Tag Archives | functions

Anyone for Tonsil Tennis?

This is pretty cool I guess. The idea is that your partner “helps you” to play a video game by letting you snog them in different ways (while you’re looking at a computer screen and therefore not really paying attention).

It’s a bit gross, but it’s still a novel idea, so have a look:

What’s the mechanic here?

The Kiss Controller interface has two components: a customized headset that functions as a sensor receiver and a magnet that provides sensor input. The user affixes a magnet to his/ her tongue with Fixodent. Magnetic field sensors are attached to the end of the headset and positioned in front of the mouth. As the user moves her tongue, this creates varying magnetic fields that are used to control games.

We demonstrate the Kiss Controller bowling game. One person has a magnet on his/her tongue and the other person wears the headset. While they kiss, the person who has the magnet on his/her tongue, controls the direction and speed of the bowling ball for 20 seconds. The goals of this game are to guide the ball so that it maintains an average position in the center of the alley and to increase the speed of the ball by moving the tongue faster while kissing.

And what’s the point?

I literally do not know. If I were the developers I’d have focused on highlighting their innovative technique to use the tongue as an input device: it’s the most dexterous muscle in the body and it’s use is often one of the few remaining facilities among paralytics.

Can’t this be a remote control for wheelchairs or similar, rather than a Wii Sports ripoff? Come on guys…

More details here: Kiss Controller.

Top 60 Jobs That Will Rock the Future

Here’s a total re-blog of some interesting thoughts from Get Degrees.
It’s lifted wholesale from their article Top 60 Jobs That Will Rock the Future:

We know where the jobs are now… but where will they be ten years from now? Twenty? Some job descriptions will always be in need, but many others are evolving to fit the ever-changing course of technology and science. When the future of employment comes, will you be ready? Read on for some ideas of what to expect:

HEALTH CARE

1.Medical Roboticist

New technology is doing amazing things for medical patients these days, especially in the world of robotics. We aren’t quite at a Six-Million Dollar Man level yet – but we’re getting awfully close. From physical therapy exoskeletons to new and improved forms of prosthetic attachments, science-minded individuals will be needed to help develop medical technology that is better, stronger, and faster than it ever was before.

2.Genetic Counselor

As genetics continues to be fine-tuned, doctors will be able to run tests to predict all manner of markers and conditions. Genetic counselors have the job of helping families make decisions about their future children in regards to available genetic technologies. At the present, according to MSNBC, “about 2,000 counselors are recognized by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.” As technology improves and becomes more widespread, expect the need for counselors to grow right along with it.

3.Respiratory Therapist

The atmosphere isn’t what it used to be. Between congested highways, the pollutants of industry, and just plain old stress doing a number on our bodies, respiratory problems like asthma are rapidly on the rise. Under these conditions, it comes as no surprise that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting an extremely good job outlook for respiratory therapists. Practitioners and technicians from varying levels of training will be needed increasingly to help future generations breathe well against all odds.

4.Bioinformatician

Whenever new terrain is charted, maps must be drafted to document and understand the new discoveries. Not only is this true in geography, but in biology as well. As genomic and molecular research continues to intensify over the years, the science community will need plenty of young bioinformatics majors to map, analyze, create 3-D models of and compare DNA and protein structures – hopefully resulting in better understanding and treatment of genetics in the future.

5.Stem Cell Researcher

Stem cell research has been a controversial topic since the day it started gaining plausible ground, entrenched in a war of progress and ethics. Still, science finds a way. Already, researchers may have found an alternative to embryonic stem cells that may put the ethical battle to rest. If this is the case, more researchers than ever will be needed to develop cures for diseases, genetic enhancements, and whatever other secrets these cells may hold.

6.Custom Implant Organ Designer

It wasn’t so long ago when organ transplants were the stuff of science-fiction novels. Now human ears are growing on mice for science, mouse brain cells are growing within robots for art, and the next wave of scientists are using gel-suspended cell cultures to draw custom-made organs for implants from scratch. When it comes to biomedical engineering, the sky is the limit, and young ingenious scientists are needed all the time to keep on searching for the next big breakthrough.

