Tag Archive for games

Skullgirls: This Ain’t Your Momma’s Fighting Game

Let me start by saying this game is a field day for the senses. It appeals to nearly every one of my identities: girl, gamer, musician, media psychology student, analyst, and voyeur. Okay, while I’m not a voyeur in the psychological sense of the word, I do like to look at pretty art/graphics. But still, you catch my drift. This game has it all. It also has, however, a difficulty that any hard core, mortal kombat raving, fighting gamer would drool over like someone was ringing Pavlov’s bell. But, as frustrated as I tend to get when I actually have to put EFFORT into advancing in a game (RPG gamer much?), the art, sound, immersion storytelling, and all over style of this game mean I’ll never put it down; even if I never beat it.

Very reminiscent of Sucker Punch, this game is a 2D fighting game featuring a (VERY RANDOM) variety of somewhat jacked up girls all seeking to defeat the Skullgirl in the hopes of obtaining the Skull Heart. This elusive Skull Heart grants the girl who finds it, any wish she can come up with. The catch, as always, is that the girl be pure of heart (hey, this IS a girl gamers’ paradise, afterall). If the girl is in any way NOT pure of heart, the Skull Heart contorts their wish into something vile and repugnant (the loved one who is returned comes back as an undead monster? Blech!). As for the impure girl, the Skull Heart changes her into the Skullgirl, and she is the one who makes the horrors of her twisted dream come to pass. As you can probably imagine, the girls all have different wishes in mind, or some of them are simply doing their duty (whatever that might be) and protecting the innocent people of Canopy Kingdom from the monstrosity.

When I say that this game is a ‘girl gamers’ paradise’, I am in no way insinuating that males will find this boring. Quite the contrary. The adjustments on reality that are introduced via the characters’ special powers, are very creative, powerful, and crass (to some extent). From a symbiotic hair monster and an undead cat, to a militant princess and gadgets that would make Maxwell Smart proud, this game allows every character to have nearly endless combination possibilities, as well as the ability to combine 1, 2, or 3 characters per player to create a powerhouse team for you to control. Multiplayer is available online, as well as locally, so if you can’t beat the arcade storyline (/me hangs head in shame), there are still options for honing your skills against your less than worthy friends. If, however, you’re socially inept and have no friends (or maybe just don’t have the nerve to challenge them), you can play in the EXTENSIVE (3 chapters and over 20 lessons) tutorials. There is also an option for a training room, in which you can toggle options such as death, number of characters for you and the AI, and whether the AI even bothers to make any moves. This is helpful for working out combos, which, btw, are only listed online (for those of you who are constantly pausing MK to check out the moves list… you know who you are).

Which brings me to my next point: the website for this game is incredibly immersive, the developers of which should be sought out and applauded. Transmedia storytelling is storytelling which uses the strengths of various media, each of which tell stories that combine to create one large, all encompassing story. The Skullgirls site includes social networking via blogs, twitter, and facebook feeds, makes the soundtrack available on Amazon and iTunes, provides videos introducing each character and showcasing her skills, maintains a community for updates to the various platforms and news about developments to come. The game, then, becomes part of a much bigger picture; it becomes another way to enter the somewhat noir world of Canopy Kingdom.

Inside that noir world, whether you’re experiencing it via game or website, you find music and art which have the ability to steal the breath from your lungs. The music is very vibrant, while simultaneously being somewhat eerie, while the voice acting and audio clips sound like something from Bioshock. The art is hand drawn with vibrant colors during the fights, and chalk board type drawings on load screens. The site and game are consistently drawn, however, the site also encourages fan art (for ‘Fan Art Friday’) and features ‘White Board Wednesdays’. The raw art in some places, clashing with the incredibly detailed art in others, makes for an experience not unlike steampunk. The music fits the art theme brilliantly, and the entire experience, including the storyline and the difficulty, is intuitive; right down to the verbage on the tutorial instructions.

