life of young people with chronic illness.

g.tec – Medical and electrical engineering firm, makers of the intendiX, a personal Brain-Computer Interface Speller.

Gamercize – Gamercize is the maker of a patented interaction system which provides users with the best of both worlds, a workout that is second to none in the exergaming world and the very best of video game entertainment, available for Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 with the included GZ Pro-Sport and games controller.

Humana Games for Health – At Humana Games, playing video games keeps your mind and body fit. Come into our world and see how we’re helping people of all ages play their way to better health. Get your game on!

ImpactGames – ImpactGames is a world renowned pioneer in creating compelling interactive experiences around current events. Their aim is to partner with and enable organizations to change the way people consume information and understand the world around them.

Information in Place – Information in Place, Inc. (IIPI) focuses on developing learning environments and capturing expert knowledge and delivery of information in highly mobile environments. IIPI is a leader in developing context-aware (e.g., location, environmental conditions, skill level) mobile technologies and augmented reality solutions.

InteraXon – InteraXon has years of experience creating and implementing brainwave-controlled computing technology and applications as well as an ongoing awareness of state-of-the-art advances in the field.

Invensys Process Systems – Invensys is a global technology group, supplying solutions, software, consultancy and equipment to monitor, control and automate processes in a wide range of environments. From oil refineries to power stations, from railways to domestic appliances, they help their customers to optimise their processes and improve their performance.

iTECH Fitness – iTECH Fitness Inc. designs, develops, manufactures, and markets the fitness, recreation, and entertainment industries most comprehensive active gaming technologies, products, and service suite.

Kogito Interactive – Kogito Interactive creates games and simulations where learners engage in simulated conversations with virtual characters and develop their ability to manage others and communicate.

KY Enterprises – KY Enterprises makes adaptive equipment for quadriplegics and others who have lost the ability to use their hands due to illness or accident.

Linden Lab – Linden Lab created a revolutionary new form of shared experience, where individuals jointly inhabit a 3D landscape and build the world around them. Today this experience, known as the Second Life world, has a rapidly growing population of Residents from around the globe, who are creating and inhabiting a virtual world of their own design.

LiveWires Design – LiveWires Design Ltd, are the developers of a game that teaches children how to surf the Internet safely.

MediTouch – Meditouch has developed optical and image processing technology that determines the position and speed of motion of single or multijoints. Together with occupational, physical therapy and rehabilitation clinical know how Meditouch develops rehabilitation platforms that use active exercises and biofeedback to improve lower and upper extremity function and aid in rehabilitation.

Motion Fitness – By making fitness interactive, fun and rewarding we change the dynamics and now have fitness as an addictive physically played game.  Motion Fitness combines the best in Xergaming products.

NeuroSky – NeuroSky is the worldwide leader in bringing biosensor technology to the consumer mass market.

PLX Devices – Makers of the XWave, a neurofeedback controller for the iOS platform.

Next View Software – Next View Software is an innovative leader in the supply chain software market. Next View’s team has been delivering leading edge software solutions and benefits to customers in the global supply chain marketplace for over 20 years.

Nortel web.alive – web.alive is a virtual world software application that provides an enterprise ready, network secured virtual world platform for collaboration, assisted E-Commerce and virtual learning & training applications.

NorthSide Inc – North Side Inc. is developing software to support conversation in unrestricted English between people and machines. They are committed to supporting natural, unrestricted English interaction in real-time.

OpenSimulator – OpenSimulator is a 3D Application Server. It can be used to create a virtual environment (or world) which can be accessed through a variety of clients, on multiple protocols.

P.I. Engineering – P.I. Engineering designs and manufactures rugged, reliable input hardware for computers.

Past Perfect Productions – Past Perfect Productions reconstructs worldwide archaelogical and historical sites using scientific research and cutting-edge virtual reality techniques, producing 3D real-time content, film clips, animations with CGI characters that breathe life back into the scenes.

Persuasive Games – Games communicate differently than other media; they not only deliver messages, but also simulate experiences. Persuasive Games’s software influence players to take action through gameplay. While often thought to be just a leisure activity, games can also become rhetorical tools.

PIXELearning – PIXELearning is a world-leading provider of immersive learning simulations and ‘Serious Games’ for organisational learning and development, business education and marketing communications.

PlayGen – PlayGen are a leading serious games and simulations development studio providing highly flexible technology, content and training.

Project Whitecard – Project Whitecard specializes in 3D and interactive web-based projects, including websites, blogs, audio, video, games and RSS.

Psychic Bunny – Psychic Bunny is a hybrid media studio specializing in design and content for education and entertainment.

Rumarka – Educational iPhone app developer.

Serious Games Interactive – Serious Games Interactive is an award-winning, research-based developer of games, simulations and virtual worlds. They offer a unique blend of competences within games, learning and storytelling.

Skinput – A method that allows the body to be appropriated for finger input using a novel, non-invasive, wearable bio-acoustic sensor.

SmartBrain Technologies – SmartBrain Technologies is a growing, innovative, and caring company dedicated to providing quality technology products to help children and adults make the most of their potential. They develop state of the art “interactive devices” in the areas of health, learning, and performance enhancement to create the most advanced and powerful “brain exercise” system available.

Softkinetic – Softkinetic is the leader in natural interfaces that transform the way people interact with the digital world. They provide the most advanced software platform for building immersive, transparent and intuitive user experiences within the fields of Interactive Digital Entertainment, Serious Games, Interactive Marketing and Consumer Electronics.

Software Kids – Software Kids is committed to creating industry leading educational software that bridges the gam between the power and excitement of multimedia technology and the fundamentals of curriculum based learning for K-12.

Spongelab Interactive – Spongelab Interactive is a leader in advancing the integration of cutting edge technologies for teaching and learning purposes. Their mission is to educate students in the sciences by building content-rich immersive teaching tools designed around discovery-based learning that are accessible to educators and learners at school, at home and in the general public.

Tabula Digita – Tabula Digita is the company behind the award-winning DimensionM educational video game series for math. Tabula Digita is focused on delivering innovative and effective technology-based educational tools for elementary, middle and high school students.