7.Massage Therapist

City populations only get more and more crowded as time goes on, and stresses will only increase as towering office jobs become more prevalent and intense. But you have the power not only to do something about it, but to get paid doing it. As the economy levels out and city life stresses become more compact, look for the already booming massage therapy industry to go through the roof.

8.Nurse

As necessary as nurses are, it may stand to reason that we will never run out of nurses…but actually, that is exactly what is happening. According to the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN), our country is “in the midst of a nursing shortage that is expected to intensify as baby boomers age and the need for health care grows.” Nurses will only be more in demand as time goes on, and it’s a profession that will never go out of style.

9.Home Health Care Aide

An entire generation is getting older, and it’s a big one. As the Baby Boomers start to collectively reach senior citizenship, home health care aids will be in hot demand to help elderly folks continue to live at home with dignity, assisting with chores and care and providing valuable company.

10.Pharmacist

Another classic. Just as the rising collective age of Americans is leading to a need for more health care workers, the same thing is also leading to a need for more prescription drugs and those who know how to prescribe them. In addition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a growing number of pharmacies are starting to offer on-site diagnoses and patient care, stretching the amount of skilled and well-trained pharmacists needed. The demand for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians is expected to rise by over 30% in the next decade.

11.Medical Records Administrator

What’s so high tech and futuristic about a medical records administration career? As a matter of fact: everything. The world of information is rapidly changing, and medical records are at the forefront with a huge push toward going digital. Once doomed to navigate halls of bulging paper files, the medical records administrators of the future will need to be tech-savvy and quick on the draw with digital databases, in a field where fast information recall can mean the difference between life and death.

12.Nutritionist

The United States is dealing with an obesity epidemic of epic proportions – it affects 32% of adults over 20, and leads to complications that add up to $147 billion a year in health care expenditure. Something has to be done, and a healthy diet is a great start. In addition to a growing need for nutritionists and dieticians to help combat obesity, there will be an increased need for nutritionists who can work with elderly patients on adjusting their diets to improve health in the face of age-linked conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

13.Dentist

Not so futuristic in theory, but certainly a perennial. No matter how far into the foreseeable future, we will always need our teeth – and we only get one natural set, so it pays to treat them well. Unfortunately, the dental profession is seeing a shortage as populations grow while the average age of dentists rises, with many dentists retiring faster than they can be replaced. That’s good news for new crops of prospective dentists, who will find themselves highly in demand.

SCIENCE and ENGINEERING

14.Space Tour Guide

When the time comes for space travel, tourism will be there at the forefront, giving the wealthy and the curious a taste of the exotic. But who will narrate the tours and bring the majestic vistas of outer space to life? You, if you become a space tour guide. It’s not as far off as some might think – multimedia mogul Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism venture is already garnering some serious financial backing – so anyone interested would do well to start brushing up on their public speaking skills.

15.Robotics Technician

From precision factory work to precision surgery, a robot’s place in society is growing every day. Of course, skilled workers are needed to tend to robots: to build them, maintain them, and keep them running smoothly. Well-versed in both sturdy classic machinery and cutting-edge technology, technicians of the future will play an important part in greasing the gears that keep the world turning.

16.Nanotechnologist

True, science is expanding – moving ever outward with space probes and grand robotic and architectural creations – but it is contracting just as surely. Nanotechnology is the study of matter on a molecular scale: manipulating individual atoms, building structures by the nanometer. It’s a fairly new practice where sciences are concerned, due mostly to it previously being physically impossible, but scientists predict it to have possible applications ranging widely from medicine to electronics and even new forms of energy production.

17.Simulation Engineer

Advanced 3D technology is improving everyday (already movies are a far cry from the headache-inducing red/blue lenses of yesteryear), and it shouldn’t take long for holographic and other simulation-based technologies to follow suit. According to UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering dean Frieder Seible, in an interview with MSNBC, “simulation will be in every industry and every engineering field.” The age of full-size interactive holodecks is coming, and Physics and Comp-Sci whizzes will be at the helm of it all.

18.Energy Resources Engineer

Where does our energy come from? Mostly from electricity and oil, but perhaps not for long. As global concern over environmental issues grows, a race is on to create new major sources of energy. New engineers with fresh outlooks are greatly needed to help develop more effective wind turbines, more compact solar panels, safer atomic fission, and the next big thing in energy production.

