Thursday, December 9, 2010

I am Featured! Huzzah!

I have been picked up by Lordkat of Lordkat.com
I will be posting all game related articles on there, but I will still use my blog for anything not related to games. I will also post updates for whenever I do write an article for Lordkat.com!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

World of Warcraft and the New Social Dynamic

World of Warcraft has over twelve million subscribers (“Subscriber Base Reaches 12 Million Worldwide” 1). The population of Azeroth is that of a small nation and it’s still receiving new immigrants daily, or are they refuges? Video games, after all, have always been thought of as a form of escapism, but how much escapism is in a game where the majority of game-play revolves around interacting with other people? These interactions aren’t always shallow either. People who first met on World of Warcraft have ended up forming lasting relationships and, in some cases, even marrying. While few people would think of games as the hobby of recluses and the socially inept anymore, how many people would be willing to believe that such strong relationships can be formed through a video game? Ignorance of the nuances of this trend could lead to turmoil between friends and family that could otherwise be avoided. That is why this growing form of social interaction can’t be ignored or defined by simple stereotypes any longer.

            This idea, that video games can spark and even nurture relationships, is an unusual idea even to people who play video games. The reason for this is that different games support different types of communication. Games that don't require as much time and dedication to play have a distinctly different social experience than those that do, like World of Warcraft, Second Life, etc. The latter games tend to have several features that encourage or require social interaction between individuals (player-ran markets/economies, guilds/groups, and dungeons/levels that require the collaborated effort of several people to complete). People tend to have interactions with the same people as a result of these factors. This provides the groundwork for people to get to know each other and do things together on a regular basis. This makes the idea of friendship sound possible, but how can this relate to face to face interaction?

         Dr. Mark Kline is a psychologist who writes articles for a website called The Escapist, a website devoted to the video game community as a whole. An individual recently sent an email asking why his parents seem to think it's impossible to have a deep, meaningful relationship when most of the interactions in said relationship take place over the internet or within a video game. In response, he said “I think you're absolutely right that people of your parents' generation (of whom am I probably one) have an instinctive discomfort with this. It seems inadequate and alien to us. How could you really know or trust someone who lives hundreds of miles away that you may have never met in person or in some cases never even laid eyes on? We are also constantly regaled with horror stories about pedophiles and murderers who find their victims through the internet. While these risks are real, and I certainly advise caution in developing online relationships with people you don't really know, I think they are highly over-emphasized by a media hungry for sensational lurid stories that attract a lot of eyeballs” (Kline 2). In another article, he stated that “Parents are naturally skeptical because they don't see how playing a game on the internet could really be "hanging out with your friends," but for growing numbers of kids, that's just what it is” (Kline 1). So, to a number of kids, meeting up with their friends after school in the city square of Stormwind (a major city in World of Warcraft), is no different than meeting up at the local Taco Bell.

     Then why not meet up at the local Dell Taco? What is the appeal of going to a video game for social interaction? What makes it unique? Mr. Kline remarks to an email “This is a nice statement about the tremendous benefits the internet and gaming can offer to people who find themselves isolated socially or geographically. You can find people elsewhere on this planet with whom you might have something in common and you can build meaningful and significant relationships with some of them“ (Kline 2). First off, people who meet while playing these video games already have something in common, the video game. This promise of common ground is very appealing to those who find it hard to find people who share their hobbies. It can also be appealing for those who have a history of hardships in relationships or suffer from anxiety, providing for them a comfortable environment to ease back into the social setting. It also provides an activity for friends and family to take part in when there is a great distance between them. 
 
          It wouldn't be fair to only focus on the positive aspects of this growing social trend. One of the most glaring flaws is that these long-distance forms of communication lack the subtle nuances of expression and verbal tone present in face to face interactions. Many gamers communicate verbally through programs like Vent out of the necessity of quick responses in dungeons, thus allowing for nuances in tone to be heard. Some games allow a player's avatar to portray simple expressions, but this can't replicate the depth of expressions produced by the human face and body. Another complaint is that video games don't provide the variety of activities available in close-distance relationships. After all, there are only so many ways you can kill a computer program. MMORPGS have this covered. Many MMORPGS are built around universes that are very deep and complex. This results in many MMORPGS having holidays, as the World of Warcraft Lunar Festival (“Events Calender” 1), fairs, and other events to provide a variety of activities for friends to enjoy. A creative group can even create their own events if they so wish.

      This trend will continue to gain momentum, but this isn't a bad thing. Indeed, this trend will provide several possibilities that were not as available previously, such as allowing our friends who live thousands mile away to stand right beside us as we battle goblins, gnolls, and gorgons. It would be a waste to look at this as intrinsically inferior to other social settings, and to avoid it outright. Instead it should be seen as a unique social setting, with unique advantages and disadvantages. We should take advantage of all the possibilities this new social avenue provides us. Now raiding the Icecrown Citadel (“World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King” 1), can stand alongside grabbing lunch at Denny's and going to see the Dodgers as something to be enjoyed by friends and family, strengthening relationships and sparking new friendships. 
 
