Monday, October 05, 2009

'Video games are a social network'

Video and computer games have long been stigmatized by health knowalls as leading to social isolation. It was never true in the past and it is even farther from the truth now. Video games are fast becoming one of the most social forms of entertainment around, writes IGN Australia Games Editor Cam Shea

A quiet revolution is taking place in the world of videogames. Gaming is being transformed: what was once regarded as a solitary pursuit for nerds is becoming one of the most social forms of entertainment.

Take the Xbox 360 - its online service has grown from basic friend information and voice chat with other players during online games, to full video chat, the ability to form parties that stay grouped no matter what people are doing and avatars as well. Plus, coming soon, Facebook and Twitter integration.

The games are also changing - an online component is standard for most titles these days, while plenty of games focus almost entirely on online gameplay. Gamers, after all, like to compete - but they also like to socialise and be part of a community. Few games demonstrate this better than World of Warcraft (WoW).

The Warcraft collective

In fact, for all the press that surrounds the game – discussing its popularity and cultural impact, the sensationalist treatises on WoW addiction, and the fine-toothed examinations of every new announcement – it’s not often recognised that WoW is an intensely social phenomenon.

This is an experience that works best with friends: whether real life or people met through the game. For many players it’s the friendships they have in-game that keep them coming back - and that’s by design.

While it is possible to play WoW on your own for a while, the "end game" is built entirely for teams.

To see all that WoW has to offer, you’ll need to join a guild and work together with other players. When you’re spending hours at a time, several days a week with people, it’s no wonder bonds form. In this game, being a loner just isn’t an option.

With 11.5 million people around the world paying a monthly subscription fee to play WoW, it would seem that gamers are more social than they’re often given credit for.

A great example of this is Blizzcon – an annual event held in Los Angeles by the game’s developer, Blizzard Entertainment. It’s at this two day convention that the company makes its biggest announcements and gives the fans a chance to sit in on panels and play their upcoming games before release. The 20,000 tickets for the 2009 event sold out in less than 30 seconds, and around 50,000 other people signed up to the pay per view service to watch it online.

There are a number of reasons tickets to this event are so sought after, but for WoW players one of the chief attractions is that Blizzcon represents a great opportunity to meet up with other players – often for the first time in real life, and the result is an event that feels – at times – like a school reunion; good humoured, social and rowdy.

Real mateship

People travel from all over the world to attend, and yes, a number of Aussies made the journey this year. Tarn Smith, a Sydneysider studying to be a jewel crafter, came to Blizzcon to meet up with guys he’s known since the game launched - almost five years ago.

Why is he still enthused about WoW after all this time? “What keeps you going is the social aspect,” he said. “It’s the only thing that really keeps you there after the content’s been beaten. That’s the one key thing.”

Dean and Brett Jones, two WoW players from Perth, also found the game useful from a social perspective. “It was a way we connected with our real life friends,” Dean said. “So if they lived in another town or another city, it was a good way for us to get into contact with them… it was an easier medium to talk to them through WoW than to – say – text them, give them a call or send them an email. It would be the place to find them.”

“A lot of my mates have stopped playing,” said Nick Carman from Sydney, “so I basically started up on a different server with a different bunch of people, and it is a whole new experience.”

For WoW, the people define the experience almost as much as the content, and the result is a player base with a strong sense of ownership over the game world. WoW and Xbox Live are just two examples of a broad trend. Gaming as a whole is becoming an increasingly social space. It’s time to finally shed that nerdy loner image; to step out from the basement into the light of day as a mature and social entertainment medium.


What a stupid way to reach conclusions: Doco stirs theory of cancer link to viruses

Consulting "experts" tells you very little. Experts can easily be wrong and often have been. A lot of expertise is mere opinion. New research would be a better use of funds than making a film

A DOCUMENTARY claiming viruses can trigger a larger number of cancers than first thought is expected to divide Australian cancer experts when it airs later this month.

But Catching Cancer also suggests that because viral infections can be prevented relatively easily through vaccines and other measures, there may be a new means of defeating the disease.

Made by Australian documentary maker Sonya Pemberton, the program also investigates whether a virus was responsible for 16 women developing breast cancer while working at the ABC's Brisbane television studios, forcing the site's evacuation in 2006.

Scientists agree that about 20 per cent of cancers are triggered by viruses. These include: liver cancer, triggered by hepatitis B and C; cancers of the anus, genitals and cervix, triggered by human papillomavirus; Burkitt's lymphoma, triggered by Epstein-Barr virus; and stomach cancer, triggered by the bacterium helicobacter pylori.

But a minority of scientists argue this percentage is far higher. American biologist Paul Ewald of the University of Louisville, quoted in the program, said the figure could be as high as 95 per cent.

The documentary includes interviews with a dozen Australian and overseas cancer experts, including sceptics of cancer viral transmission such as geneticist David Vaux from La Trobe University. Professor Vaux said the list of cancers caused by viruses was well established but small. ''Viruses can cause some cancers but they don't have a role in others,'' he said. ''Really, there isn't much debate … there's not much evidence for anything else.''

Ian Oliver, chief executive of the NSW Cancer Council, said cancer was caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors. ''If it was a virus related to breast cancer, I wonder what its mode of transmission would be - sex, touch,'' Professor Oliver said. ''One of the cruellest scenarios I have come across was [of] grandkids being told 'don't cuddle up or kiss grandma, you might catch it'. We don't want any of that catching on.''


1 comment:

Jo Firth, Safe Breast Imaging said...

Viral breast cancer is a pretty tall order. I coincidentally watched a YouTube video last night by Dr Kathleen Rudd from Madison USA. She also mentions viral BC.
I just think this is such an extraordinary idea.
Keep up your thoughts and scepticism. Well done.
Jo Firth
Safe Breast Imaging