19.Aerospace Engineer

While MIR and our probes are impressive, our country’s space program has by and large stalled for quite some time. Where will you be when it starts up again? It’s only a matter of time before thoughts turn once again toward exploring the great frontier of space, trekking to new planets and seeking out new life and civilizations – and with the right engineering degree, you could be the one to design the craft that makes it all possible.

20.Biorefinery Plant Manager

A huge talking point of the last presidential election was the potential of biofuels as a valid replacement for our finite sources of petroleum. From corn-based to grain-based ethanol, biomass technology has become a formidable opponent to our current fuel situation. If efforts continue at their current pace, it won’t be too much longer before biorefinery plants are cropping up with the frequency of oil rigs, all of them needing plant workers to make sure the crops flow smoothly on their journey to powering the nation.

21.Laboratory Technician

No man is an island, and that includes scientists: behind every good scientist is a crackerjack team that gets the job done. A laboratory technician takes care of everyday tasks like testing, sampling, measuring, recording data, and generally ensuring that experiments in progress are running smoothly. With so much focus on science and technology in industry, the job outlook for taskmaster lab technicians is quite promising.

22.Transportation Engineer

In just a few short years, rising oil costs and economic downturns have led most of the world to shun former single-serving social status titans like the Hummer and the Segway, while falling head over heels in love with the Prius and the light rail. The face of transportation is changing, and engineers are needed to help design newer, cleaner, and more efficient ways of moving people.

23.Seed Production Technician

Changing technology changes all factions of our lives, and even agriculture is getting a different look these days. With the rise of factory farms, jobs are becoming increasingly parsed out by specialty. Large corporations like Monsanto are consistently looking for skilled workers in fields like seed production, to distribute and produce the crops that keep the country running.

24.Technical Writer

Robots, rocket ships, computers, prostheses and enhancements: all of these are new or evolving technologies, and none of them are exactly simple and self-explanatory. Someone needs to be there to write the manuals for these products, and that person could be you.

25.Inventor

The best part about emerging technology is that it never goes out of style. Whether your interest is chemistry, biology, physics, or engineering, scientists of all disciplines are always needed to think, hypothesize, develop, and create. They are needed by private corporations and government agencies alike, to build better weapons for the army and better toys for the holiday store shelves. Inventors are necessary to progress, and will be needed for as long as progress of civilization is an option.

ENVIRONMENTALISM

26.Organic Food Producer

While it’s always been popular with the eco-conscious, now organic food is more popular than ever before. Taking up nearly 10% of the food and beverage market, a tenfold increase from a decade prior, so many people are clamoring for the “organic” label that it’s on the verge of going mainstream. When the scales do finally tip in organic food’s favor (an event that no doubt will be happening some time in the next ten years), more farmers, producers, and scientists will be needed than ever before to improve organic farming techniques and just simply grow the food that the population is demanding.

27.Sustainability Officer

Sustainability has become a real concern among businesses, but it can be hard for busy execs to find the time to learn all the ropes. Instead, many companies have started hiring on eco-savvy individuals as “sustainability officers.” It’s a new title, and it entails finding, researching, and implementing eco-friendly policies that are of the most benefit to the company at hand. Green Tech Media describes it as a little like IT Techs in the 1980s, helping older businessmen navigate a strange new world – once technology, now sustainability.

28.Waste Management Consultant

Waste is a problem on our planet, and someone has to deal with the overflowing landfills. Consultants will be needed, with backgrounds in biology and chemistry, to bring new ideas to the table on how to break down and eliminate the tons of refuse currently clogging waterways and stretches of land. In addition, scientists are needed more than ever to come up with improved ways of dealing with e-waste, which is becoming a bigger problem with every passing year.

29.Food Scientist

What’s in your dinner? In the near future, that answer may get a lot more technical. Food science is huge: in genetics, vegetables are being modified for more pest-resistant corn and frost-resistant tomatoes spliced with fish genes. In agriculture, farmers are looking for better ways to grow food more organically on a local scale. Meanwhile, in chemistry, scientists are trying to build more effective supplements to make us stronger and healthier on less. No matter what your scientific interest, there’s a way to incorporate our most important fuel of the day.