The PEREGRINE – Makers of the Gaming Glove: faster, deadlier, more comfortable, and more precise than any keyboard. A remarkably innovative, human-machine interface that would allow any user to truly become the game.

Thornton Media – Thornton Media, Inc. creates custom hi-tech tools to help save endangered indigenous languages. We are Native-owned and have worked with over 100 American Indian tribes and Canadian First Nations since 1995. TMI is the only language tool company in the world devoted to Native languages.

TruSim – TruSim creates effective, immersive and engaging training games using high quality 3D games techniques and technologies. Their games are designed to be accessible and easy to use as well as being stimulating and challenging.

Virtual Heroes – Virtual Heroes creates simulations for learning, serious games and virtual worlds for the healthcare, federal systems and commercial markets.

VSTEP – VSTEP is the leading European developer of simulators and virtual training software. Using interactive 3D technology from the computer gaming industry, VSTEP creates training applications and games that allow people to build their skills in a practical and cost effective way.

Waterloo Labs – Developed the Eye Mario system which lets users control Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) software using only eye movements.

WILL interactive – WILL has become a force in the interactive training market. WILL Interactive is the pioneer for a new genre of education and entertainment media known as the virtual experience.

XOS Digital Inc. – XOS Digital, Inc. is the leading provider of digital technology and media management solutions to collegiate and professional sports organizations in the U.S. It provides its clientele with advanced digital technology solutions to enhance organization performance and image to improve the management and monetization of their digital media assets.

The FWD Download: Xbox LIVE Indie Games Round-Up 1

The FWD Download: Xbox LIVE Indie Games Round-Up 1 150 150 GAMESFWD

Much like the App Store for iPhone and iPod Touch, the Xbox LIVE Indie Games service is proving to be a viable way for independent developers to break into the market and make a few bucks at the time. It is also proving to be a great way for gamers to get some great games at great prices.

In this edition of The FWD Download, I will briefly review eight titles released between December 2009 and February 2010 that highlight the variety of genres on the Xbox LIVE Indie Games service. All impressions are based on the full purchased versions of the games, though like Xbox LIVE Arcade Games, trial versions are available. More…

Arkedo Series: 03 Pixel!

The third game in the Arkedo Series is a sleek 2D platformer that stars a wonderfully adorable cat named Pixel. Although the game is brief, it features great level design and enough variety to keep it interesting.

Arkedo is not your typical Indie Games developer, having produced the well-received retail games Nervous Brickdown and Big Bang Mini for the Nintendo DS. Their experience shines through in this simple, yet polished effort that features a great look and sound.

Pixel himself resembles a Tamagatchi and the game world is drawn with oversized pixels and a clean, monochromatic look. The game uses many familiar mechanics, including a run button that lets Pixel jump farther and the ability to stomp on baddies’ heads. After stepping on five baddies and filling his Roar ‘o’ Meter, Pixel can unleash a powerful  attack.

The game also employs a magnifying glass system that allows you to zoom in on suspicious blocks and initiate a maze-solving mini game. Rewards for completing mazes include full life for Pixel and “Useless Relics” that act as the game’s collectables. Each of the seven levels in Arkedo Series: 03 Pixel! contains three of these relics.

Arkedo Series: 03 Pixel! is not a challenging game by any means, but it is a pleasant, family-friendly experience that should last most players two or three hours. (Arkedo, 240 MS Points)

Dreams of Witchtown

Here is a case where the description and screenshots are better than the game itself. Dreams of Witchtown is billed as a 2D side-scrolling RPG in the vein of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. While that is technically true, it is executed poorly and plays like an early Flash game.

The premise here is that Aurora, an apparently elderly witch that looks like Sailor Moon loses her broom and scroll spells after being hit in the face by a rogue soccer ball. She then grabs a bag of soccer balls an embarks on a quest to thwart evil.

Aurora can kick soccer balls and cast spells to dispatch of enemies, who will in turn drop experience points. The idea here is to level up before proceeding to the next area. Unfortunately, this game is riddled with sloppy programming traits like infinitely spawning enemies and inaccurate collision detection.

In my experience, I had to grind through the same area no less than five times in order to get to the game’s recommended level for the next area. While the concept is solid, I simply could not have any fun with this game. On the plus side, Dreams of Witchtown does feature bright and colourful graphics and a low price. (Dip Slit, 80 MS Points)

Dungeon Adventure

Roguelike fans will certainly appreciate Dungeon Adventure being on the Indie Games service, as it is the only example of the genrea available on the Xbox 360. This dungeon crawler can be played in old-school ASCII mode or using modernized graphics that include a tiny version of your Xbox LIVE Avatar.

The game is controlled using a single analog stick, though players have the option of using a ChatPad or USB keyboard to provide an authentic experience. There are also a ton of other graphic and gameplay options that can be tweaked.

After completing a tutorial that explains the basics of roguelike gameplay, you create a character from one of nine classes and venture forth into the dungeons. As you proceed, you will gain experience, find better weapons and encounter more powerful enemies.

Fans of the genre should pick up Dungeon Adventure without question. It has plenty of content and wildly-named loot to collect, though it could be considered a bit easy for verteran players. Newcomers will find an excellent example of a roguelike to cut their teeth on. (UberGeekGames, 240 MS Points)

Home Run Challenge

Home Run Challenge is a simple baseball game that can be played using your Xbox LIVE Avatar and is controlled with a single button. The object is to time your batter’s swing properly in order to knock out a few dingers. As you progress, the pitcher will begin throwing fast balls and change-ups.

At first, home runs are worth a single point, but there are several ways to increase your score like smashing targets, building streaks and even smashing the stadium scoreboard.

Home Run Challenge features a clean and attractive look that was clearly inspired by the baseball game in Wii Sports. It features a stadium filled with animated Avatars and a bright colour pallete. Though there is not much to it, the game proves to be addictive and is an inexpensive, family-friendly experience that anyone can play. (BarkersCrest, 80 MS Points)

Pixel Boarder

Pixel Boarder is a physics-based snowboarding game that features some excellent chip tune music and an intuitive dual analog control scheme. Players send their highly customizable boarder down big air jumps in hopes of landing a high score, or just landing at all.

