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This is my second blog, which has now turned into a series, and while not entirely videogame related, it is inspired by the recent studies and research which have been hitting the front page and various cblogs. I do not claim that any of these studies in particular are well researched nor poorly researched, and am using them more as an example of what to look for when you decide whether a study is believable or not. The main aim of this blog is to look at how to better critique studies and the questions to ask yourself so you can get a better idea what the study is about or where the holes are. For those of you who have done any critical appraisal of scientific papers, a lot of this stuff will be old hat.

This became quite long as I was writing it, so I'm splitting it up into more managable chunks. I don't really want too many tl;dr comments, or wall of text images.

The first part was 'What is the study trying to say, and what does it actually say??'. Now on to the second part.



How do they come to that conclusion??

Inference is the biggest problem when it comes to studies, but the fact remains that correlation is not the same as causation. Just because we can show Nature Park use has decreased as Videogame use has increased does not in fact make them linked.

To take this type of argument to rediculous levels we merely have to pick other things that have been in a constant state of decline or increase since the late 80's. Maybe we could pick AIDS cases in the US, they have been on the increase over a similar time period to what was studied in the Nature Park study. By using the Nature Park logic, we could say that AIDS cases have decreased peoples interest in Nature Parks, or as per the title of this blog, that videogames caused AIDS. Clearly this is unlikely.

Unfortunately, I can only find the abstract to this study, but this is the sort of science that strikes me as non-science. It appears the authors have come into this knowing that nature park attendance is down, formulated some ideas about why it might be, and then developing a questionnaire that 'surprisingly' found exactly what they were looking for. You don't need to be overly intelligent to figure out that videogames or TV watching have increased since the late 80's. If they want to prove this is the cause they need to show a distinct difference between those who played videogames and those who didn't with respect to Nature Park attendance rates. In fact the abstract concludes, all major lines of evidence point to an ongoing and fundamental shift away from nature-based recreation. That is all that has actually been shown.

Unfortunately this now needs to go a little bit into study methods, and types of study, I'll try to make it brief. The best type of study is to take a group of people and split them randomly into two groups, a randomised controlled trial. Due to randomisation, all traits should be similar except for the factor you're trying to control, in this case videogame play vs no videogame play, and then follow these people for a set amount of time, and measure the factor you're interested in, Nature Park attendence. Unfortunately, it is not ethical to do these sort of studies on people, as they generally like to decide for themselves whether or not to play video games.

So we have to fall back on statistically worse studies, which do not correct as well for confounding variables. These are variables that are closely linked to the variable being studied (and not necessarily obviously), which may confuse results. Examples being race and socioeconomic status, or smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. These studies are called longitudinal studies. These can either by prospective or retrospective.

In the Nature Park study, they have taken a group of people, and followed them over a period of time collecting information at various points, which is a prospective study. Prospective studies are limited by the way the questionairre is originally set up, prior to the years it will run. If for instance half way through the study period, Hologram Nature Park 2010 came out, making faux Nature Park attendence easy and affordable, and driving real Nature Park business down, you can not just add it into the questionairre as it skews all the results you have collected from previous periods. This is why a lot of studies have pilot studies first. There is also the issue of people knowing what you are studying and modifying their own behaviour. An example would be during a dietary or exercise study, people generally exercise more or eat a better diet in an attempt to please the researcher.

The final study design is retrospective studies, which are worse again than prospective studies. These are studies in which the researcher looks back over time attempting to establish causality from past events. This is where the a lot of the school shooters 'statistics' come from. In particular, it seems a lot of these people have played videogames. This highlights one of the main problems with retrospective studies, researchers can find exactly what they're looking for and generally these are the sort of studies used to further ones own agenda. If we take American adolescents as a population, most studies tend to agree on a figure of around 80-90% of adolecents have exposure to a videogame system. Is it really that surprising that the school shooters have mostly played them?? This is like looking retrospectively and saying, hang on a minute, these shooters mostly ate meat, meat must cause you to become violent, ban meat. Or the most obvious connection, all of these shooters attended school.

Again, this has become more unwieldly than I originally thought, I'll finish this part here, we'll start again tomorrow (or maybe the next day) with the question where does the information come from??

I hope this isn't getting too boring for you all, I appreciate those of you who took the time to read it.








This is my second blog and while not entirely videogame related, it is inspired by the recent studies and research which have been hitting the front page and various cblogs. I do not claim that any of these studies in particular are well researched nor poorly researched, and am using them more as an example of what to look for when you decide whether a study is believable or not. The main aim of this blog is to look at how to better critique studies and the questions to ask yourself so you can get a better idea what the study is about or where the holes are. For those of you who have done any critical appraisal of scientific papers, a lot of this stuff will be old hat.