30.LEED Certified Architect

These days, even constructing houses is a delicate science. People tend to want the best for their new homes, and increasingly this means paying special attention to environmental awareness concerns. For new up-and-coming architects, the smartest career move available is to invest time and study into LEED certification, giving you the training to draft buildings that are ecologically state-of-the-art. Your clients will thank you, and the Earth will thank you more.

31.Renewable Energy Technician

Many electricians these days are still working within the same tired old paradigm of energy resources – but we’re approaching a new age of energy, and the industry will soon require a heavy influx of fresh new faces that reflect that. In the past, industry standards dictated your career to consist mostly of repairing your standard air conditioners, radiators, and electric lines. Soon, however, these tasks will be upgraded to installing and troubleshooting solar panels and integrated home climate control centers as everyday consumers continue to embrace a new world of energy in all its sources.

32.Hydrologist

Water is one of our most vital resources, and hydrologists study both the form and function of water: its distribution, its physical properties, and patterns of circulation and rainfall. In recent years though, both private and government sectors are recruiting the talents of hydrologists for other purposes, namely conservation. With their reservoir of knowledge, hydrologists can help to predict drought zones, analyze quality of newly discovered water sources, and judge how safe construction projects are for surrounding bodies of water – all functions that make the skills of a well-trained hydrologist as desirable as water itself.

33.Sustainable Urban Planner

Individually, engineers and architects are all working on building cleaner and greener homes, offices, and vehicles. What about someone, however, who ties all of those individual pockets together into a cohesive city structure? Sustainable urban planners work hard to solve current spatial problems like urban sprawl and excess pollution with innovative ideas, or even build separate communities known as “eco-villages.” Who will construct the best solution since vertical farming? It could be you.

34.Geophysicist

The work of a geophysicist is in the study of the earth. Earthquakes, atmosphere, the shifting of the continents – these are all within a geophysicist’s realm of study. While some find work as professors, most are employed elsewhere. Some geophysicists work for government agencies, working with architects and predicting earthquake zones. Others work for mining, oil, and gas companies, charting magnetic forces and the probability of natural resources from location to location, making them a powerful asset in the corporate world.

35.Ecotourism Travel Guide

Preferred modes of vacation vary from person to person, and there is a new trend emerging in the travel world: ecotourism. Defined by the International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people,” the main emphasis is on building awareness, fostering cultural sensitivity, and minimizing impact on the destinations visited. Thus far ecotourism has collected a niche following, but with our country’s recent enthusiasm over going green, it’s an industry poised for mainstream popularity.

36.Wind Turbine Technician

If solar power is the weathered veteran of the alternative energy trade, then wind turbines are the bright young upstart. As natural as the sun and just as plentiful, wind power is being hailed as one of the best new energy forms. At the moment, production is rocky due to the economy, but once funding picks up in the near future, wind is predicted to be one of the fastest growing industries in the green energy sector.

DIGITAL

37.Cyber Security Specialist

Back in the 1990s, hackers were demonized as the reckless pirate scourge of the internet. Who would have thought that, a short time later, their dexterous computer skills could be put to good use? Cyber security is a swiftly growing industry, and few reveal site weaknesses and better than those who know a thing or two about exploiting them. Interested in turning your cyber whiz skills into a real profession? With a degree and ambition, it’s possible.

38.Media Search Consultant

The internet is major in business these days, and being seen is everything. Nothing says “you’ve made it!” like showing up on the first page of a Google search, and media search consultants can make that happen. Armed with search engine knowledge, a good media search consultant finds clever keywords and the right ways to drive up traffic and take your website to the top (of search engine ranking)!

39.Data Technologist

Every year we are finding new ways to exchange and process data. We are conducting more business from the screen of a mobile phone than we ever could have thought possible ten years ago. It’s all thanks to data technologists, who are constantly designing and developing new technology from ever smaller processing chips to innovative operating systems to finding the next big thing. If we’re conducting business from the display of a cell phone today, who knows where we’ll be in another ten years?