Through manipulation of the analog sticks, you can make your boarder crouch, grab and flip as it traverses a course. In practise, I found that they physics were a bit floaty and that pulling off tricks proved to be quite difficult. I did get better as I played, but it was admittedly frustrating at first. There are a few settings and assists that can be adjusted to your liking.

High scores are kept locally and globally for each of the 20 courses in Pixel Boarder, though in many cases I was happy just to complete the course. Should you pull off a great, trick-filled run, you can view or save replays.

There are four graphics filters to choose from ranging from 4-bit to 32-bit, though none of them look particularly good. In fact, I had trouble looking at the screen when the game was set to anything less than 32-bit because of the colour palletes. There is a v-sync option for those sensitive to screen tearing and other screen options to help alleviate overscan.

Despite a few quirks like the game taking too long to realize you’ve fallen, Pixel Boarder is a quality title that rewards persistence and sounds fantastic thanks to its Commodore 64 inspired soundtrack (PixelFriends, 240 MS Points)

Soul

Hand-drawn graphics and a genuinely creepy atmosphere help this maze game stand out from the crowd. The premise is that you are guiding a man’s soul to heaven and must avoid running into evil creatures and walls.

Soul is played using only the left analog stick, but also requires extremely precise movement to navigate through the mazes. Along the way, you will encounter “shock scares” that remind me of those old internet videos people used to trick their friends with. These sections are loud and jarring, which can easily cause you to make a mistake.

Luckily, when you do fail, you immediately start back at the beginning of the room you were in. Many rooms require a trial and error approach in order to determine where creatures will appear or to gauge the speed of obstacles.

Though the art does look great and the game features some nice lighting effects, I sometimes found it hard to determine where walls were, which caused some frustrating restarts. The sound effects in Soul are also well done and serve to help create the atmospere of what appears to be an abandoned hospital.

It certainly is not for everyone and the shock scares become all-to frequent, but Soul does provide a unique and challenging experience that fans of Kururin Paradise or Irritating Stick will appreciate. (Kydos Studio, 80 MS Points)

Yet Another Zombie Defense

A hybrid of an arena-based shooter like Zombie Apocalypse and tower defense games, Yet Another Zombie Defense proves to be a fun diversion well worth the price of admission.

Your task is to survive night after night of incoming zombie attacks by shooting them and slowing them down with barricades. As you progress, the zombie hordes will get tougher and faster and will require stronger weapons to defeat. In between waves, you will be able to purchase both weapons and defenses like steel fences or turrets.

Weapons stronger than the default pistol have limited ammunition resources, so careful spending is required to make it deep into the game and achieve high scores. Zombies will drop both money and health packs that need to be picked up before they disappear.

Yet Another Zombie Defense features 3D models and ambient lighting provided by a single street light. The music is rather generic and loops too often, but like other games on the Xbox 360 it can be replaced by your own custom soundtrack. (AwesomeGamesStudio, 80 MS Points)

You Will Die

The concept of this shooter is simple: you have one life to survive as long as you can against increasingly powerful enemy ships. You Will Die is an addictive boss rush experience that shows a lot of potential and features global leaderboards.

You start by battling a simple enemy ship. As you progress, ships will become more complex. You must destroy every weapon on a ship before it can be damaged and areas get weaker the farther they are from the centre. As you build your score multiplier by landing successful attacks, shields will become available for use. You can also use the multiplier to repair your ship, which is easier said than done in the heat of battle.

Though it plays like a traditional horizontal shooter, You Will Die is controlled primarily with the analog sticks. I found that ememy bullets were quite small and were often obscured by a scolling star-filled background. The rest of the graphics fare quite well and the in game sound effects are adequate, though there is no music to be heard while playing. (Derrick Hopkins, 80 MS Points)

The quality of the games on the Xbox LIVE Indie Games service is getting better every week and though there are a number of duds and novelty applications no one needs, I find myself checking the Indie Games Marketplace more often all the time in search of unique ideas to spend my leftover Microsoft Points on.

NeuroActive Science Promotes Healthy Body and Mind

NeuroActive Science Promotes Healthy Body and Mind 150 150 GAMESFWD

Brain fitness is one of the fastest growing industries in North America whose value reached $265 million in 2008, according to industry market research leader SharpBrains. Neuroscience research has demonstrated that like your muscles, your brain can grow stronger and more agile through proper training and regular activity. Canadian-based Brain Center International (BCI) is making waves in the field by helping thousands of customers improve their brain performance each year.

BCI is the maker of NeuroActive Program, a brain training software which targets 16 specific brain functions. Unlike entertainment titles which claim to help your brain, BCI prides itself on its science-based, clinically-validated software. Through twenty-two different exercises users train a range of skills including various memory and visual-spatial functions, processing speed, selective attention and behaviour modification.

In an interview with Game Forward, BCI President and CEO Dr. Stephane Bergeron said that clinical trials of NeuroActive Program have shown average improvements of 20 percent in working memory and brain processing speed.

“The best example I can give is of myself,” said Dr. Bergeron. “I have a lot of trouble with facial memory, remembering names and faces. It’s difficult to see your neighbour down the street and not remember their name. Training with NeuroActivProgram helped me improve this skill and made an impossible task possible.”

In fact, Dr. Bergeron adds, memory and especially that of names and faces—known as “social memory”—is the area with which people have the most trouble as cognitive decline sets in. But unlike previously believed, the mild cognitive decline that comes with age is not permanent and is reversible with proper training.

“While most people are now aware of the importance of physical fitness, they only start to pay attention to brain fitness when they notice this deterioration, around the age of 45 or 50,” says Dr. Bergeron. “Brain training at this time can completely reverse these effects.”

