Category Archives: English

The BOOM in English

The Ninja, the future of Software programming.

Tyler "Ninja" BlevinsLast September, news and media outlets worldwide reported the professional video gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins return to the Amazon-owned, streaming platform Twitch. While details of the multi-year contract between Amazon and Mr. Blevins have not been disclosed, it is likely that the Ninja will be paid tens of millions of dollars as a premiere streamer/content-creator/influencer for the site.[1] Given the plethora of so-called “video game streamers” on the web, one might ask, and reasonably so, what is it about Mr. Blevins’ content that makes it worth so much?

The obvious answer is the extreme popularity of his streams. As of this writing, Mr. Blevins enjoys over 15 million followers on Twitch and more than 21 million subscribers on YouTube. And yet, this seems an inadequate explanation when one considers that the Ninja’s live and recorded streams represent only a tiny fraction of the total content that is shared online worldwide. Clearly, then, there is something else, something unique to Mr. Blevins ‘creations’ that support the enormous sums companies are willing to pay for exclusive rights to their distribution.

To get at the root of what makes the Ninja’s streams so economically valuable, it is necessary to first consider what it means to be a streamer/content-creator. Taken individually, one can say that a “streamer” is someone who uploads or “live streams” content online. Thus, “content-creation” is a precursor to the function of the streamer. In the case of Mr. Blevins, his content is directly tied to his video game play. For this reason, most assume that the content he creates ARE the videos and live-streams he produces and shares. And yet, because these are based on his gameplay and not, necessarily, his talents as a video producer, the true content must be something other than the streams themselves. In other words, the value of the Ninja’s content is not tethered to the production quality of the stream.[2] What then are his creations if not the streams themselves?

The simple answer is his gameplay (see video below). And yet, in saying this we risk marginalizing the value that content represents. Once again, I refer to the thousands of hours of video game play that is uploaded or live-streamed daily compared to the dozens of hours the Ninja might produce in a month. The primary difference between the two is in the creativity embodied in the content itself, and the successful outcome it affords.

When viewed as a software application, video games can be defined as an aggregate of coded commands and functions that compose an environment in which certain actions and activities are made possible and others are not. Hence, this assemblage of coding defines the gameplay potential for every player of a particular game. Thus, in playing a video game, the player creates new sequences of code by manipulating the pre-existing functions of the software. In this way, gameplay is made synonymous with programming. It is here that the true value of Mr. Blevins work, as videogame player/programmer, is established.

Some, of course, will argue against this comparison by pointing to the seemingly obvious differences between the work of a programmer and the activities of a videogame player. And yet, when viewed from the perspective of the outcomes produced, these differences soon disappear as merely superficial distinctions directly tied to the user interface. This point is reaffirmed when one considers certain programming interfaces developed to teach software programming to children and teenagers. Oftentimes, these environments use video game play as a programming methodology. In other words, children learn to program by playing video games.[3]

But what do I mean by “outcomes produced”? If there is one outcome, in particular, that reigns above all others in the programming space, it is the goal to produce code that successfully executes as intended, without bugs. The same thing can be said with regards to the Ninja’s goals when he plays a game like Fortnite. In constructing his code, ie. developing his gameplay, his goal is to produce sequences that consistently achieve his primary goal ‘to win’. Instances in which he is unsuccessful can therefore be viewed as “bugs” in his programming, errors that inhibit successful execution of the rest of his coded efforts.

The reason, therefore, why the Ninja’s work is so highly valued is due, primarily, to his ability to consistently produce original and bug-free code that is highly successful at fulfilling its primary purpose, “to win”. Another important contribution to his valuation is the reproducibility of the code sequences he creates.

In other words, while those who follow Mr. Blevins may be impressed by his ascetic choices in grooming and clothing styles, their loyalty is far more dependent on his ability to provide them with sequences of code that they can recreate in their personal gameplay in the hope of achieving the same successful outcomes. This suggests that if at any time the Ninja’s code suddenly loses its reputation for reliability and success, his valuation will likely decrease. The same can be said of any software programmer whose products become known as overly “buggy”, eventually her or his value will decrease.

