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Videogame "addicts" not addicted to games

Ok, that title is a bit off. What it should say is that most videogame addicts aren't actually addicted to games.

That was the finding of Keith Bakker, founder and head of The Smith & Jones Centre in Amsterdam. This clinic, opened in 2006, was the first and only clinic of its kind to treat gaming addicts.

Many will remember when this clinic was first opened. It was reported that there was a flood of inquiries from concerned parents and young adults just coming to grips with the then exploding genre of games: massively multiplayer online role-playing games.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

Using traditional abstinence-based treatment models the clinic has had very high success rates treating people who also show other addictive behaviours such as drug taking and excessive drinking.

But Mr Bakker believes that this kind of cross-addiction affects only 10% of gamers. For the other 90% who may spend four hours a day or more playing games such as World of Warcraft, he no longer thinks addiction counselling is the way to treat these people.

"These kids come in showing some kind of symptoms that are similar to other addictions and chemical dependencies," he says.

"But the more we work with these kids the less I believe we can call this addiction. What many of these kids need is their parents and their school teachers - this is a social problem."

Computerized toy helps autistic children learn language

Helma van Rijn, a graduate student at the Delft University of Technology, developed a computerized toy to help young autistic children learn language. The project is called LINKX. A person can say a word (e.g. "fishbowl") into a kind of pictogram called a "speech-o-gram"; they then attach the speech-o-gram to the object it names. Kids can link special blocks to the speech-o-grams, which light up with colors and play sounds. Here's a video of LINKX in action:

(Note: While the video's spoken language is Dutch, English subtitles explain the action taking place).

Video game as screening, therapeutic tool for people with fragile X syndrome

Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited cause of mental retardation that we know of. (Down Syndrome is more common, but only 3-4% of cases are inherited). Nevertheless, fragile X can take a long time to diagnose properly, because many doctors aren't familiar with its features. According to an article in last month's newsletter of UC Davis's Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), Dr. Randi Hagerman of the M.I.N.D. Institute is teaming up with media artists Greg Niemeyer and Kimiko Ryokai to create a video game that will not only help screen young children for some of the weaknesses associated with fragile X syndrome like visual-motor and visual-spatial skills, but could help kids improve those skills as well.

Eye-gaze software for people with disabilities demonstrated using World of Warcraft, Second Life

PhD candidate Stephen Vickers and his team at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK are designing software for people with disabilities who use eye-gaze control to be better able to play video games. Here are videos of Stephen demonstrating the software, called Snap Clutch, in World of Warcraft and Second Life.

In a paper Vickers co-authored for the 4th Cambridge Workshop on Universal Access and Assistive Technology ("Gaze Interaction with Virtual On-Line Communities: Levelling the Playing Field for Disabled Users"—available in his list of publications), eye gaze was compared to mouse control in the game Second Life. While eye-gaze performed comparably in moving the avatar from place to place and in manipulating objects, it didn't do well for using applications within the game (thanks to the applications' tiny buttons) or communicating in-game via an on-screen keyboard.

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