Research shows that those who perform these types of mental exercises experience less cognitive decline, slow it down and are less likely to suffer from dementia. The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) research project funded by the National Institutes of Health found that in addition to maintaining high levels of brain activity in seniors, brain training can also slow the onset of Alzheimer’s. The disease is no longer thought to be exclusively tied to heredity but rather mainly attributed to a lack of physical exercise and mental stimulation.

But Dr. Bergeron emphasises that brain training can be helpful at any point in life, including with children. “If you do it while you are still in school you will benefit and make learning easier. Similarly, some businesses use this type of training to boost productivity and improve the performance of their employees.”

Game Forward had the opportunity to test out NeuroActive Program Complete Brain Training, the 2010 version of the all-in-one BCI training software. In this version, the exercises mainly take the form of short 2D graphic games, in which players need to rapidly click, reacting to various audio-visual stimuli or performing a given task in a limited time. Scheduled once every two days, each training session contains four exercises taking about 20 minutes to complete. The software allows up to three user profiles and also offers one guest profile.

A typical training session might look like this: in The Convenience Store, pick out rightly priced items adding up to the bill total; in Clearance Sale, select discounted red tags before they disappear; in The Library, appropriately group diagrams which evoke a similar theme; in The Rehearsal, select the shorter between two flashes of light or musical notes played.

Unlike some other serious brain training software, NeuroActive Program does not use baseline assessment as a snapshot of a user’s cognitive profile. Instead, the software builds a personalized training program by selecting exercises and their difficulty according to the user’s age, gender and education level.

“These parameters are then adjusted during the training, with dynamic difficulty settings that reflect your current abilities at that time—because brain abilities change several times a day,” said Dr. Bergeron. It is for that reason that he rejects the use of baseline assessments. They do not necessarily provide a reliable starting point because this snapshot does not offer a full picture of someone’s abilities, he explains.

When trying to remember a sequence of faces, or a telephone number backwards, you can really feel your mind working. These focused tasks noticeably stimulate certain brains functions leading to recognizable progress. After completing an exercise, users receive a score which they can compare to the average of their reference group.

Between scheduled sessions, players can use the custom training portion of the software to practice every exercise at any difficulty setting to further push themselves. This section is highly informative, providing details about each exercise such as the cognitive skills being used, examples of how these skills are applied in daily life and which regions of the brain these tasks activate.

Training with brain fitness software like NeuroActive Program helps build what is known as your cognitive reserve—your brain’s ability to resist and adapt to deterioration of the nervous system. By developing and strengthening neural pathways and synapses brain training exercises keep them young and healthy, and prevent them from failing.

However, when it comes to an active brain, an active body is more important than some would believe. Physical activity plays a direct role on brain power. As exercise increases your blood flow, the brain receives more oxygen and nutrients. It is with that concept in mind that BCI created the NeuroActive BrainBike, produced and distributed in collaboration with Exergame Fitness USA and MotionFitness.

The BrainBike is a stationary bike augmented with all-in-one computer on which the NeuroActive Program software is used. Available for commercial or residential use, the BrainBike includes a heart-rate monitor and a blue backlit super-twisted nematic (STN) display, which is said to offer a viewing angle of up to 270 degrees and the most comfortable visual colour combination to the human eye. To ensure that users remain active, a special mechanism designed by Gamercize forces users to pedal in order to activate the system’s wireless mouse.

The Gamercize technology “is more commonly seen with our under desk stepper to turn home and office computer time into active time. The patented principle is keep moving yourself to keep your inputs alive,” explains Richard Coshott, CEO of Gamercize. “We’ve seen great success with the low level of exercise on work productivity from (the interface), so I know the combination of moving body to speed the brain works!”

Making physical training incidental to the main activity is important because it improves conditioning in a subtle way, believes Coshott. “The stealth approach of Gamercize means you’re much more likely to have a lower perception of the effort you are expending, which in turn makes the exercise sustainable. The BrainBike gives the same experience.”

BCI struck a new distribution deal for BrainBike in the United States in December 2009. But the device is already found in two Florida fitness centres, in several Canadian gyms, as well as in a growing number of schools.

The concept is lauded by Phil Lawler, a retired gym teacher and now Director of Instruction and Outreach for PE4Life. With his help, the Naperville, Illinois school district boasts one of the most advanced physical education programs in the world which has trained schools in 40 states and hosted observers from ten foreign countries. There students experience what is dubbed “learning readiness PE” which focuses on health and fitness rather than sports.

Based on research outlining the impact of movement on the brain, classrooms are filled with stability balls, podiums, balance boards and stationary bikes rather than chairs and desks, all to improve students’ blood flow to the brain while learning. “In today’s schools, where [physical education] is sometimes taken out to favour academic, sit-down courses, students have less oxygen going to their brains, limiting their comprehension and recalling capacities,” explains Lawler.

To the teacher, the NeuroActive BrainBike is a promising tool which could find a welcome home in more American schools. Lawler is currently looking for funding to upgrade the schools’ stationary bikes with BrainBikes. Students in Wellington, Florida are some of the rare few who already have a BrainBike in their school. “It’s definitely shown a positive impact in my class,” said Kim Murray, a teacher at Panther Run Elementary School.

Tommy Seilheimer, Vice-President of Exergame Fitness USA, explains that there are significant benefits to the BrainBike which schools should consider. Using the device prepares and stimulates the brain for learning and training, counter-balancing regular classes in which kids sit all day and become drowsy. Students that use the BrainBike get so deep in thought that they forget that they are exercising, making it a fun way to get active. And not only do kids feel better physically but they also develop new social interactions. For example, most kids will circle one player and work in teams to answer questions, making it more than a one person workout.

In the future, Phil Lawler wishes to see BrainBikes in the back of every classroom for students to use when they need to stimulate their brains. One day he hopes schools might even offer BrainBikes with targeted exercises designed specifically for a subject area, like science, social studies, or reading software.

As we speak, the marketing opportunities for this type of tool are rapidly growing. “We’re looking at getting the BrainBikes into gyms,” said Seilheimer. “Instead of running with an iPod on or while watching television, some people might be interested in working their mind as well, wanting to focus and learn.”