From this consideration of the Ninja’s role as streamer/content-creator, it is clear that it is not the streams or video uploads distributed by Twitch and YouTube that compose the true content for which the Ninja receives such large sums of money, but rather, the code he creates through his gameplay. Once again, some might argue (Mr. Blevins in particular), that his role as an influencer is also a significant contributor to his high evaluation. While there is no doubt there is some value in the manner in which his streams are produced and presented,[4] the fact remains that it is his work as a coder that is the primary basis of his overall value, and which enables his other, subsidiary functions as a streamer/content-creator/influencer.

Ninja as Software Programmer of the new millenium.One interesting question that results from this interpretation of the Ninja as programmer is whether or not the software industry will one day take full advantage of this analogy and develop professional programming environments that use a video game interface to produce code instead of the traditional text based, “editor/compiler/assembler/linker/loader” model.[5]

 

[1] A similar agreement signed by Mr. Blevins and the now defunct Mixer site in 2019 was valued between $20 and $30 million dollars. See the Verge online article “Fortnite Star Ninja’s Mixer Contract Reportedly Worth $20M to $30M”

[2] In saying this, it would be naïve not to recognize the impact that the quality of production has on content value. However, in the case of Mr. Blevins, such is not the determining factor as it would be for creators whose sole function is the production of video streams. 

[3] Examples of this can be found in a number of programming environments made for children such as those provided via the website CODE.org.

[4] For instance, having famous entertainment stars show up in his streams as co-players certainly would increase the value of his brand.

[5] See Douglas Jones excellent discussion of the fundamentals of computer programming environments at http://homepage.divms.uiowa.edu/~jones/syssoft/notes/01intro.html#:~:text=The%20term%20programming%20environment%20is,environment%20used%20by%20the%20programmer.

The First Multi-media Handheld Designed for the 21st Century.

Yeah, I know it’s a phone. It’s called an “IPhone.” But’s it’s not a phone, not anymore, not after Apple’s IPhone 12 announcement. Just like the Sony Playstation is not, and is, a video game console, Apple wants the world to realize that the IPhone is no longer a smart phone, it’s something more. For the past several decades, industry analysts across the technology spectrum have been wondering, “where does Apple go when the IPhone has reached its maximum market saturation?” What’s the next IPhone-like product that will re-establish Apple’s leadership as a technological innovation engine? Well, surprise, surprise, turns out to be the IPhone.

Anyone who was listening to the promised product updates, who wasn’t crapping their pants about the Verizon partnership, quickly realized what was happening, Apple was revealing their new and forward-thinking vision of what the next hand-held technology will be. Is it a phone? Yes. Is it a video game console? Yes. Is it perhaps one of the best prosumer mini-camera/video cameras in the world? Yes. Is it a badass micro-LIDAR system ? Yes. Does it feature a game-changing processor design that incorporates a native machine-learning (ML) processor? Yes.

LIDAR analysis of ocean floor.

And that’s not all. I didn’t mention the sound system design or the CPU-GPU upgrades, the camera’s two- and three-lens systems, or the new image format: APPLERAW. In other words, just the highlights alone will take you awhile to unpack. And then, once you do, your imagination will explode as you think of all the possible uses of the IPhone 12. Suddenly, every major and independent film/media studio must ask whether or not they need to buy the IPhone 12. Suddenly every travel blogger who has been salivating over her or his Sony A7 III is checking out the average ALPHA sales price on EBAY, calculating the hit they’re going to take when they convert to a PRO MAX.

Some will say, “You’re exaggerating. It’s just another smartphone camera.” No, it’s not, it’s a high-end HD camera/video-camera/LIDAR, all for under $1200. The LIDAR alone makes the device groundbreaking. When developers get their hands on the SDK for the LIDAR they are going to make apps that will be game-changing across all business sectors. Take the construction industry for instance, with LIDAR, this phone has the potential to see through walls. Electricians and plumbers looking for a single tool that can help them see what’s going on behind the sheet-rock, will be able to use their IPhone. Why wouldn’t they? The screen is stronger and it’s water-proof. Is it a phone? Yes, but it’s also a high-tech tool for home builders. 

All of this is made possible by the new BIONIC A14 processor. It is here, Apple’s true innovation shines the brightest. By pushing nano-technology to its extremes, they have produced one of the most advanced visions of handheld computing ever attempted. By including ML, they are looking well into the future to a time when all smart devices will be driven by learning algorithms guaranteed to improve consumers’ overall experience with technologies like Augmented Reality (AR).