As far as the game, itself goes, the controls are adjustable but they’re preset with light, medium, and hard punches and kicks, as well as combos on LB and LT. In arcade mode, each girl has her own storyline which the fighting advances. Who the girls fight on their way to Skullgirl doesn’t seem to be ordered in any particular way, other than the unlockable characters come later in the lineup (obviously).  While you do get an idea of a day in the life of your girls in their initial movie sequences, the site provides information about each of them, down to their body measurements and personal likes and dislikes. The thumbstick and D pad seemed less responsive than I would have liked, but that could have just been the excessive speed with which the AI combo’d the bejeebus out of me. Difficulty modes range from ‘Sleepwalking’ to ‘Ridiculous’, but the bar set by even the easiest mode, tends to be more difficult than any other fighting game I’ve ever played. There is room for the most experienced player to struggle, while allowing every casual gamer to find some enjoyment as well.

This game is stylistically stunning, very creative, features immersive transmedia storytelling, and allows players at all levels a challenge. While the controls are somewhat frustrating, and players enjoying this game should NEVER volunteer for studies correlating aggression and gaming, only the very young or very naive should hesitate to grab this game. If you aren’t sure whether this bold style is for you, a quick stop at the website will tell you all you need to know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way to New Merdian as I AM pure of heart and I have a wish to make.

Article Review: Effects of Songs With Prosocial Lyrics on Prosocial Thoughts, Affect, and Behavior

Theories, Methods, and Procedures

This study initially recalled research done pertaining to the measure of effect that media (specifically negative or violent media) has on behavior. For example, previous studies used the General Aggression Model (GAM) to determine whether violent video games led to aggression (Anderson & Bushman, 2002). Because correlational data was found to support the theory, using the GAM, a similar model to promote both violent and non-violent measures of effect due to media, called the General Learning Model (GLM), was created (Buckley & Anderson, 2006). At the time of the current study, that theory (GLM being a valid measure of prosocial media’s effects on the internal state of a participant, and whether that state then effects behavior) hadn’t been tested. The current study aimed to do so (Greitemeyer, 2009).

In addition, the current study used an experimental design to attempt to show that prosocial lyrics in music promote prosocial behaviors in participants. They did this in three experiments: one to measure increase in prosocial thoughts (a dependent variable, operationally defined as the number of prosocial words created via word fragments), one for increases in empathy (a dependent variable, operationally defined as the self-reported feelings for the author of two reviewed essays), and one for increases in action/behavior (a dependent variable, operationally defined by whether or not a P made a monetary donation). (Grietemeyer, 2009)

Experiment one sought to determine whether listening to prosocial lyrics, as opposed to neutral lyrics, would increase prosocial thoughts. Ps included 34 students (most of which were women) from a Germany university. Ps were randomly assigned to either the control or experimental conditions. In the control condition, participants listened to a neutral song, then completed a list of word fragments. They then answered two questions to control for the perceived prosocial content of the song they listened to. Ps in the experimental group did the same, with the only difference being the prosocial lyrics of the song. (Grietemeyer, 2009)

For experiment two, 38 students from a German university (again, mostly women) were asked to listen to a prosocial or neutral song, respective to which group they were randomly assigned to, after which they read two essays (which they were told were written by another, missing, participant). After reading these two essays, Ps were asked how they felt about towards the author with regards to sympathy, compassion, and soft-heartedness. The aim of this experiment was to determine the effects of prosocial music, as opposed to neutral, on empathy towards others. (Grietemeyer, 2009)

Experiment three sought to measure to what extent prosocial songs, as opposed to neutral ones, affected prosocial behavior. They did this by randomly assigning Ps (consisting of 90 German university students, most of which were female) to either the control group or the experimental group; differentiated again by whether they listened to prosocial or neutral songs. After listening to respective songs, Ps were offered the option to donate to a non-profit organization. After given two minutes during which they were left alone, participants were questioned about the perception of anything suspicious. (Grietemeyer, 2009)

In all three experiments, researchers controlled for possible confounding variables in a variety of ways. For example, in order to control for whether a song was understood to be neutral or prosocial, researchers used songs in two languages (one English, and one German song each for control and experimental groups in all three experiments), as well as questioned Ps about perceived level of prosocial content. This was done not only during the actual experiments, but also in a pilot study. Additionally, researchers controlled for mood and arousal during the pilot study by asking Ps to rate their level of arousal and how well they liked the song. This led to the song choice. Researchers also controlled for possible effects that liking a song might have on thoughts, feelings, and behavior. They did so by measuring liking via questions submitted to Ps. Finally, because all three experiments had a greater number of female Ps, researchers compared results from both sexes to control for any possible effects thereby. (Grietemeyer, 2009)