40.Interface Designer

Pretty soon your PC won’t be the only interactive digital element of your home. It’s probably already started with your television, but more scientists are needed to work on ways to streamline the home experience. From integrated entertainment elements to simpler multifunction pads to adjust climate control devices, part of the challenge is to devise ways to make new interface elements attractive and user-friendly.

41.Distance Education Consultant

The future of college is online. There has been a boom in the distance learning sector over the past few years, as people struggle to balance getting a college education with holding down a day job to support themselves or a family in this economy. It’s a fairly new teaching model, however, and improvements are needed. In turn, more distance education consultants will be needed to develop new techniques and use innovation to solve any and all current problems within the structure of distance learning.

42.Site Acceleration Engineer

The internet is faster than it’s ever been before… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be faster still. The more people get online and the more data is transferred on a daily basis, the more innovation is needed to transfer that data faster and more efficiently. Computer science majors with an interest in the inner workings of the World Wide Web could find a rewarding career advancing the technology of the hypertext transfer protocol.

43.Computer Forensics Analyst

Crime takes many forms, and evidence is left everywhere if you know where to look. Sometimes evidence is locked away within computers, and that’s when computer forensics analysts are called in. In our generation and those to follow, computers and other data devices are found in nearly every household, making computer forensics a hot career commodity. With a solid education in computer science and a clever analytic mind, you can spearhead the next trend in CSI.

44.Quality Assurance Engineer

As new technology evolves, someone has to be on the frontline to observe, test, and suggest corrections for every prototype that emerges. These brave soldiers are known as QA Engineers, and the need for more sharp, analytical, computer-savvy minds will be huge as digital applications, devices, and components continue to stock our shelves at an exponential rate.

45.Cloud Computing Engineer

Look up “cloud computing” on Wikipedia and, faced with a 20 page thesis comprehensible only to comp-sci graduate students, you may assume it has nothing to do with you. Quite the contrary. Facebook, WordPress, Flickr, Gmail: wherever you can store data and access it from any internet port, cloud computing is to be thanked. Savvy engineers are needed to brainstorm ways to streamline processes, cut costs, and enhance usability.

46.Internet Crack Team Volunteer

The internet is near limitless, but it is also fragile. Its integrity rests on the back of an elite group of programmers with the skills and the know-how to find errors, navigate the tenuous web of the internet, and restore service to damaged sectors. So far this job is selfless and volunteer only, but as the world becomes more dependent on internet service, it stands to reason that a few will find careers for themselves by doing what they’ve so thus far done for free.

47.Integrated Digital Media Specialist

Once, media outlets mostly worked independently: newspapers, film reels, glossy magazines were all completely separate entities. Thanks to the advent of the internet, however, media forms are starting to conglomerate. The journalist of the future must know how to harness the power of multimedia, working with photography, video, sound and written word to create a well-rounded picture of events that will stimulate the average media-saturated mind.

48.Casual Game Developer

PC and console video games have always been a mainstay of the gaming industry, but that industry is changing. With the advent of the internet and mobile applications, casual games have captured the hearts of people who might not otherwise be into gaming but appreciate those mini-distractions throughout the day. Advertisers have taken notice as well – high click rates for game-associated ads have made casual web-based gaming a rewarding pursuit for developers on various levels.

49.Mobile Application Developer

Progress in mobile technology has been swift and immense – it wasn’t so long ago that cell phones resembled bricks and car phones were a sign of wealth. Now, mobile phone use has spread throughout the ranks and technology has seriously blurred the line between phone, PDA, and personal computer. The mobile media industry is continuing to rise in revenue, and as technology continues to become more sophisticated, more developers will be needed to ensure its upward climb.

…AND BEYOND!

50.Intelligence Analyst

The world can be a scary place, but intelligence analysts help the general public to sleep a little more soundly at night. Usually working for the military – but sometimes for private interests – intelligence analysts examine information compiled from different intelligence operatives (think James Bond types), make sense of that information, and plot the next move of terrorists and villains before they make them. In the world’s political climate, intelligence analysts are always in need to save the day one encrypted file at a time.