So yeah, I know it’s a phone, but after today, calling the IPhone 12, “just another smart phone,” means that you simply didn’t see the vision; didn’t have the moment when you realized that Apple did something today that nobody ever thought they could do, they turned the IPhone into the first multi-media handheld device designed for the 21st century.

THE ROOM: An Architectural Theory of the Future Technological Foundations of a VR Universe.

In a recent GAMESPOT article, Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of Take-Two Interactive, encapsulated in a single sentence, the greatest challenge ahead for Virtual Reality. He said, “…there is no market for [an] … entertainment device that requires you to dedicate a room to the activity.” He, then, went on to identify the second major issue, when he jokingly said, “We don’t have a [room] where you stand in a big open space and hold two controllers with something on your head—and not crash into the coffee table. We don’t have that.”

And that my friends, is why Mr. Zelnick, though admittedly not a “gamer,” makes the big bucks.

Fig. 2: Staring at walls.
Figure 1: “…staring at moving pictures on walls.”

As progeny of the television-centric home entertainment ecosystem (HEe)[1] we have grown accustomed to staring at moving pictures on walls (see Figure 1), and not moving while we do so. Certainly there are times when movement is appropriate and expected, but in order to fit within the HEe it must be anticipated, and changes made to accommodate the increased need for space and separation. In other words, you need to move “the coffee table” so no one gets injured.

But in most cases, we watch TV, not moving, and, often, reclining. In fact, there have been numerous studies conducted by the manufacturers of video and audio equipment that indicate the best viewing angle, and thus seating position, for the consumer to fully enjoy a, so-called, “immersive,” entertainment experience. VR will eventually demand more.

In this, the first of a two-part series of the BOOM, I examine the problems inherent in the VR experience, as a duplication and augmentation of reality, in the context of spatial dynamics (the ROOM), room orientation, stabilization, and finally, sound presentation. It is around these fundamentals, along with several others, that the foundations of true, cognitive envelopment, necessary to convince our minds we are really somewhere else, may be established.

From Peripheral to Preeminence: The Rise of the Video Media Console, Part III, “From arcade to VR ecosystem.”

Those that grew up during what I have often referred to as the “Golden Age” of video gaming,[1]  remember a time when there was no preference between PC and console. There was just gaming. In fact, there are some games that we loved every bit as much as our favorite PC, console, and arcade games, which are now, all but forgotten.[2] Still, as for where most gamers of the period, young and old, preferred to play their favorite games, the arcade was king (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 Game arcade, ca. 1983
Figure 1 Typical 80’s arcade

Though the graphics and gameplay of the standalone machines were often identical to their console/PC versions, there were a lot more games to play at the arcade then at home or school. Also, there was an energy in the place that was palpable and electrifying.[3] Playing in the arcade during the decade of the 1980’s could be viewed as a prototype of the multiplayer experience that we now enjoy online, with one big difference: back then we played, physically, side-by-side, every time.

While the arcade may have been our preference, there were two, significant, disadvantages: cost, and the fact that you needed transportation to get to one. Both reasons made it an impractical, though highly desired, option for me and my eight and nine-year-old, school friends. Even after washing everyone’s car on the block, mowing their lawns, scavenging for and returning bottles and cans for the deposit, and, finally, squeezing your parents for every last quarter they had, it didn’t take long to burn through your hard earned change once you walked into that neon-lit, multisensory extravaganza of light, sound, and movement (see Figure 2). It is largely for these reasons that the console became our video gaming method of choice.

P2p3-cartoon
Figure 2: “The Quest for the Quarters.”

Thus, it was during the decade of the eighties that video gaming as a practice and event shifted from the surrealistic environment of the arcade to become a more home-based activity in which the console played a dominant role. At the time, PC’s were also in their infancy. Companies like Apple, and even HP, had demonstrated an early interest in video gaming software development, but purchasing their hardware was expensive, often more expensive than a console (see Figure 3). Moreover, PC’s were still, for the most part, considered business machines and not video gaming platforms. For many gamers, therefore, the console was the only realistic option.

Figure 3: Apple
Figure 3: Apple as early adopter of video gaming software.

