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6 things about games that aren't true

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Anything new and relatively untested will be subject to more misconceptions than facts. Ridiculous and sensational news reports about the seedy underbelly of Animal Crossing and batshit-insane lawyers like Jack Thompson have diluted the truth about gaming. Combine their ignorance with our own misconceptions as gamers, and there’s a lot of nonsense to sort out. We can’t sort it all out, but we can at least hit some of the bigger points of confusion with our hammer of truth and brief internet research.

1. Pong is the first graphical videogame

Several graphics-based games existed before Pong. Tennis for Two (right) is among the first videogames ever, and used an oscilloscope to display a bouncing ball. This was in 1958! Later in 1972, the first game “console” was premiered: The Magnavox Odyssey. Its games had ultra-exciting one-word titles like “Hockey” and “Invasion,” and vector graphics that were totally rad…or swell…or whatever people said in 1972.


Above: The Magnavox Odyssey in all its analog-ey glory (photo courtesy of the Electronic Entertainment Museum) 

Magnavox actually sued Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and creator of Pong, on the grounds that Pong was too similar to the Odyssey’s Tennis game. So not only was Pong not the first graphical game to be released (it was also released in 1972, but the Odyssey was being prototyped as early as 1966), it was accused of patent infringement (the case was settled out of court).


Above: Just look how far we’ve come…for one thing, we no longer put wood paneling on absolutely every flat surface 

And pushing aside the graphical aspect for a moment, who could forget Hunt the Wumpus? This landmark text-based BASIC game was created by Gregory Yob, and is among the very first computer games ever made. It is also the only game credited to Yob, whose head is now in neurosuspension at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Not making this up, his brain is frozen.



But we digress - the game was created in around 1972 (what a year for games, right?), and took the mainframes by storm. There are twenty rooms in the game, one Wumpus (the Wumpus is bad), super bats which drop the player into random rooms, and bottomless pits. The goal is to fire an arrow into the room which contains the Wumpus without entering that room, which leads to death (because the Wumpus is bad). Oh, bottomless pits are bad too.

Okay, so it wasn’t much of a game compared to modern standards, but it was more complex than anything which existed at the time, and it influenced an entire genre of adventure games, both text-based and graphical. Those super bats even reappeared in the almighty Zork. To reduce the origins of gaming to Pong alone is a drastic oversimplification, especially when the real history of games involves people being frozen in cryonics labs.

2. Hard scientific evidence proves that violent games increase violent behavior


There have been many studies on the effects of violent videogames on the psyche, but none of them have produced concrete results. Those who damn games just love to show us “brain scans” which (they say) indicate an increase in aggression when playing violent games. It’s sensational, for sure, but their conclusions are not unquestionable, and MRI studies in general are questionable, as brilliantly illustrated by this UC Santa Barbara study, in which a dead salmon was scanned to point out the necessity for some serious chance correction. The dead fish registered apparent brain activity when shown pictures of humans interacting.


Above: Love researchers with senses of humor 

And for every study which reports that violence in videogames leads to self-reported aggression or scary-looking brain scans, another study is done which concludes that there is no direct link between videogame violence and real violence. “The school shooting/violent video game link: Causal relationship or moral panic?” by researcher Christopher J. Ferguson, for example, concluded that no connection between violent videogames and school shootings has been established scientifically. And that’s just one of many.


Above: We’re going to go rent some attack helicopters later so we can mimic GTA like good products of sensational media 

Jeffrey Goldstein, Ph.D., has brilliantly (well, he is a doctor and all) outlined the major criticisms of those studies which claim to have found a link between violence and videogames. For example, how does one measure aggression? Not very well at all. From Goldstein’s essay:

It is not possible to observe real aggression in the laboratory, so researchers must improvise indirect measures and indicators of potential aggression. Here are some of the dependent variables used in video game research:

• Hitting a bobo doll (Schutte, Malouff, Post-Gordon & Rodasta, 1988)
• Coding children’s interpretations of ambiguous stories (for example, a child is hit in the back with a ball). Responses were coded for the amount of "negative and violent content" (Kirsh, 1998)
• Listing aggressive thoughts and feelings (Calvert & Tan, 1994)
• Administering blasts of white noise to an unseen person, in the ‘teacher-learner’ paradigm, in which errors on a ‘learning task’ are ‘punished.’ (Anderson & Dill, 2000; Wiegman, van Schie & Modde, 1997).
• Withholding money from another. Winkel, Novak & Hopson (1987) tested 8th grade students in a situation in which they played teacher and were to deduct money for errors made by another student. This served as a measure of aggression.
• ‘Killing’ characters in a video game (Anderson & Morrow, 1995; Ask, 1999; Ask, Autoustinos, & Winefield, 2000).
• Time elapsed to recognize aggressive words. In their experiment, Anderson and Dill (2000) required university students to play a violent video game for 15 minutes on 3 separate occasions, preceded and followed by cognitive (word recognition test), affective, or behavioral (white noise) measures of aggression. The only significant findings among these many dependent measures were with the word recognition test, which they take to represent "aggressive thinking." The speed with which aggression-related words are identified is said to reflect this. The validity of this measure of cognitive schemas is dubious. Word recognition is typically used to reflect perceptual or semantic salience (Grainger & Dijkstra, 1996), a phenomena that has no necessary connection to aggressive behavior.