Works Cited

n.p. “World of Warcraft Subscriber Base Reaches 12 Million Worldwide” http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/press/pressreleases.html?101007. Blizzard, Oct 7, 2010. Web.
Kline, Mark. “Ask Dr. Mark #2”. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/ask-dr-mark/7747-Ask-Dr-Mark-2.2 . Escapist Magazine, 1 Jul 2010. Web.
Kline, Mark “Ask Dr. Mark #8”. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/ask-dr-mark/8147-Ask-Dr-Mark-8 . Escapist Magazine. 23 September 2010. Web.
n.p. “World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King”. http://www.wowwiki.com/World_of_Warcraft:_Wrath_of_the_Lich_King. WowWiki, n. d. Web.
n.p. “Events Calender”. http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/info/events/calendar/. World of Warcraft. n.d.

Cigarette Smoking and Mental Illness: A Casual Relationship?

Issue: Is the evidence sufficient to conclude that there is a casual relationship between cigarette smoking and the onset of mental illness symptoms?

Research: Forty-one percent of individuals with a current mental disorder are smokers, as compared to the 22 percent of people who have never been diagnosed with a mental disorder (Lasser 2000). People with a mental illness are more likely to be heavy smokers, consuming a pack of cigarettes per day or more (Lasser 2000). People who have been diagnosed with multiple mental disorders have higher rates of smoking and smoke more heavily than people with fewer mental disorders (Lasser 2000). Forty-four percent of all cigarettes smoked in the United States are consumed by people with one or more mental disorders (Lasser 2000). The lifetime prevalence of developing major depression is strongly linked to the number of cigarettes consumed (Breslau &others, 1993, 1998; Kendler, Neale, & others, 1993b). People who smoke a pack of cigarettes or more per day have a 50 percent chance of experiencing major depression, while nonsmokers have about a 17 percent chance. Three separate studies focusing on adolescents fond that cigarette smoking predicted the onset of depressive symptoms, rather than the other way around (Goodman & Capitman, 2000; Ohayon, 2007; Windle & Windle, 2001; Wu & Anthony, 1999). In a study of patients with bipolar disorder, the prevalence and severity of cigarette smoking predicted the severity of psychotic symptoms during manic episodes (Corvin & others, 2001). A positive association was found between smoking and the severity of symptoms experienced by people with anxiety disorders (McCabe & others, 2004). In a study of people with schizophrenia, 90 percent of the patients had started smoking before their illness began (Kelly & McCreadie, 1999). This suggests that in vulnerable people, smoking may precipitate a person's initial schizophrenic episode.
Application: If both premises were accepted, that cigarettes were smoked to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, but they in turn exasperated the symptoms themselves, then we are presented with a vicious spiral. People with mental disorders are more likely to smoke to alleviate anxiety and to relax, but they are in fact worsening future trauma caused by the mental disorders, while also putting them at risk for other disorders. Is the evidence sufficient though? Most of the evidence simply shows that smoking cigarettes followed the onset of mental disorder or visa versa. They don't show how smoking alleviates the symptoms or how it exasperates them, the physiological effects of smoking. I'm afraid that claiming the this particular group of evidence shows a casual relationship between smoking and the onset of mental illness will be committing the post hoc fallacy.

Conclusion: I do not believe that the evidence provided is sufficient to prove a casual relationship, as most of the evidence simply shows a correlation between smoking and the onset of mental illness symptoms, but not how smoking relates to the onset of mental illness symptoms.