51.Corrections Officer

Unfortunately, as the earth’s population continues to multiply, one of the side effects is that the prison systems start to overfill. In addition, new “tough on crime” legislations are demanding longer prison sentences and tighter control on inmates. Thanks to these circumstances, The Bureau of Labor Services is projecting growth for corrections officers in the near future, in both the public and private sectors.

52.Sarbanes-Oxley Specialist

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was introduced in 2002, to better regulate financial practices within the corporate sector. Observance of the act is not a choice: all businesses, no matter how large or small, are required to comply. It isn’t always simple, however, which is why many companies are hiring Sarbanes-Oxley specialists to work with their auditors to design business plans that both benefit the company and fall within the walls of compliance with the act. A fairly new profession, it seems poised to become a booming career choice for anyone with a mind for business and accounting.

53.Tax Examiner

Nothing can be said to be certain in life, except for death and taxes. Tax examiners have been around since practically the dawn of civilization, but as long as people are doing their taxes, tax examiners will be needed to check over those taxes and make sure that every credit, exemption, and addition is perfectly kosher.

54.Regulatory Compliance Officer

Are you a stickler for regulations? If you’re interested in a career as a regulatory compliance officer, it could really get you somewhere. Regulatory compliance officers work with corporate and administrative staff, ensuring that procedures at companies fall within acceptable boundaries for federal and state regulations. Just like tax officers, as long as we have a functioning government there will always be a need for compliance officers to keep things in order.

55.Small Business Owner

This one is really quite simple: there has never been a better time than right now to be a small business owner. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to get your products to the public without a third party or the massive pull of corporate backing. If you have the ideas and the gumption (and a business degree for the know-how can’t hurt), then you have a mighty good chance of making your business plan work.

56.Welding Technologist

In a future world full of technology and cold metal science, few skilled tradesmen will be in higher demand than welders. Whether fitting together pieces for a factory machine, or repairing vital oil pipelines under the ocean, corporations need welders now and will only need them more in the future. In case the job security doesn’t sound convincing enough, according to Popular Mechanics most welders leave trade school making $17-20 per hour.

57.Employment Recruiter

Quite simply, a growing population demands a growing number of jobs, and the job-hunting climate in our country isn’t always the kindest. Regardless of our economy’s fluctuations, ever larger masses of people will be flocking to employment agencies to help them find suitable careers in a time when “suitable careers” are far from a free-flowing commodity.

58.Financial Engineer

Entrenched in both finance and technology, the financial engineer is a unique animal. Financial engineers are well-versed in finance and mathematics, money and technology, and the relationships between them. Unlike risk-taking stock market cowboys, financial engineers

59.Quantitative Finance Analyst

Also known affectionately as “quants,” quantitative finance analysts are the numerical wizards of the finance world. Rather than gamble stocks and bonds based on trends and feelings, quants employ mathematical concepts, patterns, and even calculus to better understand investments and offer quality solutions for investors. If this line of work interests you, rethink that economics major: most quants hold degrees in physics and mathematics.

60.Virtual Services Worker

The internet has changed everything, from the way we communicate to the way we handle daily transactions. Role playing wonderlands like Second Life may have started out purely recreational, but forward thinking captains of industry have established nightclubs, shops, and even online colleges within its cyber-walls. Of course, someone has to keep those establishments running. As more people venture into virtual reality otherworlds, more people will be needed to conduct sales and offer a friendly personal voice, without ever leaving home.

Web Discoveries for June 16th

These are my del.icio.us links for June 16th

  • Layar -
    Criminy. This is the future I predicted two years ago in my dissertation finally coming to life. The phrase ‘Game Changer’ comes to mind.
  • SPRXMobile Mobile Service Architects » Home -
    Makers of the awesome sounding Android App – Layar; home of @Rhymo, a fave #AR Twitter Follower.
  • Social Media Biz Buzz -
    A worthy resource for social media marketers. This site offers streamed or downloadable assets without the fluffy blurb.
  • Web Design WordPress function list -
    This is a great resource for WordPress developers. Nice and slidy too.
  • Spymaster -
    I don’t know what this is yet, I’m only just starting out, but by golly this looks cool. **EDIT** It is definitely NOT COOL.