This economic ‘reality,’ in many ways, created a division between the gamers that had access to a PC, and those that could only get their hands on a console. From this point forward, the question of which platform, PC or console, was technologically superior, became the subject of a debate that continues, thirty years later, into our current day.

Of course, the rift between PC and console gaming is more complicated than the “debate” over which is a, “superior,”  platform. However, no one would dispute that this is the primary issue that continues to surface and resurface whenever gamers argue over which is best for gaming. Now, it seems, this age old argument has been given new life in the discussion over which is a better platform for delivering Virtual Reality (VR).

As recent as this past February, Tim Bajarin, a well-known, well-respected technologist, “futurist,” and contributor for PCMag, revealed how this divisive issue is being used to influence the direction of VR software development. In his post, “Why Sony Has a Big Lead in VR,” he offers reasons why the PC is a more preferable VR appliance than the Playstation, or any other console. The primary concern, as he sees it, is the console’s seeming, one purpose functionality as a gaming device. According to Mr. Bajarin, consoles like the Playstation 4, “[are] largely gaming platforms.”

From Peripheral to Preeminence: The Rise of the Video Media Console, Part II, “And the Winner IS…”

BS-P2P2-OC-ART2-1
Figure 1: VR, a Pandora’s Box?

Since the release of FB-Oculus[1] first of, what I expect will be, numerous iterations, of its mind-bending, reality-shifting, VR apparatus, much has been said by the mainstream media (Vox, Wired, New York Times, etc.)  about the future of VR, and its immediate and long-term impact on the way in which we consume media. And while we at BOOM Salad are gratified to see these touchtones of 21st century, online journalism finally affirm something that we stated conclusively more than a month ago, it is clear that they are still struggling to understand the far-reaching implications of a world permeated by VR technology.  By that I mean, VR is not 3-D Television. VR is legit, it’s coming, in fact, it’s here, and Oculus is just the beginning.

Unlike other entertainment devices, the uses of VR will not be confined to the realm of video-related entertainment. It will continue to evolve beyond its original focus to include whatever need or desire we have for a virtualized universe. In other words, there is no aspect of society that does stand to be affected in a significant way: education, politics, commerce, medicine, and of course, ART. VR has the potential to redefine the way in which humanity consumes reality.

Figure 2: The Louvre Online Tour, "Egyptian Antiquities."
Figure 2: The Louvre Online Tour, “Egyptian Antiquities.”

A simple illustration: for the past two decades, most of the world’s greatest cultural centers have labored, with the best of intentions, to provide an immersive online environment via the web (see Figure 2). They have all failed for the same 2D reasons. With VR, their dream: to deliver an immersive, first-person-experience to anyone, anywhere in the world, just took its first big step forward to becoming a reality. Well, a virtual reality at least.

Still, it will take more than a fancy headset that looks like your grandmother’s UV shields (see Figure 3) for the promise of a VR universe to be realized, and this is where other media sources seem hopelessly unaware. The most important component of the VR paradigm is not the magic goggles. Nope. An Oculus would be nothing without a delivery device to feed it content (see Figure 4).

Figure 3: Grandmas UV shields.
Figure 3: Nice RIFT Grandma!

From Peripheral to Preeminence: The Rise of the Video Media Console, Part I: “The Virtual End of the Reign of Television.”

BS-PP-IMG-1

For nearly 60 years, television has ruled the living room as the center of the home entertainment universe. But the emergence of media streaming services, like: Netflix, Youtube, and Amazon Instant Video, along with an ever-expanding global network delivering high-speed Internet service to the home, has revealed a growing number of threats to TV’s half a century long reign.

First, and foremost, as consumer behavior has adapted to the expanding role of the Internet as a vehicle for the delivery of media content, there has been a notable shift away from television as the primary viewing platform. This has been accompanied, and is in many ways symbolized, by the so-called, “[TV cable] cord cutting” movement we see growing in popularity throughout the world. It is now possible to watch “TV” programming on something other than a TV, such as a PC, tablet, or even a smartphone.

