More game research of note

On the heels of Rob's post about the possibility of a DSM classification for "video game addiction", Destructoid recently found an article on the research of Oregon psychiatrist Jerald Block which concluded that the denial of violent games to teen killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold was a catalyst for what became the Columbine massacre.

As someone who has worked on several FPS games, I completely understand this conclusion. FPS games are widely misunderstood in the popular media.

In brief, Block concluded (according to the reporting linked above) that violent games were an outlet for the two angry teens, and being deprived of that outlet by their parents precipitated them finding another way to express their anger. Now, I'm not one to fall back on that as a weak justification for FPS games: "Let your frustrated children kill the enemy virtually, so they don't kill them in reality!" "Damning with faint praise" hardly does that stance justice.

But FPS games are an outlet, among other things. The violence of the popular FPS's is very secondary to the competition and teamwork among players. FFA (Free For All) deathmatch games of the early 1990's have given way to squad-based games, where teamwork and coordination are what separate success and failure. The social element here is very strong, and teammates often become fast friends, if they didn't start out that way.

Beyond the actual gameplay, FPS games have historically been among the easiest games to mod, and this has created a huge community of amateur developers, the best of whom often go on to professional game development. Proto-coders, artists, designers, all are playing a meta-game with their favorite titles, doing a lot of learning about everything from design and fun to organization, scheduling, and working in a team environment.

The complexity of the entire FPS space is far more complex and sophisticated than anyone in major media has grasped, and it's good to see reporting on research like Block's that begins to paint that picture.



IEEE Spectrum’s gaming blog was retired in 2010, but it is preserved here for archival reference.