Bibliography:
Lasser, Karen; Boyd, J. Wesley; Woolhandler, Steffie; Himmelstein, David U.; McCormick, Danny; & Bor, David H. . (2000) Smoking and mental illness: A population-based prevalence study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 284, 2606-2610
Breslau, Naomi; Kilbey, M. Marlyne; & Andreski, Patricia (1993). Nicotine dependence and major depression: New evidence from a prospective investigation. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 31-35.
Kendler, Kenneth S.; Neale, Michael C.; MacLean, Charles J.; Heath, A.C.; Eaves, L. J., & Kessler, R.C. (1993). Smoking and major depression: A casual analysis. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 36-43.
Goodman, Elizabeth; & Capitman, John. (2000). Depressive symptoms and cigarette smoking among teens. Pediatric,106, 748 – 755.
Ohayon, Maurice M. (2007, April – June). Epidemiology of depression and its treatment in the general population. Journal of Psychiatry Research, 41(3-4), 207-213.
Windle, Michael; & Windle, Rebecca C. (2001). Depressive symptoms and cigarette smoking among middle adolescents: Prospective association and intrapersonal and interpersonal influences. Journals of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 215 – 226.
Wu, Li-Tzy & Anthony, James C. (1999). Tobacco smoking and depressed mood in late childhood and early adolescence. American Journal of Public Health, 89, 1837-1840.
Corvin, Aiden; O'Mahony, Ed; O'Regan, Myra; Comerford, Claire; O'Connel; Craddock, Nick; & Gill, Michael. (2001). Cigarette smoking and psychotic symptom in bipolar affective disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 179, 35-38.
McCabe, Randi E. ; Chudzik, Susan M.; Antony, Martin M.; Young, Lisa; Swinson, Richard P.; & Zolvensky, Michael J. (2004). Smoking behaviors across disorders, Anxiety Disorders, 18, 7-18.
Kelly, Ciara; & McCreadie, Robin (1999). Smoking habits, current symptoms, and premorbids characteristics of schizophrenia patient in Nithsdale, Scotland. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 1751-1757.

Truman Show Review


The Truman Show is not a comedy. It may seem like a comedy, with its jokes and its pratfalls, but is really a psychological thriller. This is a large scale and elaborate Skinner's Box, with our Truman as the pigeon. Everything has been structured, planned, and scheduled. From his job to his sex life, everything has been planned for Truman to follow. The worst part? Society, like a bunch of perverse voyeurs, tunes in day after day to see this man run around the maze that has been set for him. Now you may think that I'm engaging in hyperbole, but consider this. As a way to stop him from escaping, they've conditioned him to be so traumatized by the sight of open water that he can't even make his way across a small bridge. How did they do this? The director, a Mr. Christof, had his “father” die in a boating accident with young Truman in the same boat! We are dealing with some severely sadistic people, or so it seems.

The lead role of Truman (his first name is Truman), is played by Jim Carrey, a man who can quite easily snuggle himself in the upper lip of the uncanny valley. While not being uncomfortable to watch, there is something surreal about most of his performances that don't seem quite human. This works to his great advantage in this film. The awkward sterility and artificiality of the town is accentuated by Truman's not-quite-normal mannerisms. It's quite brilliant. It's really hard to criticize him for behaving in any way that might seem artificial since the whole world he inhabits is artificial. It could be equated to his reactionary development as he grew up in this city. He does manage to keep his manic energy under control, at least to the extent that he can manage. This is one of his more sublime performances.

A man who easily combats Mr. Carrey for the spotlight however is Ed Harris as the director, Mr. Christof. He plays the role as a subtle intellectual, a private and introverted individual. He ends up being something of an antithesis to Truman. While Mr. Christof is presented as a very private, introverted, and controlling individual, Truman is forced to develop into a much more extroverted individual, with no hopes of privacy and little to no control over his life. He pulls off the role of a puppet-master brilliantly, but manages the almost impossible task of being human too. We get a sense that he honestly cares, even loves Truman as a child of his. He represents the theme of the controlling parent, wishing to construct the perfect world for their child while robbing said child of all freedom. Spiting his curiosity and pushing him to accept the status-quo presented to him, but doing so all out of love. Misguided, obsessive, controlling love, but love. Every moment he's on screen you feel the tension brewing inside this man, and it's quite infectious. Ed Harris was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for his performance.

The plot of The Truman Show is a bit of a mixed bag. While the final scenes of Truman losing his wits are gripping, suspenseful, oddly comedic, and all that jazz, the 'coincidences' that spark his curiosity are contrived. These string of events, from a prop light falling from the sky, to the set falling apart, to the radio signal getting intercepted by Truman's car stereo, all come off as exceedingly forced. My suspension of disbelief was stretched severely thin when they presented these coincidences as freak accidents and not the meddling of some 'freedom fighter' or something. While it might be acceptable if these events happened over a series of several years, these seem to happen within weeks or even days of each other. Did their set technicians go on strike? Admittedly, it becomes harder and harder to hold onto these gripes as the film progresses. I'd lie though if I said I wasn't gripping my chair during the finale, a great show down of wits and determination.

The Truman Show is a classic that deserves watching. It's an 'art film' without being an acquired taste. It is an intellectual mainstream film, a crowning achievement in my opinion. Is it perfect? Not at all. I don't think, however, that perfection is the most important factor of a classic anyway. The Truman Show has the originality, thematic depth, and subtle performances that provides new discoveries upon each viewing. It also defies genre, and in that appeals to fans of several genres. You get a comedic film, a psychological 'art film', an action thriller, and few subtle hints of a romance all mixed into a wonderful casserole. You can shovel spoonful after spoonful, or accept the subtle nuances of flavor and still enjoy it either way.