In saying this, we are giving form to a fundamental change now taking place which seeks to dismantle our decades old, TV-obsessed culture, and replace it with a spatial reconstruction in which television becomes just another option amongst a growing number of alternatives. In other words, with the emergence of app-based viewing platforms that rely on the Internet to deliver their content, the interdependent link between TV and the creation, consumption, and distribution of video media, including video games, has been broken.

playstation-vr
Figure 2: Sony’s entry into the VR marketplace.

Moreover, with the rapid development of virtual reality devices, such as Sony’s Playstation VR and Facebook’s Oculus Rift (see Figure 2), it is now possible to envision a future in which the television is supplanted by a far more immersive, and spatially practical, viewing paradigm. Some, of course, would disagree, claiming that, “Television technology, with its increasing resolutions and size, in addition to a recent industry-wide adoption of app-based viewing platforms, a feature of so-called, “SMART TVs”, will insure its status as the primary media viewing appliance both now and well into the foreseeable future.”

And yet, in highlighting the increasing size of television, proponents of the TV-centric, media-viewing household, give light to one of television’s greatest weaknesses, which also happens to be “its increasing size.” A simple maxim to describe the problem might be, “the larger the TV, the less practical it becomes to the majority of consumers.” The prima facie evidence for this statement is in the simple calculus of how many consumers, worldwide, have the available wall space to support the largest sized devices manufactured today, and at what point in that mathematical relationship is that number reduced to zero?

The Uncanny Violence of Video Games, Part III: “BOOM Salad Calls For An End to the Stigmatization, Marginalization, and Misrepresentation of Violent Video Games and the Players that Love To Play Them.”

Since June of this year, BOOM Salad has been renting its own “servers[1] for the violent video game, Battlefield 4.[2] This means that, for the past several months, we have paid a company for the privilege of managing and maintaining our own online, multiplayer environment for the game. Virtually anyone in the world, who owns Battlefield 4, and has access to a high-speed Internet connection, can play on our servers.

Figure 1: Image from a BOOM Salad event on our "server" in which players between the ages of 10 - 20 tried to launch vehicles in the air with explosive munitions while riding them. See the video "Mr. Flowers and His Dirty Band of T-baggers."
Figure 1: Image from an event on our “server.” See the video above.

In the 120 days that our Playstation 3 (PS3)server has been operational, and open to the public, we have played with and against a wide variety of age groups, cultures, ethnicities, and genders. This has afforded us a unique opportunity to observe and participate, first-hand, in what’s known as worldwide, multiplayer gaming, or, Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming (MMO, see Figure 1).

Important examples of the genre include World of Warcraft and Minecraft. The game, Minecraft, has become a global, cultural phenomenon, somewhere on par with the Pacman craze of the early-1980’s.[3] But more than just a simple maze in which the goal never changes, and never gets beyond the consumption of dots, fruit, and ghosts, Minecraft may very well be one of the most subtly complex video games ever devised.

Like its namesake, it is best to think of the game as having “layers” of complexity. Each layer provides numerous opportunities for pro-social, empathetic interaction with other players online. The number of players that can participate in a single session interactively depends on the platform, but for consoles like the Playstation 4 (PS4), the maximum is eight at a time.[4]

In conversations we have had with younger players of Minecraft,[5] we were told, time and again, that the primary motive for playing was building things with their friends. And by, “building things,” we don’t mean swords, and bombs, and other weapons, though all that is possible. The children we spoke with were far more interested in building castles with incredibly ornate bedrooms, and underground dwellings (see video below). And yet, because the game includes depictions of violence in its battle play (which can be turned on or off), it is equated with other, so-called “violent-video games,” like Battlefield 4, and is, therefore, considered by many in the medical community to be, “harmful [to society].”[6].

In Parts I and II of this series, we demonstrated how the arguments against video games with violent depictions are based on a so-called, “link,” between real-world violence and video game violence. This “link” is observable, according to various medical studies, [7] in those who play violent video games, in the measurable decline in cognitive function in areas that are known to regulate and influence aggressive and violent behavior. Whether or not these conclusions are accurate, [8] the fact is they do not provide a satisfying answer to the most important question of all, (something BOOM Salad has endeavored to do since our first issue, [9]): Why do people play these games in the first place?

The Uncanny Violence of Video Games, PART IIa: “The Thin Red Line Between Violent- and Competitive-Aggression.”