Addictive Interactions

Can Digital Games Create A Dependency?

Late in 2001, 21 year old Shawn Woolley shot himself to death in his apartment. He was an EverQuest addict, clocking up to twelve hours a day inside the game’s expansive online world. Shawn had epilepsy, and would often have seizures directly linked to the time spent staring at his brightly-lit computer screen, yet he would continue to play. He quit his job and he would ignore his family just to advance his character in the never-ending game.

An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that “A psychologist diagnosed [Shawn] with depression and schizoid personality disorder, symptoms of which include a lack of desire for social relationships, little or no sex drive and a limited range of emotions in social settings.” However, these problems matter very little in a virtual world, a fact that inevitably caused Shawn to take shelter within its walls. He created a character that allowed him respite, causing his psychological issues to disintegrate each time he entered this ultimate escapist universe.

Shawn’s mother is now attempting to sue the game’s developers, claiming that Sony is directly responsible for his clinical addiction and eventual suicide. It is unknown as to the true reasons Shawn took his own life, however his mother suspects that a within-game event caused his breakdown:

“Elizabeth Woolley remembers when her son was betrayed by an EverQuest associate he had been adventuring with for six months. Shawn’s online brother-in-arms stole all the money from his character and refused to give it back. “He was so upset, he was in tears,” she said. “He was so depressed, and I was trying to say, ‘Shawn, it’s only a game.’ I said he couldn’t trust those people””

(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, March 31st 2002)

But of course for Shawn it wasn’t only a game, it was his raison d’être. He devoted his life to play, and was in a state of immersion as deep as anyone might ever hope to achieve. Shawn was not the only one to have experienced such dependency on the online game, in fact EverQuest is referred to by certain of it’s 450,000 plus users as NeverRest or EverCrack, in reference to it’s perhaps inherently addictive qualities.

So how can a game be addictive? Digital gaming cannot be physiologically addictive in the way that opiates, caffeine or nicotine can be, because there is not a direct physical link to the gamer’s neurology. Although physical dependency to gaming cannot by its nature occur, games cannot claim to be entirely safe either:

“Psychological addictions are a dependency of the mind, and lead to psychological withdrawal symptoms. Addictions can theoretically form for any rewarding behaviour, or as a habitual means to avoid undesired activity, but typically they only do so to a clinical level in individuals who have emotional, social, or psychological dysfunctions, taking the place of normal positive stimuli not otherwise attained.”

(‘Addiction’, Wikipedia, 10 December 2005)

It is highly likely, then, that Shawn was indeed psychologically dependent on the game. But is his mother right to prosecute, given Shawn’s neurological issues? It is important to remember that although it is never the intention of a game developer to create an addicting piece of software, there is certainly the need to create a game that rewards repeat plays. This ensures that the game will be a commercial success. In the case of monthly subscription games like EverQuest it is commercially sensible that gamers remain interested for several months and pay as such. There is a great emphasis on hooking new players and keeping current players captivated. This is done by adding new and exciting content, allowing for alliances and clans to develop, and to design a never-ending game. Gamers can of course choose to exit play, but why should they when the game experience promises to get even better? A game’s success is based on how fun it is to play, not how addicting it is. The two are simply quite hard to distinguish.

There is a fundamental difference between gamers that are addicts and gamers that are just highly engaged.

The immense majority of gamers will not develop psychological addiction to digital play, but are certainly likely to experience a milder form of compulsion that keeps them playing. This is not because games are addictive, but because games can be incredibly fun. It is very hard, then, to distinguish between those that are highly engaged with a game: that is to say they are immersed; in the flow; and experiencing a reward-based benefit from continued play, and those that are psychologically addicted to a game: that is to say they are not just immersed but entrenched, not just in the flow but fully empathetic to their avatar; and whose greatest benefit of play is the gratification of their psychological dependency for yet more play.