Results and Discussion

            In experiment one, researchers found, after controlling for possible sex differences, that Ps in the experimental condition (M = 0.21, SD = 0.11) completed word fragments with significantly more prosocial words than did Ps in the control group (M = 0.14, SD = 0.08), t(32) = 2.05, p < .05. This suggested that prosocial songs do have an effect on prosocial thoughts. (Grietemeyer, 2009)

In experiment two, researchers found, via 2×2 ANOVA (song type compared with essay story), that a main effect for type of song had occurred. In other words, Ps in the experimental group rated their feelings about the author as significantly more empathetic, regardless of the essay (F(1, 36) = 6.51, p < .05, n2 = .15). (Grietemeyer, 2009)

In experiment three, researchers found that Ps in the experimental group were significantly more likely to donate money than those in the control group (x2(1, N = 90) = 4.56, p < .05). They reported that 53% of the experimental group donated, while only 31% of the control group donated. This suggested that prosocial songs do have an effect on prosocial behaviors. (Grietemeyer, 2009)

Researchers mentioned that while the hypotheses were supported in the sense that there was a significant difference in prosocial thoughts, feelings, and behaviors between experimental and control groups, the current study did not allow for an understanding of why the changes occurred. There was no way of knowing whether the changes were due to changes in the Ps’ internal states; there was no way to know what the exact cause of the change is cognitively. As such, researchers suggested that a measure of internal processes be taken in addition to the explicit measures used in this study.  (Grietemeyer, 2009)

Suggestions for further research include examining whether prosocial songs (and media in general) not only instigate prosocial thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but whether they also serve to decrease aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Another suggested study for future research is that of long-term effects of media on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; the current study only looked at the short-term effects of prosocial media. (Grietemeyer, 2009)    

Reflection

            When reading this article, I was first drawn, naturally, to the claims made at the beginning of the results of the GAM. I am very wary of the aggression by way of violent video games claim. However, as a basis for additional studies, and as long as the measure is, in fact, reliable and valid, I can muscle my way through the irritation. The claims that correlational studies show cause and effect (i.e., violent video games promote aggression based on a correlational study), frustrates me excessively; far more than playing video games does. I found myself overly critical of the steps used to get through the justification of the research, however, knowing that this is not exactly the point, and agreeing that this research is necessary and has to start somewhere, I won’t dwell on these minor criticisms.

I had a few struggles with the actual measures used. As this study is was the beginning of a string of measures on prosocial songs’ effects on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, I understand that the research has to start somewhere, but in some instances I felt procedure could have been cleaned up a bit. For example, many of the questions asked to rate variables (e.g., the helpful or cooperative content of songs) seemed to prime responses from Ps. Another example of possible priming was the wording used at the end of experiment three, “Participants were told that it would be great if they would donate these 2 € but that it would be also fine if they did not donate. Upon saying this, the experimenter pointed at a box…. (Grietemeyer, 2009, p. 189)” If participants are all hearing the same spiel, regardless of which group they’re in, the priming becomes less of an issue. But I think it somewhat ironic that in a study where they are studying the effects of prosocial songs on prosocial behaviors, they’re using less neutral wording for the experimental procedure.

Another confounding variable may be the stories used in the essays. The subject matter is vague enough that it may have been something similar to an occurrence with a variety of Ps, which may have unknowingly caused the increase in empathy. Relationships and sports injuries are not unusual, after all. A similar confound may be in experiment one, with the use of word fragments. There are those who may not have chosen prosocial words because they don’t have a well-developed lexicon, or aren’t good at word games. Whether a person uses a word that holds prosocial meaning, doesn’t necessarily mean there is not prosocial content to their thoughts.

Typically, it is easier for me to find holes in other researchers’ methods, as I am far less creative than I am critical. That being said, I was unable to think of any other measures of prosocial thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I feel that there is little external validity in this particular study, though I would intuitively agree with the findings. Empirically, however, students at a German university, and mostly female no less, is not a widely generalizable sample. Researchers could use a more diverse group to collect data, however difficult that may be. Construct validity, for what they claimed to be attempting to measure, seemed to be relatively high, though I think the third experiment would have higher construct validity than the other two experiments. I think that internal validity is also dependent on the interpretation of the person reading the study, as the measures seem to be focusing on very specific definitions of prosocial thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. But this is why we have operational definitions. Certainly, in relation to the research cited in the introduction, this study uses comparable means of measuring results. Results which, I would be hard pressed to come up with a better way of interpreting. That being said, I would have very much liked to have seen a chart of numbers as an appendix; the numbers seemed jumbled and somewhat hard to keep straight.