As more people learn about the benefits of brain training as well as the intricate link between physical and mental fitness, Seilheimer expects to see the NeuroActive BrainBike steadily gain in popularity. In the meantime, BCI is developing a new software series, soon to be released, which will address specific sets of key functions for targeted training—further expanding its contribution to the brain fitness industry.

The FWD Download Vol. 2: Art Style on the Go

The FWD Download Vol. 2: Art Style on the Go 150 150 GAMESFWD

The Art Style series from Nintendo and skip Ltd. is making waves in the puzzle game genre. After spending only a few minutes with these games, it was clear to me that their smooth, polished presentation, unique atmosphere and innovative gameplay set them apart from most other puzzle titles on the market.

I had the opportunity to try out four of the latest Art Style titles for the Nintendo DSi: PiCTOBiTSBOXLIFEBASE 10 and Zengage. Exclusively available for download on DSiWare for the price of 500 Nintendo Points each, these highly ingenious puzzle games promise to challenge any player regardless of their skill level. More…

PiCTOBiTS

This DSi game is a must have for old-school Nintendo fans. Each level of the game presents 8-bit themed graphics and music inspired by launch-era NES titles, such as Mario Bros.Ice Climber and Balloon Fight. This simple yet challenging puzzler is vaguely reminiscent of Tetris, the goal being to clear a certain number of squares from the screen to reveal an image taken from one of these early NES games.

Large blocks of varying shape and colour, called megabits, come down the bottom screen in waves. As they fall, players pick up single bits with the stylus and add them to the megabits, clearing them by making 4-bit lines or shapes of at least 2 x 2 bits. Uncleared pieces of megabits will break down into bits.

The bits you pick up are held into an 8-spot queue. When your screen becomes dangerously full, you have the option to hit the POW button which will clear two lines at the bottom of the screen. However, every time this feature is used one spot in the queue will be disabled.

As you advance in the game, permabits will be thrown into the mix. These pieces cannot be picked up in the queue and can therefore only be cleared as they enter the screen. For every megabit and permabit cleared, players earn one coin, which can be used to unlock additional music and dark version of stages. Dark versions offer a higher degree of difficulty with pieces coming down at a much faster pace.

This game is quite challenging requiring players to think and act fast. While I found PiCTOBiTS amusing in short bursts, I felt it was a bit stressful to play for longer periods of time.

BOXLIFE

This title is an unusual puzzle game which will test your logic and spatial recognition skills. Its cute pixel art graphics and 8-bit music are quite charming. The game offers two playing modes, both of which will have players building cubes out of various patterns.

The main mode, R&D, offers 14 levels to play. The goal of each is to use the given pattern and fold it all into cubes before the time expires, using only three functions: cut, fold and mend. The second, Factory, is a timed mode which becomes unlocked later on. In this variation of the game, players have an unlimited pattern to work from to build as many cubes as possible before the clock runs out. Bombs are also introduced, which will blow up to destroy part of the pattern, costing players a penalty. They can be removed by trapping them in a cube before they turn go off.

BOXLIFE is quite simple to play, yet truly engaging and original, making it definitely worth a look for any puzzle game enthusiast.

BASE 10

BASE 10 is like no other game I have ever encountered. Entirely number-based, this puzzle game is sure to challenge most players with its innovative game mechanic. Requiring both good mental math skills and pattern recognition abilities, BASE 10 can be a bit intimidating to play at first. But as they progress, players will learn to recognize number patterns helping them solve the game.

The title has four modes including a local wi-fi multiplayer option. The main mode, Zerosum, offers nine levels to play each using an additional number. For example, the first level uses 1s and 2s, the second 1s, 2s and 3s, and so on. Players must clear a fixed quantity of numbered-tiled by selecting connected digits adding up to 10.

The twist lies in sliding the numbered tiles, up/down and left/right, to arrange them. Flipped numbers will change, become disabled or remain the same. For example, a flipped 2 turns into a 5, a flipped 8 is the same all around and a flipped 3 is nothing, therefore becoming unusable. The closer you are to completing a level, the faster the numbers fill up the board. Red digits will also appear which cannot be moved or flipped. Once used, a red tile will clear all other tiles showing the same number.

The second mode, Puzzle, presents players with set tiles to clear, using as few moves as possible. Infinite mode is a marathon version of Zerosum, where players clear lines for high scores until the board gets filed up.

BASE 10 has a minimalistic style and cool ambient soundtrack making for a slick presentation. With its fast pace, this challenging and novel game is sure to test your speed and mental acuity.

Editorial Note: Left-handed players should be aware that skip Ltd. inexplicably omitted a “lefty flip” option from BASE 10, which may render it unplayable to some. – Brian

Zengage

Zengage can be best described as hypnotic. I found myself getting completely absorbed and even mesmerized by the sounds and colours while playing. This simple puzzle game has players matching tiles and pegs of the same colour, with a mechanic comparable to the Rubik’s Cube.

Groups of nine puzzles are presented in different audiovisual environments, starting with Sky, River and Forest. In as little moves as possible, players will slide the tiles until they match the pegs on the board. However, as you advance in the game, some parts of the boards will be bolted down, limiting the ways in which you can move the tiles. Later levels will also introduce vector tiles which will allow you to move the pegs around the board.

Zengage is a simple and very enjoyable game. I even found it relaxing and didn’t mind having to retry puzzles several times. This title is an excellent way to practice your spatial recognition skills and logic without any pressure. The game even allows you to keep playing a level even after having failed it.

Nintendo and skip Ltd. hit the mark with these four Art Style games which are genuinely fun and very original in their presentation and design. Anyone with a DSi should certainly check them out, especially fans of the puzzle genre or those interested in testing their mental skills. While being similar in style and feel, these games each offer a unique gameplay experience, one of which will surely be right for you.

Mathew Kumar on Why Virtual Worlds Miss the Mark

Mathew Kumar on Why Virtual Worlds Miss the Mark 150 150 GAMESFWD

Speaking at an International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Ottawa event on February 26, 2009, Gamasutra contributing editor and one of Canada’s most renowned games journalists Mathew Kumar discussed the place of virtual world games in the video game industry.