Wow, sounds like really conclusive stuff: kids who play violent games kill more characters in violent games!

We’re not saying that there is proof either way - no real conclusions about games and their connection or non-connection to real violence have been drawn yet. Just don’t let anyone bully you into believing that “science has proven” that your hobby is dangerous, because it isn’t true.

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52 comments

  • Mboy1100 - April 8, 2011 8:48 p.m.

    Yeah I hate how people hate on the Wii....heh no Red Ring what do i care? Anyway Wii needs more M rated games.I can name maybe 3. (Call of Duty Black Ops,Madworld,Escape from bug island which is more of a upper-level T rated game)
  • yesIusetheM14 - April 8, 2011 8:46 a.m.

    The first anti-gamer I come across after reading this article, I will dare to find one semi-credible scientific source that proves games influence negative or violent behavior. It's funny because they won't find one, but will spend hours making up some bullcrap story about "this guy who knew this guy who was a friend of my cousin who heard from his ninteenth aunt twenty times removed that (insert stereotypical crazy name HERE) went crazy and killed a guy after playing (insert game name HERE)". Either that or they will spend eternity looking for proof that comes from people other than hardcore anti-gamers (or, as they are more commonly known, misinformed people with no better way to waste time).
  • Twizinator - March 5, 2010 4:24 a.m.

    YES! I love articles like this one. Great job GR! Also lol @Cyberninja. I have Okami, and it is totally true (opening cinematic w/ introduction of Issun, anyone?)
  • ichigoame - March 4, 2010 7:47 p.m.

    its funny that nearly every time i watch a sitcom such as two and a half men when the kid is playing a game its still making those old atari pip sounds
  • DARK_SIDE - December 1, 2009 8:25 p.m.

    possibly a chin, HAHA!
  • BootlegAsian99 - November 5, 2009 3:26 a.m.

    No joke, There's a Korean exchange student at my school. He can say "Nike," "Hello," "Coke," and "Starcraft." I watched him play it once. Oh my God.
  • shellghost - October 11, 2009 12:46 p.m.

    Nothing makes me want to cut someones throat more then when they say video games cause violence. All jokes aside its a massive sign of ignorance on their side, they are discriminating against all games because the one game they have ever seen in their life was violent.
  • vigeoman - October 9, 2009 9:17 p.m.

    haha love the last one
  • Styrophoamicus - October 9, 2009 3:18 a.m.

    That letter about Gregory Yob was like reading a text log from Dead Space 0.o "...he might have a chance of experiencing the fulness of what it means to be human and explore the possibilities of being transhuman as well."
  • rxb - October 8, 2009 7:50 p.m.

    Good article, Its just a rumor, but I heard people were violent before games were even released...
  • theschwartzb - October 8, 2009 3:18 p.m.

    rofl, i just saw the heading "All Koreans are good at Starcraft" and the first thing i thought before i saw the caption under the picture was "but that one IS true". I lol'ed very hard after i had read the caption.
  • gmilf71 - October 8, 2009 4:02 a.m.

    lol yes koreans are all good at starcraft.
  • thatoneperson - October 8, 2009 2:51 a.m.

    7?! there's only six!
  • secretsearcher - October 7, 2009 8:44 p.m.

    lol. Koreans are good at EVERYTHING. And of course all Wii games are for babies. Just look at Okami and Mad World, TOTALLY kid's games...NOT! Haha.
  • hardcore_gamer1990 - October 7, 2009 7:46 p.m.

    POPCAP IS EVIL AND WANTS TO CONTROL THE WORLD *cough* :D
  • TrIp13G - October 7, 2009 4:57 p.m.

    Koreans. :P
  • lovinmyps3 - October 7, 2009 3:57 p.m.

    Haha, the last one was pretty funny.
  • Unoriginal - October 7, 2009 3:08 p.m.

    First of all, great job Tyler. Now, about the whole Gerstman thing. Has there ever been an official "official" (and I mean official) story put to the incident? I know there have been some claims about this and that but never(according to my knowledge) the 100% true story, or what?
  • JayLin22 - October 7, 2009 12:48 p.m.

    Really enjoyed this article - nice job Tyler!
  • RebornKusabi - October 7, 2009 12:30 p.m.

    Anyone that honestly thinks Jeff Gerstmann was ****ing fired over a goddamn video game review is a moronic douchebag, period. Sometimes, little nerds, the truth is not at all like the dumbass fiction that you make up. Sensationalism goes both ways...

Showing 1-20 of 52 comments

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