The Thin Red Line Between

 

Editor’s Note.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, medical researchers and behaviorists all over the world were looking at the similarities between so-called, “violent media,” such as film and TV, and video games that depicted violence in their gameplay. For many, and certainly all of those who generously gave their time to BOOM Salad in interviews, and other assistance, their motives were simple, protect those who are amongst the most vulnerable in society: children and young people. For this reason, BOOM Salad acknowledges and honors the efforts of these women and men of science, and others who have sought to shine a light on why and how video games affect those that play them, why they make us go “BOOM!” as it were, and the corollary effect of video gaming on society in general.

Over the past few months, BOOM Salad has interviewed several researchers considered to be amongst the first to study the relationship between behavior and video games, including Dr. Vincent P. Matthews, Chair of Radiology, Medical College of Wisconsin; Dr. Yang Wang, Associate Professor, Medical College of Wisconsin, Division of Imaging Sciences; and Dr. Brad Bushman, Professor of Communication and Psychology, Ohio State University. The premise of their investigations was based on the assumption that violent-video games are a genre of violent media (see the clinical definition of “violent media” below). As such, previous research suggested that high exposure to violent-video games would likely cause increased aggression in cognition, affect, and arousal. From this starting point, researchers were able to rely on the confidence of medical studies conducted over the past 60 years that have consistently demonstrated the causal relationship between high Violent Media Exposure (VME) and aggressive bias and behavior.

Like their predecessors and contemporaries, the individuals we spoke with were world-class researchers with sufficient funding to establish the credibility of their results. Thus, to challenge the veracity of their findings would be misguided and unfruitful. That is not to say that we agree with their conclusions, quite the contrary, we do not, and for what we believe to be good reasons.

In the following, Part IIa and IIb of the Uncanny Violence of Video Games, BOOM Salad will demonstrate a fundamental error in the theory at the heart of the anti-violent video game argument, while at the same time offering an alternative hypothesis as to how and why these games affect our behavior. Our goal, much like that of the doctors we interviewed, is to root out the cognitive and behavioral context that underlies the ever-increasing fascination with video games in global society. Only by understanding what compels individuals to play the games, can we better determine how it is affecting them and their behavior.

As always, it is our Primary Objective that you will enjoy and be challenged by our efforts. – BOOM.

Figure 1: Violent Video Game Exposure.
Figure 1: The face of aggression?

How do we determine how someone is feeling? One way, is by examining his or her expression (see Figure 1). Do they look happy, or sad? Are they smiling, or are they frowning?

Another way is through listening to their voice and analyzing their vocal expressions. Do they sound happy or angry? Are they saying words that would indicate happiness or aggression? Through these and other clues, humans “predict” the feelings and actions of those around them.

But even with the availability of all this visual and auditory data, we can never be 100% sure how someone is feeling. Why? Because emotions are “unobservable states” that “dynamically change”[1]. In other words, emotions cannot be viewed directly, we cannot see into a person’s psychology and understand, as they do, how they are feeling. Moreover, emotions can change in an instant.

For example, when we consume visual media, like film and TV, it is not unusual to feel different emotions as the program progresses. At one moment we are fearful, and then another, hopeful or relieved, and perhaps even at the end, we might feel happy or euphoric, all within the span of two hours. The Entertainment industry relies on this powerful ability to visually and emotionally engage its viewers, as a form of incentive to pay for its products.

Given this, the best we can do in assessing how one is feeling at a particular moment in time, is in observing and interpreting her or his behavior and mannerisms. Most of the time, this is sufficient to accurately assess someone’s current emotional state, but because of our own limitations to perceive the “unobservable,” we make mistakes resulting in a misinterpretation of a person’s actual feelings.

To increase the reliability of these observations, medical researchers and behaviorists have developed a number of theoretical models. One of the most important of these is known as the “reinforcement learning model (RL)”[2]. The RL provides a useful methodology to understanding so-called, “rewards-based behaviors.”

According to the RL, rewards provide an incentive that leads to what is known as, “operant conditioning,” in which a person will voluntarily change her or his behavior and behavior paradigm to receive a reward . For example, a child is promised a reward if she or he does well on a math test (see Figure 2). To attain this reward, the child voluntarily changes her or his behavior by studying more or paying more attention to homework assignments. When the reward is received, these changes in behavior become part of the behavioral algorithm used by the child to determine her or his actions in a given environment.