Not shy to express his dislike for the concept as it has been executed so far, Kumar pointed out some of these games’ essential flaws to an intimate crowd at Ottawa’s bitHeads Studio. The event was organized as part of the Interactive Ontario gTalk game industry speaker series.

Kumar was quick to highlight that virtual worlds, which are usually based on social interaction functions, rarely succeed in their goal of being effective vehicles for social interaction. While their developers and marketers portray them as a great way to meet new people, most players don’t take advantage of these features.

Kumar could not deny the odd cases of individuals having met their wives or husbands playing World of Warcraft, but said that this was unusual and that he long ago stopped considering these individuals as part of the “mainstream”.

The Gamasutra writer compared these games with networking websites such as Facebook, where the key to social interaction is having an initial and real-life connection with those you call your friends. In virtual world games, players usually jump in with very few real-life acquaintances to connect with, which seriously limits the social component of these games. Most individuals don’t want to “get to know” people beyond the context of the game – which barely differentiates a virtual world from another video game with online multiplayer capabilities.

In Kumar’s opinion, most virtual worlds are bad. The way they come to exist plays a large role in their inadequacies, though Kumar does not expect much for the genre in any case. He explains that virtual world game developers often have little to no experience in “traditional” game development and are often backed by venture capitalists who know even less about what gamers want and like.

During the Q&A; session following the talk, Kumar explored a few of these games drawing attention to some of their main flaws. Speaking about Second Life, he said that much of the reason why this game touched the imagination of mainstream media was that it was the first big hit of its genre. However, he mentions that the Second Life user base is growing stagnant and even dwindling now, proving its weak long-term potential.

Sony’s PlayStation Home is another example of a poorly executed virtual world. In this case, creators were all too eager to include an endless amount of features, but never took the time to fully implement them. The result is a boring community space offering little to do other than staring at other’s avatars or waiting in line for one of the three chess boards. Kumar explains that this is the reason why many people have created their own fun, chasing around women avatars and attempting to “rape” them, for example.

Policing these environments, or the absence of such policing, is another issue with many virtual worlds that allow user-created content. Playing a game like Second Life may not be for everyone due to the sheer randomness (and overall deviant tone) of its user-generated content. Other games like EVE Online are simply too complex to be accessible to average players, though they present a detailed virtual world and a remarkable economic structure.

So what is the future of virtual world games according to Mathew Kumar? Perhaps none at all. Mathew Kumar urges game developers to stick to real games as the virtual world genre’s failures and inherent flaws are bound to doom it.

Teaching that Works the Imagination

Teaching that Works the Imagination 150 150 GAMESFWD

When almost all of the teens in today’s schools report playing video games and half of them noting they played “yesterday”, it is no surprise that more educators are looking at the medium to strengthen their curriculums.

This alternate means of conveying information is very promising and allows students who used to lag behind their peers to catch up and excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Putting students in front of educational games creates a hands-on experience, which for many helps develop critical-thinking skills and enhances their understanding.

“Many academically low-performing students do as well as their high-performing peers [in these games],” said Chris Dede, a professor of learning technologies at Harvard Graduate School of Education, quoted in Scientific American. “By stepping out of their real-world identity of poor performer academically, [this] shifts their frame of self reference to successful scientist in the virtual context.” More…

According to the Software and Information Industry Association, instructional games make up only a tiny portion of the $2 billion-a-year educational-software industry. As the effectiveness of these games becomes more widely recognized, this proportion is set to increase.

“There is a revolution in the understanding of the educational community that video games have a lot of what we need,” said Jan Plass, co-director of the Games for Learning Institute which is based at New York University and financed by Microsoft to research how video games can assist learning.

“You can get more data in a video game than in any other education area,” said Jim Brazell, president of ventureRAMP.com – speaking at the Florida Education Technology Conference in January 2009.

“Unlike lectures, games can be adapted to the pace of the user,” says Merrilea Mayo, director of future of learning initiatives at the Kauffman Foundation. “Games also simultaneously present information in multiple visual and auditory modes, which capitalizes on different learning styles.”

“Although traditional education institutions pride themselves on educating citizens they do so at a relatively small scale compared with the media now available,” says Mayo, who recently published a study on instructional games in Science Magazine.

She also points out that studies have shown that video games can lead to a 7 to 40 percent improvement in learning over a lecture program. River City for example, a game which looks a bit like Second Life and portrays how three diseases simultaneously affect health in a fictitious city, significantly improved the scores of poorly performing students that played the game, earning them Bs instead of Ds.

And new games keep on sprouting. In December 2008, Software Kids, LLC, released a game titled Time Engineers  which teaches engineering, science, and math in a fun and appealing way. Designed to help middle and high school students explore and apply some of the fundamental principles of engineering, the game takes students to three different time periods presenting them with typical engineering problems to be solved in order to build pyramids, irrigate farm land, command a WWII submarine, raise and lower medieval drawbridges, for example.

“We’re driven by two clear facts: that careers in the sciences are somehow perceived as not as prestigious, lucrative, or cool as other careers, and that the gaming software industry has been unwilling to develop quality educational products to address these issues,” said  Ray Shingler, co-founder of Software Kids, LLC.

Tabula Digita is already preparing to release a sequel to its flagship title DimensionM. The new game, DimensionM Multiplayer 2.0 expands on the original with an extended curriculum promoting over 200 math skills for students in grades 3-12.

“In the past, when students were taught math, they were taught from a different textbook with little continuity from one grade to the next,” said Ntiedo Etuk, chief executive officer of Tabula Digita, in a news release. “With this expansion of DimensionM students will play and learn from the same educational platform with grade-specific content from elementary through high school.”

“The instructions, the activities, even the shortcuts can be applied from early multiplication skills to Algebra II content. We believe this will provide a profound connection from year to year, leading to greater comprehension and quicker mastery of important math skills,” said Etuk.

