Video games and their effect on the future

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    Video Games 1

    Video Games and Their Potential For Shaping the Future

    Michael L. Emmitt

    Jefferson Community College

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    Video games have always been seen as a recreational activity for children

    and teenagers alike, but is that the only use of such programs? Recent activity

    has been taken with video games to promote higher brain activity and production

    and to provide rehabilitation for physical and mental illnesses. The problem is

    that when most people think of video games they think of it as a mindless tool

    used solely for entertainment, but studies have shown that video games help

    stimulate thinking and literacy in smaller children and also leads to problem

    solving and real business skills. Video games are also currently being used to

    treat sports injuries, brain injuries, and even mental illness such as autism. There

    will always be people who look at video games in a negative light, but video

    games are shining a new light into educational and rehabilitation purposes.

    Video games were invented as a form of recreation, but today they are

    branching much further. But how did the idea of video games begin? Video

    games actually started in the late 1930's with the invention of a mechanical game

    named pinball. The game used a plunger on a spring to propel a ball around to

    hit pins and using paddles to keep the ball from falling. The first coin operated

    machines were invented in 1931 by American Industries and they named the

    game "Whiffle Board" (BMI, 2006). However the real breakthrough in video game

    invention came in 1961 when a student at the Massachusetts Institute for

    Technology (MIT) named Steve Russel created a program for a game that could

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    be played on one of the school's computers. The game that Russel created

    became so popular that the manufacturer of the computer, Digital Equipment

    Corporation, started loading the program on the computer so that all computer-

    science students could explore and play the game (Glazer, 2006). In the 1970's a

    company named Atari brought the video games out of the bars and clubs and

    into the home with a cheaper video game system that allowed players to change

    the game simply by changing a cartridge rather than having to buy a brand new

    system. The Atari console was widely popular and sold nearly 3 million systems a

    year until the company collapsed under its own weight in the early 1980's

    (Glazer, 2006). A turning point in video gaming came in the late 1980's with the

    introduction of Nintendo. Nintendo took Atari's idea and ran with it by increasing

    its marketing and appealing to kids. The games also became more colorful and

    interactive as time progressed due to the increase in technology. Nintendo held

    the corner stone for gaming for years until competitors emerged in Sony's

    PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox platforms. As technology increases so do the

    video games that come with it, but not only do the graphics and plot of such

    games increase, but the interaction of the gamer to the game is also increasing.

    With todays technology people are able to play sports in their living rooms and

    live out their fantasys of being rock stars and action heroes in their own homes.

    Video games are becoming more and more interactive and enveloping the gamer

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    so that gaming feels less like imagination and more like reality.

    Video gaming is commonly seen as entertainment, but what about as a

    learning experience for a child with a mental illness like autism? A study at the

    University of Alabama at Birmingham has shown that a program called FaceSay

    helps children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) learn to recognize emotions

    (Science Daily, 2007). The program FaceSay was created by a company called

    Symbiotica and uses a visual puppet also known as an avatar to display facial

    expressions. The game displays emotions while teaching kids how to search for

    facial cues and and expressions. The study has shown great improvement in kids

    with Asperger Syndrome and some improvement in kids with autism. Facial

    recognition was up across the boards with a nearly two point improvement in

    both kids with autism and Asperger's (Science Daily 2007). Children with ASD

    often have trouble making eye contact with people which makes it hard for them

    to remember faces and interpret emotion. However the FaceSay program

    teaches kids with ASD to interpret emotion in a non-threatening situation. The

    study at UAB continues to test the long term effects of using the program and

    hopes they can reach out to parents everywhere.

    Using video games to help with a mental illness is proving to have results,

    but what about for traumatic brain injury? A study has started in Tempe Arizona to

    show the effects of video games on returning veterans with traumatic brain

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    injuries (TBI) (Milliard, 2010). The company Kinetic Muscles, Inc. specializes in

    neurorehabilitation for stroke patients and patients with cerebral palsy, but

    recently have started venturing into TBI studies in military veterans returning

    home. KMI has started using video games mixed with their neurorehabilitation

    procedures to rehabilitate veterans with TBI. The funding for the project is coming

    from the Department of Defense and has started doing clinical trials in VA

    hospitals. "Treatment of TBI builds upon KMIs neurotherapy technology

    platform," said Ed Koeneman, chief operating officer at KMI and principal

    investigator for the study. "Patients with stroke and TBI experience similar

    cognitive and movement deficits. KMI technology addresses rehabilitation for

    both groups through repetitive training of specific tasks (Milliard, 2010). The

    clinical trials have had positive results with veteran's cognitive thinking, dexterity,

    reasoning, and memory due to their vigorous course in a virtual activity world

    (Milliard, 2010). One reason that the program is succeeding as much as it is is

    that the rehab is geared towards soldiers who grew up playing video games.

    Playing video games as an adult brings up better memories of childhood days

    and helps promote higher brain function.

    Mental rehabilitation with video games is one thing, but what about

    physical rehabilitation? Video games are usually seen as an activity where you

    sit on a couch and watch the game unfold with a controller in your hand, but with

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    todays motion sensitive controllers it causes people to get off the couch and into

    the game. Nintendo's newest console the Wii has started being used not only as

    an entertainment device, but also as a device used in physical rehabilitation. The

    Wii's controller uses motion sensitive sensors to copy the movements that people

    would use when playing sports or doing a physical activity (Coslett, 2010). The

    Wii also has an accessory that functions as a balance board for performing yoga

    and other movement oriented activities. The Wii has proven itself to be a good

    rehabilitation tool because of the psychological benefit of no just going through a

    set of planned stretches and movements and instead playing an interactive video

    game that you can get into (Coslett, 2010). The use of the Wii has been used for

    physical therapy and strengthening of limbs, but also has started being used as a

    rehabilitation tool for stroke patients. "The beauty of virtual reality is that it applies

    the concept of repetitive tasks, high-intensity tasks and task-specific activities,

    that activates special neurons (called 'mirror neuron system') involved in

    mechanisms of cortical reorganization (brain plasticity)," Saposnik said. "Effective

    rehabilitation calls for applying these principles (Science Daily, 2010). The Wii

    has proved to more effective at rehabilitation than normal activities such as

    stacking blocks and playing cards. "Basically, we found that patients in the Wii

    group achieved a better motor function, both fine and gross, manifested by

    improvement in speed and grip strength," Saposnik said. "But it is too early to

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    recommend this approach generally. A larger, randomized study is needed and is

    underway (Science Daily, 2010)

    Rehabilitation is a very noble and amazing use of video game technology,

    but does that mean that it is a waste of time for the rest of the population? On the

    contrary video games are very useful in the education of children. Video games

    has shown to improve the spatial thinking of children. Studies have shown that

    lower income families that can not afford video games have children less likely to

    be as good at spatial vision in comparison to middle class families children who

    do have such toys (Bower, 2005). Spatial thinking is not the the only thing that

    video games can teach children, but literacy can also be taught from video

    games. While there is no solid