Overall, I love the concept of this study. I think that it is useful, particularly as a jumping off point for attempting to show the benefits that media can provide. If researchers continue to follow the path set off on in this study, we can continue to further understand the implications of various media and their effects on us mentally, emotionally, and physically.

References

Anderson, C., & Bushman, B. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27-51.

Buckley, K., & Anderson, C. (2006). A theoretical model of the effects and consequences of playing video games. In P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (Eds.), Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences. (pp. 363-378). Mahway NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Grietemeyer, T. (2009). Effects of songs with prosocial lyrics on prosocial thoughts, affect, and behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 186-190.

It’s Just A Game… Right?

Story lines in media, whether it be video games, movies, or television, have become more complex. Webs being woven take more concentration, more awareness, and, in general, more cognitive functions to process. (Johnson, 2005) Video games are a great example of a media that motivates complex cognitive processes (Squire, 2005). 

Students learn in a variety of ways. Research in this field is so vast, that meta-analyses have been done just to make sense of all of the reported findings and styles (Cassidy, 2004). The Index of Learning Styles (ILS) is one such measure (Felder & Spurlin, 2005). Felder and Spurlin (2005) suggest two main uses for the ILS: to provide instructors with insight into how to address the learning styles of students who are struggling in the classroom, and to allow students to understand the implications of their own learning styles.

Because so many learning styles exist, educators must have a variety of tools at their disposal to be most effective. The presentation of information can be done in ways that students are already familiar with. For example, one study of over 1200 lower income students in Chile, found that video games, specifically designed to meet the material criteria for first and second grade students, significantly increased the amount of learning done in classrooms (Rosas et al., 2003).

Studies like this are popping up all over psychology. Rosas et al. (2003), also found that motivation for learning, as well as dynamics in the classroom, were significantly effected by the introduction of educational video games. Other studies have shown increases in social skills such as teamwork, self-expression, and the development of friendships, all via online game play (Cole & Griffiths, 2007).

If we are to afford students the best opportunities for learning, we must offer all the tools we have at our disposal. With the ever developing cognitive tasks required of us, rich and diverse technologies are needed. Video games are one such source of cognitive exercise, with which lessons may be learned, and students may be motivated to continue learning and growing.

References:

Cassidy, S. (2004). Learning styles: An overview of theories, models, and measures. Educational Psychology, 24, 419-444.

Cole, H., & Griffiths, M. (2007). Social interactions in massively multiplayer online role-playing gamers. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10, 575-583. doi:10.1089/cpb.2007.9988

Felder, R., & Spurlin, J. (2005). Applications, reliability, and validity of the index of learning styles. Int. J. Engng Ed, 21(1), 103-112.

Johnson, S. (2005). Everything bad for you is good. New York: Berkeley Publishing Group.

Rosas, R., Nussbaum, M., Cumsille, P., Marianov, V., Correa, M., Flores, P., … & Salinas, M. (2003). Beyond Nintendo: Design and assessment of educational video games for first and second grade students. Computers & Education, 40, 71-94.

Squire, K. (2005). Changing the game: What happens when video games enter the classroom? Innovate, 1(6). Retrieved from: http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=82

Video Games Have Feelings Too

 

As I begin this journey into “professional” blogging, it’s important to me that I set for myself a few standards; criteria which will help focus my blogging. My primary goal in this endeavor, is to share my love of gaming and psychology with the world. Secondarily, I enjoy analytical discussions about media and entertainment. And so I’m going to break down video games into little tiny pieces, much like Titchener did during the days of structuralism, and figure out why the games are so popular, what they’re saying, and what effect they might have one those playing them (and no, I’m NOT talking about Craig Anderson’s research on aggression…).

I will strive for one game analysis per week, at the very least one per every two weeks. I will provide research citations, and links where possible, to the information I use in my analysis.

I’m very excited about feedback, and would love to hear what you think! If you have a game you would like me to analyze, drop me a comment and let me know.

Okay, I think that’s just about everything! Here we go!!