DreamBox Learning is yet another example, having recently unveiled a video game website teaching math to children in kindergarten through second grade. Children pick a scene, like an arcade or an adventure park, and a character, like a dinosaur or a pirate, and play an online game with a hidden math lesson.

“The hallmark of the product is it’s real math, but children think it’s a game,” said Lou Gray, DreamBox Learning’s chief executive officer. “We founded the company with the idea that every student deserves an individually tailored education.”

DreamBox explains that unlike some of its competitors, their game customizes lessons by constantly analyzing how many questions a child answers correctly and how they performed in the past, how long they take to answer a question and how many hints they needed. “There are over a million paths a child could take through the DreamBox curriculum”, Gray says.

Emphasising this point, Timothy J. Magner, the director of educational technology for the Education Department of the U.S. Government, explains that games have the potential to become powerful assessment tools. Since computers can capture data about every player move and that teachers can see “at the mouse-click level” how students make decisions and when they struggle, education games can help monitor progress and pinpoint specific areas of difficulty with each student.

Overcoming Game Accessibility Barriers with One Switch

Overcoming Game Accessibility Barriers with One Switch 150 150 GAMESFWD

Barriers to accessibility are numerous for disabled individuals. This is true in many aspects of life, including video gaming, though this medium is sometimes the only escape from the hardship of reality.

OneSwitch.org.uk and its founder Barrie Ellis are focused on providing solutions for disabled gamers, as well as advocating the need for better understanding of the limits video game companies sometimes unknowingly place upon this segment of the market. Inaccessible controllers and game software are a large problem and unfortunately their makers are rarely part of the solution.

Though the idea for one-switch accessibility was not his, Barrie Ellis took it upon himself to actively promote it. He explains that he first came across this concept when working for a small number of severely disabled adults in an early 1990’s day centre.

“Here I found an accessible computer suite which included touch screens, gated joysticks and large (wooden) switches with interfaces to connect to 1981 BBC Micro computers. The software was mostly educational with a number of switch games dating from 1990,” said Ellis, in an email interview with Game Forward.

“I saw the benefits of this stuff pretty swiftly. It gave power to people who had almost none at that time. It gave people a chance to take an active part instead of being passive and just watching or having people do things hand over hand. I started to write my own software and devices which took me down a route that eventually ended up with me wanting to share some of the knowledge: OneSwitch.org.uk.”

One-switch interfaces include any device that allows individuals to control a computer or game console using separate plug-in switches. “Disabled people can then play many games using a variety of body movements, or even eye-blinks, where a traditional controller might be too difficult. Switch Interfaces are also known to some as adaptive, accessible or enabling technology,” explains the site.

The One Switch website includes a number of resources for those seeking accessibility in video gaming, but also in other aspects of their lives. The site’s Accessible Gaming Shop provides information and links to accessible gaming products’ dealers and makers. These products include switches, one-handed controllers, large controllers, adapters, head-mouth-and-eye controllers, mounting solutions, tailor-made controllers, games and other software utilities.

Launched officially in June 2003, the site is a continual work-in-progress. An educational resource for those who want to adapt their controllers to their personal needs, it also presents a series of helpful do-it-yourself tips and guides. One Switch also details the difficulties many disabled gamers face. According to Ellis, the greatest obstacle to accessible gaming remains ignorance.

“Many disabled gamers aren’t aware of some of the solutions that do exist. Many game designers aren’t aware of some of the small changes that could make a huge difference. It’s not all the designers fault though. There isn’t a comprehensive gathering of accessible design solutions in one-place. It tends to be quite scattered. Some groups are working on this, especially the International Game Developers Association’s Game Accessibility Special Interest Group (GASIG) but there’s a long way to go,” comments Ellis.

One Switch’s close association with the GASIG and other groups interested in the promotion of video game accessibility has already yielded some positive results.

“[There is a] growing amount of interest, support and exciting projects in the indie scene. There’s been a growth of great accessible gaming websites such as AbleGamers.com and Game Forward,” said Barrie Ellis. “There’s been some fantastic research and initiatives, such as UA-Games Game Over, the world’s most inaccessible game (aimed at showing designers some of the problems inaccessible games pose). I’ve seen support grow in the mainstream press with a growing number of sympathetic articles. I’ve seen many more PC indie games with deliberate accessibility features being created.”

Today’s gaming options have their share of hits and miss when it comes to creating user-friendly controls and interfaces. Ellis believes the PlayStation 2 continues to be number one for gamer accessibility.

“Although it posed some of the biggest barriers with it’s highly complicated JoyPad [sic], the fact that such a huge range of controllers came out for it, including one-handed, large button, dance-mats, arcade sticks and so on gave many more physically disabled gamers a chance of playing.”

“It’s also had the best support of all consoles with accessible game controllers such as the Dream-Gamer, C-SID, Quadcontroller and PS2-SAP. Compatibility with the PSone brings even more excellent accessible games. All of this is enough to take the prize,” finds Ellis.

The Nintendo Wii remains the runner up. “You can’t knock the fact that this fine little machine has brought a huge range of previously non-interested video gamers to the fold. Largely due to the simple (fairly) intuitive controls for many of its games. The big problem with this machine is that there’s no support for navigating the menus with anything but the Wii-remote. If you’re a switch gamer – you may find the machine poses some very annoying and unnecessary barriers.”

The least accessible console remains the Xbox 360 due to its limited selection of controllers and the fact that many third party controllers cannot be directly used without a converter which can cost over a hundred dollars.

Ellis is officially the only one working on One Switch, though his success comes with the help and support of his partner Caron and their daughter Katie. His work with other groups and organizations has also been invaluable in promoting gamer accessibility.

“My C-SID switch interface controller was born from collaborating with Ultimarc. [Almost] 95% of the one-switch games in my one-switch library have come through tying up with the ever marvellous Retro Remakes community. Through Retro Remakes I met the programmer William Pilgrim who is working with me on one-switch music, stories and games. I do love the way that one thing leads to another.”

