Anxiety Therapy and Video Games

“A team of students and faculty from Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College is designing and building a groundbreaking computer game to help young people improve their everyday skills in self-control.”
Nexus 10 biofeedback unit

“The use of physiological controllers in a personalized game platform allows us to help our patients help themselves in a new way,” says Dr. Laurence Sugarman, director of the Center for Applied Psychophysiology and Self-Regulation in RIT’s College of Health Sciences and Technology.

RIT game design and development students Ivy Ngo, Kenneth Stewart and John McDonald will work under the supervision of Sugarman; Stephen Jacobs, associate professor of RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media; and Robert Rice, assistant professor at St. John Fisher College’s Mental Health Counseling Program.

The game starts with assessments that help the players learn about and describe their anxieties and repetitive behavior by turning the players into game characters. Using physiological sensors that are built into the game hardware, players then learn how to monitor the physiological manifestations of anxiety and stress, or what is commonly called their fight or flight response. Finally, the players use those same sensors as controllers to move themselves through the game by monitoring and controlling their characters and the stress responses they represent.

“The game was inspired by clients and will involve client input and feedback throughout the development process,” says Rice.

Sugarman says games involving physiological health are newly emerging, yet none combines aspects of assessment, cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback in a creative and customizable setting. This game allows a unique extension of the therapist’s role that provides a fun, engaging platform for therapeutic change, while collecting data on psychophysiological change.

Mind Media B.V. has also generously loaned, at no cost, the NeXus-10 Biofeedback hardware and Biotrace software used in this project,” says Sugarman.
Aug. 18, 2011
Scott Bureau @

Career Colleges, Toxic Choices

From a Seattle Times editorial:

For-profit colleges have successfully marketed a compelling story in which they star front and center as benevolent purveyors of the American dream through education and gainful employment.

The reality is the complete opposite. Former students testified before a U.S. Senate oversight committee this month about exorbitant tuition costs and unfulfilled promises of good jobs. One student spoke of completing a program in video-game design and ending up in the video games section of a Toys R Us.

Seattle Times: March 27, 2011

Gameduino: an Arduino game adapter

Very intriguing … I’ll bet people do some cool stuff with this technology!

Gameduino connects your Arduino to a VGA monitor and speakers, so anyone who can write an Arduino sketch can create video games. It’s packed full of 8-bit game goodness: hundreds of sprites, smooth scrolling, multi-channel stereo sound.

Gameduino is designed, tested, documented and the prototype is built. The videos were all taken from the real hardware — all the demos are on the Gameduino project page.

What needs to happen next is a manufacturing run. Because the board uses a fairly fancy chip, a short production run is the only way to keep the cost reasonable. Your pledge gets you a Gameduino from this first run.

With a horde of Gameduinos in kitchens, garages and classrooms, the resulting old-school 2D mayhem should be considerable.

Gameduino is open-source hardware (BSD license) and all its code is GPL licensed.

So are you that kind of person? Does the Gameduino look insanely cool, and you’re already daydreaming about the games you’ll create? Then go make a pledge!

Via Slashdot.

Game (Life): Video Games in Contemporary Art

I have been saying for years that games are — or ought to be — Art with a capital A.

For a long time, I seemed to be the only one; but happily that’s changing ….

Game (Life): Video Games in Contemporary Art

Game (Life): Video Games in Contemporary Art
December 18, 2009 – February 13, 2010
Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts
Burlington, Vermont

Featured Artists:

Video games have emerged as our culture’s dominant form of popular entertainment, eclipsing both music and cinema. Lacking structured narratives, morally ambiguous, and oblivious to geo-political boundaries, the rise of video game culture is set to transform our notions of identity and location, blurring boundaries between the real and the un-real. Game(Life) transforms the gallery into a functioning video arcade. More than a dozen provocative and reflective works by contemporary artists and independent game designers from around the world engage visitors in play, exploration and confront questions of political activism, pacifism, violence, emotional resonance and beauty in gaming environments.

In collaboration with Champlain College’s Game Design program.

Firehouse Gallery @ Burlington City Arts

Via Burlington Free Press.

See also Game Design @ Champlain College

Keita Takahashi: playground designer

Game designer Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy, is consulting on the design of a children’s playground in England:

The iconoclastic and much-loved game designer is spending a month in Nottingham where he will consult school children, local communities and the NCC Landscape Architect to discuss and develop ideas for the playground.