The Uncanny Violence of Video Games, Part IIb, “The META of Video Gaming.”

 

The META of Video Gaming.What is the so-called “META” of video gaming, and why is it important to video gaming as a culture and cognitive exercise? By “cognitive exercise” I mean the experience of gaming as a rule- and rewards-based event that requires one’s cognitive functions to perform successfully and routinely. In this context, it is possible extrapolate the consideration of META to apply to all forms and genres of gaming that rely on cognitive function for performance. Likewise, it can be said with some confidence that the META of video gaming is derivative of the META of all gaming.

But what do we mean by META? And how is it related to gaming as a “competitive” cognitive exercise?

The theory of a “Meta” for video gaming is not new but perhaps, newly discovered, in that more attention is being paid to its creation and maintenance as a cognitive knowledge structure. These act as inputs to the formulation of behavior scripts that define an individual’s actions and reactions given a specific environment[1].

As one participates in a competitive activity, such as “chess”, or volleyball, they develop a knowledge structure that reflects her or his continuously evolving strategy to achieve the game’s Primary Objective[2]. Here, the word “strategy” includes the adaptive learning of the game’s mechanics, as well as, the player’s various functions within the gaming environment. Moreover, it is influenced and recognizable by its constantly changing, tactical expressions.

Given this definition, the META of video games such as “Flower” can be equated to the evolving strategies and tactics necessary to complete each map (see Video below).

With repetition, a player becomes more proficient through trial and error, thereby informing and rewriting her or his META for the game. META efficiency, therefore, is analogous to performance proficiency. In other words, the more proficiently a player performs in the attainment of the game’s Primary Objective, the more efficient the META upon which the performance is based. In this way, performance proficiency and META efficiency are directly tied to repeated play and exposure to the game.

Figure 1 is a visual representation of the creation and maintenance of the META for the video game, “Flower.”

Figure 1: META of "Flower."
Figure 1: META of “Flower.”

The UNCANNY Violence of Video Games, Part I: “GAM, VME, and the Acronyms of Aggression.”

Figure 1: Violent Video Game Exposure.
Figure 1: Violent Video Game Exposure.

For nearly 20 years, medical researchers, psychologists, and behaviorists, throughout the world have sought to determine if there is a link between the development of aggressive behavior and repeated exposure to violent video games like Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty (see Figure 1). Using research from previous studies on the effects of Violent Media Exposure (VME) on cognitive behavior as the basis of their hypotheses, these well-intentioned medical experts have demonstrated, time and again, that playing violent video games has a residual effect on the brain and the mechanisms responsible for aggressive and violent thoughts and actions. Their conclusions are similar to the one expressed in the article, EFFECTS OF VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES ON AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR, AGGRESSIVE COGNITION, AGGRESSIVE AFFECT, PHYSIOLOGICAL AROUSAL, AND PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature (2001), which states:

” A…review of the video-game research literature reveals that violent video games increase aggressive behavior in children and young adults [italics ours]. Experimental and nonexperimental studies with males and females in laboratory and field settings support this conclusion. Analyses also reveal that exposure to violent video games increases physiological arousal and aggression-related thoughts and feelings. Playing violent video games also decreases pro-social behavior.”

Thus, the consensus of many in the medical research community is that violent video games are harmful to those who play them, and represent a potential threat to public safety when the effects of repeated exposure elicit a violent response.

And yet, in numerous conversations and interviews conducted by BOOM Salad with several long-term, violent video gamers, those who have played violent video games consistently for 10 years or more, we found, without exception, that, contrary to increasing aggression and violent tendencies, these games were seen as providing an almost therapeutic effect upon the player by helping to reduce the anxieties and stresses of daily life.

A clear discrepancy is, therefore, evident between the conclusions of medical research and the experiences of those who routinely play these games. In this, the first of a three-part series on the relationship between aggressive and violent behavior and repeated exposure to violent video games, the BOOM takes a deeper look at the research and inferences that are at the heart of the anti-violent video game argument, beginning with an examination of what is known as the General Aggression Model (GAM, see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The General Aggression Model (GAM)
Figure 2: The General Aggression Model (GAM)