The rewards of accessible gaming are often as simple as a thank you note. Ellis notably shares one of these recent rewarding messages on the One Switch Blog:

“I am Colin McDonnell… You made me a C-SID for Christmas. You have made my Christmas, thank you very much, it is brilliant. Now I can play on the PlayStation and GameCube / Wii with my brothers and sisters. My favourite games are racing games, fighting games and I even go on Zelda with a little help from my sister. To use the control I only really use my head. I have three switches on my head rest and sometimes I have a fourth one on my tray depending on what game I’m playing.”

Colin is just one example of gamers helped by One Switch through its resources and advocacy.

Do Violent Games Lead to Aggressive Behaviour? Not Really, Researchers Say

Do Violent Games Lead to Aggressive Behaviour? Not Really, Researchers Say 150 150 GAMESFWD

In a study released lin April 2008, researchers try to straighten the facts on the impact violent video games have on youth. Debunking several myths along the way the study, titled Grand Theft Childhood, reveals that playing violent video games does not lead children to become more aggressive.

Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, co-founders and directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, initiated their research in 2004. Thanks to the $1.5 million in funding provided the U.S. Department of Justice, the study looked at the effects of video games on young teenagers. Unlike previous research, they studied real children and families in real situations. More…

“Our findings are nuanced,” said Dr. Lawrence Kutner, in a Q&A; session with the Globe and Mail. “What’s clear, however, is that the melodramatic claims by some pundits and politicians about violent video games turning typical children and teenagers into violent or antisocial people in the real world simply don’t hold water. We need to get beyond those simplistic statements.”

Grand Theft Childhood sheds light on certain misconceptions adults have about youth who play violent video games. First, the reasons which draw kids to these games are often not what the public perceive.

“Our research found that the preteens and young teenagers we surveyed weren’t interested in violent games per se,” said Kutner. “They were attracted to games because they had complex plots, interesting characters and engaging environments. It just so happens that many of the games that meet those criteria also include violence. But they did not like to play purely violent games like Postal or Manhunt because they found them boring.”

Teenagers are also often aware of the fantastic dimension of video game violence, the study found. However, the researchers emphasize that younger children are likely to miss the point.

“One of the issues with GTA is that much of the content is satire, which is something that young teenagers have difficulty picking up, especially if they don’t have the pop culture references,” indicated Kutner. “Our research found that the 7th and 8th graders we surveyed were acutely aware of the difference between fantasy and reality, and acted accordingly.”

“One of the concerns about violent games is that a child under age 11 or 12, roughly, may not have the context or brain development to know what needs to be left in the game world vs. the real world”, said Dr. Cheryl K. Olson. “They may pick up bad or insulting language, for example, copy it without being clear on what it means, and get in trouble.”

Another one of the study’s surprising findings is the benefits some youth can get from playing games with a violent tone. While some parents are concerned to see their child virtually playing with guns and bombs, they should be encouraged to know their kids can actually learn positive real-world behaviours through these in-game acts.

“The kids we interviewed in focus groups told us that one of the things they learned from playing M-rated violent games was that engaging in criminal activity has bad consequences. They said that they would never engage in these behaviours in the real world because of both what they believed in and the consequences of these actions.”

Finally, the most important conclusion from this study is that it is important to consider a child’s maturity and age before purchasing a game. Some kids will need help understanding certain themes, and others may have no problem with them.

“One of the simplest things that parents can do is not to let their children have a game console or computer in their bedrooms”, encourages Kutner. “Our research found that those kids who had game consoles and/or computers in their bedrooms played more M-rated games and played more hours per week. It’s a much better idea to keep that equipment in a shared, public area of the home.

“Note that our research focused on basically healthy children attending public schools. If your child has developmental delays, a very aggressive temperament, emotional issues or difficulty perceiving context (such as sarcasm), games may affect them differently,” reminded Olson.

“If your child is playing games alone for hours, this could be a sign of problems such as depression — some children ‘self-medicate’ with games to forget their troubles. If your child’s time with games is out of balance with the rest of his/her life, that’s a concern. For most young teens, moderate amount of game play, and occasionally playing violent games, is a normal part of childhood today,” Olson concluded.

A few of the study’s myths and realities:

MYTH: The growth in violent video game sales is linked to the growth in youth violence — especially school violence — throughout the country.

FACT: Video game popularity and real-world youth violence have been moving in opposite directions. Violent juvenile crime in the United States reached a peak in 1993 and has been declining ever since. School violence has also gone down. Between 1994 and 2001, arrests for murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assaults fell 44 percent, resulting in the lowest juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes since 1983. Murder arrests, which reached a high of 3,800 in 1993, plummeted to 1400 by 2001.

MYTH: Girls don’t play violent video games like Grand Theft Auto.

FACT: Our survey of more than 1200 middle school students found that 29 percent of girls who played video games listed at least one M-rated game among the games they’d “played a lot” during the previous six months. One in five specifically listed a Grand Theft Auto game. In fact, among these 12- to 14-year-old girls, the Grand Theft Auto series was second only to The Sims in popularity.

MYTH: In August 2005, the American Psychological Association issued a resolution on violence in video games and interactive media, stating that “perpetrators go unpunished in 73 percent of all violent scenes, and therefore teach that violence is an effective way of resolving conflict.”

FACT: The allegation that “perpetrators go unpunished in 73 percent of all violent scenes” is based on research from the mid-1990s that looked at selected television programs, not video games.

MYTH: School shooters fit a profile that includes a fascination with violent media, especially violent video games.

FACT: The U. S. Secret Service intensely studied each of the 37 non-gang and non-drug-related school shootings and stabbings that were considered “targeted attacks” that took place nationally from 1974 through 2000. (Note how few premeditated school shootings there actually were during that 27-year time period, compared with the public perception of those shootings as relatively common events!) The incidents studied included the most notorious school shootings, such as Columbine, Santee and Paducah, in which the young perpetrators had been linked in the press to violent video games. The Secret Service found that that there was no accurate profile. Only 1 in 8 school shooters showed any interest in violent video games; only 1 in 4 liked violent movies.