So what happened to Shawn to get him in this state? Of course his schizophrenia played a large part in blurring the boundaries between his reality and his virtual world, but is that to say the casual gamer might never become so dangerously immersed? Could the magic circle ever wholly absorb a person? DeKoven (2002, p. 33) gives an account of Huizinga’s (1970) magic circle:

“[A] device to which we have access in order to keep the game going is the boundary that separates the game from everything else around it. Because there are boundaries, there are ways to get out of the game when you have to. Play is a voluntary act. You can’t play if you aren’t willing to. You can’t play if you feel you are obliged to. No game or toy can guarantee that it can make people play. You gotta be in the mood.”

Of course, for those that are addicted to gameplay, they are always in the mood. But then they aren’t really playing in the Huizinga sense. Gameplay must be voluntary, so for those that are playing purely to satisfy a compulsion are not really playing. Try telling that to the legions of EverCrack junkies. What are they really doing, if not playing? Salen and Zimmerman (2004, page 452) offer an account of Bolter and Grusin’s (1999) remediation theory that may help us understand the true mind state of the immersed player:

“Media operate according to a double logic. On one hand, media participate in… immediacy, the ability to authentically reproduce the world and create an alternative reality. At the same time, media also remind their audiences that they are constructed and artificial, a characteristic that Bolter and Grusin call hypermediacy… All media combine these two processes into what they term remediation, an experience of media in which immediacy and hypermediacy co-exist”

So the immersed player experiences the game in a state of remediation: aware that they are playing, yet suitably attached to a game not to disrupt the magic circle. These EverCrack junkies know they are playing, because they experience hypermediacy. An addicted player might experience a game purely as immediacy, where his life within the game unfolds as his reality. If this were true, then a game can never be accused of forcing an addiction, rather the onus is on the player to continually perceive gameplay in remediation. Players like Shawn that have trouble distinguishing truth from fiction are therefore more prone to psychological addiction. It can be suggested that the boundaries between reality and the game world suddenly dissolve when both the gamer’s propensity for addiction and the amount of gratification meet midway. That is not to say developers should hold back on making their games less rewarding, or better than reality, but perhaps that games should have better warnings for those who are less conscious of themselves as players.

Game ‘addiction’ is a relatively new thing. Before the invention of the home computer, and later the console, there really wasn’t much to be done on one’s own. Before interactivity there was just ‘activity’: reading; watching television or films; one-way communication with an entertainment medium. Then came the technology that changed ‘alone-time’ forever, in the process giving those anti-social types an excuse not to go outside and play with the other boys. The hardcore gamer was born, and with them new worries of digital addiction and stories of mind-numbing, brain-washing and the dumbing-down of the youth generation. Hardcore players are more likely to report their full engagement with a game, sometimes to the point of their realities shifting and their emotional drives realigning to the needs of their virtual representatives within a game.

What we see in the behaviours of hardcore gamers is not addiction, but engagement. Digital games are not addictive, although players may show characteristics of a dependency on them. Games are built around one core concept: ‘What would be fun for the player?’ As games get better and more realistic, it becomes easier to forget that we are really playing at all. The magic circle must be reinforced if it stands a chance of surviving intact against the next generation of ultra-immersive games. Gamers can only be protected from psychological addiction to these games if the notion that they are ‘just playing’ is constantly reinforced. A player’s double-consciousness should actually make play more fun, because the magic circle can remain unbroken. Developers would do well to remember that games are supposed to be fun, and the easier they make it to retain a lusory attitude, the more people will realise games are a safe medium after all. Developers are dependent on a good reception, and if they play things right, there won’t be any more blood on the keyboard.

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Bibliography

Bolter, Jay David and Grusin, Richard (1999). Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

DeKoven, Bernie (2002). The Well-Played Game: A Playful Path to Wholeness. 3rd edn. Lincoln, NE: Writers Club. Retrieved 11th November 2005 from http://www.deepfun.com/WPG.pdf

Huizinga, Johan (1970). Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture. London: Temple Smith

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online (March 31st 2002). “Death of a Game Addict” Retrieved 13/12/05 from http://www.jsonline.com/news

Salen, Katie and Zimmerman, Eric (2004). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge, MA: MIT

Wikipedia (December 10th 2005) “Addiction” Retrieved 13/12/05, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction

Further Reading
Poole, Steven (2000). Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution. New York: Arcade

Sutton-Smith, Brian (2001). The Ambiguity of Play. Boston: Harvard University Press