Councillor Dave Trimble, Portfolio Holder for Leisure, Culture & Customers at Nottingham City Council said, “We’re delighted to have Takahashi-san on board and very much looking forward to working with him on this unique collaboration.”

After considering several sites NCC has selected Woodthorpe Grange Park for the Takahashi-created playground. The site’s natural rolling hills may add to the design and enable some interesting and playful landscapes.

Takahasi has often made comparisons between game design and architecture, and certainly there are parallels to be drawn between play areas and games – they’re both constructed environments designed to enclose, direct and facilitate enjoyment. But could he be starting a new trend? What would happen if more designers took his lead?

Via Keith Stuart @ The Guardian, who adds:
Katamari Quake

I think Id could knock up a cool, if rather dangerous, Quake-themed adventure playground – all multi-levelled enclosures and trampoline jump points. And how about a Super Monkey Ball one, in which kids are bundled into huge hamster balls and allowed to explore at will?

I’m down with it — Quake that playground!

(Digression: I remember Half-Life Two, there’s an abandoned playground in City-17 … you can spin the spinning-alphabet toys and the merry-go-round … now that was some fine game design, very poignant scene, childhood memories transported into a desolate future.)

In other British playground news:

Council bans parents from play areas

Score one for Britain in its contest with the United States to create the stupidest fear-based society. The Watford Borough Council took the lead by banning parents from supervising their own kids in public playgrounds, “because they have not undergone criminal record checks.”

The only adults allowed to monitor the kids are idiocracy-vetted “play rangers.” The children’s parents must “watch from outside a perimeter fence.”

Mark Frauenfelder @ BoingBoing

Game violence as positive reinforcer

Over at Gamasutra (“Kill Polygon, Kill”), game designer Noah Falstein offers some interesting comments about the usefulness of violent videogames:Re-Mission

I contributed to the ReMission game from Hopelab — fairly violent 3rd person shooter. But the violence is directed against cancer cells and bacteria, and the game is proven to help kids with cancer stick to their treatment regiments — so it makes for a good example when people tell me they wish they could ban violent videogames. And for the record, I think the violence in ReMission is part of what makes the “take your chemo drugs” message stick with them.

Noah Falstein @ Gamasutra


Shadow Physics

This is very, very cool — a platform game in three-dee space using shadows to represent player and platforms …

Shadow Physics

The above screenshot demonstrates a scenario with two light sources. Note the two shadows for the player character: these two shadows move in tandem, are blocked in tandem, and solve puzzles in tandem. The shadows in the screenshot are jumping; the shadow on the left is blocked.

A remarkable accomplishment by developers Steve Swink and Scott Anderson — bravo!

Via YouTube:

Steve Swink and Scott Anderson demo their shadow platforming game, Shadow Physics, at Sense of Wonder Night 2009 (Tokyo Game Show).

While Steve does do game design at Blurst/Flashbang, Shadow Physics is an entirely independent side project. More information will soon be available at

Gamers are more aggressive to strangers

According to a recent study of gaming and aggression:

Victorious gamers enjoy a surge of testosterone – but only if their vanquished foe is a stranger. When male gamers beat friends in a shoot-em-up video game, levels of the potent sex hormone plummeted.

This suggests that multiplayer video games tap into the same mechanisms as warfare, where testosterone’s effect on aggression is advantageous.

Against a group of strangers – be it an opposing football team or an opposing army – there is little reason to hold back, so testosterone’s effects on aggression offer an advantage.

“In a serious out-group competition you can kill all your rivals and you’re better for it,” says David Geary, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia, who led the study.

However, when competing against friends or relatives to establish social hierarchy, annihilation doesn’t make sense. “You can’t alienate your in-group partners, because you need them,” he says.

Ewen Callaway @ New Scientist

Via Slashdot.

Colin Northway on Game Design

Fantastic Contraption

At the Austin Indie Summit, game designer Colin Northway — author of the remarkable Fantastic Contraption — outlined several key principles for aspiring designers:

1. Make your game in Flash

Northway draws a fine distinction between ‘Flash games’ (games where you “launch kitties into a spiky thing”) and ‘games written in Flash’, but he’s an evangelist for the platform more than anything because “the content discovery problem has been solved” compared to consoles, the iPhone, etc. Forums, emails, all pre-existing internet communities will do the work of keeping your game’s name in front of other people, whereas, say, with the iPhone, “making money is hard to do if Apple doesn’t spray the money hose on you.”

2. Make your game “live online”

3. Leverage “pride based marketing”

4. Make a free game that gives players ‘a tote bag’ if they pay

Via Offworld.