This became quite long as I was writing it, so I'm splitting it up into more managable chunks. I don't really want too many tl;dr comments, or wall of text images.



What is the study trying to say, and what does it actually say??

This is the easiest and most obvious question to answer, so we'll deal with it first, generally this should be obvious from the conclusions area of the study. The second part, and more important part of this question, is what does the person quoting the study say?? Do they present the findings as they were found, or are they bending the findings to their own ends and adding leaps of logic to make the findings fit the story??

By way of example, a random member of the public, we'll call him JT, may start claiming that brain scans show increased violence among people exposed to violent games. However, looking at the conclusions of fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies shows us videogame players brains are similar during engaging in a violent encounter in a videogame to those of a brain imagining a violent situation. Other brain scans conclude inhibitions and concentration are decreased over the short term following playing violent videogames vs playing nonviolent videogames.

While it could be infered that violence could come as a result of these findings, it is also easy to infer that these findings do not show increased violence rates. In the first example, this is similar to saying those people watching pornography when put into a fMRI scanner, would show similar patterns of brain function to people thinking about sex. Jumping the next step to say these people are potential rapists is obviously further than we would naturally take this argument (although historically, this was not always the case).

Similarly lacking inhibitions and concentration does not necessarily increase levels of violence, and this study has not looked at long term effects, this study has only looked at the short term. In fact the 2006 paper even asserts that the current experiment does not prove whether the rehearsal of such a mechanism can promote aggressive behavior in real life. Any conclusions from this study that extend beyond the short term are not shown by this study, for example, if JT was to tell you that, based on this study, playing CounterStrike 4 years ago would make you a violent person, he's infering something that has not been shown. Which brings me on to the next question which I will post about tomorrow, if anyone is still interested.

That is, how did they come to these conclusions??

Please note, I am unable to tell whether these are in fact the Brain Scan studies that are referenced, as our noble friend will not provide us with links to the articles. I also know I've only got one paper actually linked here, but I couldn't find the other one that is talked about in the New Scientist story. Like I said originally, I'm not out to prove studies right or wrong, just to help people go through the motions to decide for themselves what to believe or not.








This is my first blog, and I'm trying to embed a video, so it may well be my second blog as well if I can't figure out how to get it to work.



The above video is a trailer for a new documentary Second Skin by Pure West Films. A film company previously filming not-for-profit and industrial films, and now turning their sights to a feature length documentary. It premieres as part of the South by Southwest Film Festival this year around March for those of you who live over that way.

I'm sure it will hit close to home for a few of you. Or at least close to a home you once knew. The film is essentially a year in the life of 7 MMORPGers and the way that the game impacts on their lives outside as well as inside the virtual world, it focuses on the communities, identities and economies that are built, but also the negative aspects of these games. It appears to focus mostly on WoW, and why not?? Blizzard has recently claimed to have over 10 million active accounts. But the film also touches on other MMO's including 2 people who have fallen in love on Everquest 2, and are about to meet for the first time.

Highlights of the trailer for me are the cuts between the players and their avatars, and how they somehow seem to make them both look similar, I guess it's kind of like people and their pets. I admire the hardcore determination of the guy who falls asleep at his computer, then wakes up and keeps on playing and the guy who says 'Forget dinner, lets just do this, this is fun'. And finally the couple who fall in love. 'It was just a little in game flirtation.' Am I the only one who doubts the integrity of any man who has 'just a little in game flirtation' with female avatars?? He wanted to bone you lady!

Personally I've never played WoW, but not due to the fact that I don't understand the appeal, more because I understand the appeal all too well. I started playing MUD's actively in the early 90's. These are basically text based MMO's to everyone who is too young to remember them. Back from when the internet couldn't stream things all too well, and most people were on a dial up connection.

From there I moved onto Asheron's Call shortly after it was released in 1999, which was one of the early MMORPG's along with Everquest. I played on the PVP server Darktide, and was totally addicted for about a year, managing to maintain a reasonably high level mage. Somehow I also managed to hold my university degree together, but my relationship with my then girlfriend fell apart, I can't attribute it all to AC, but I don't think it helped the situation. I left AC when grinding, XP-chains and hacks had ruined the fun for me. Luckily, this set me up to resist the urges of jumping into WoW when it happened, and although I once installed EVE thats as close as I've got to actually playing one since.

Enough about my history, I'm looking forward to Second Skin. Documentary's are one of my favorite genres, and when I can combine that with gaming, everythings coming up win. I'm not necessarily expecting this to top King of Kong: Fist Full of Quarters, but I do expect to be entertained none the less.

For anyone who is interested in a little more about the film, here's a link to an interview with the filmmakers.

Thanks for reading.