Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fictional writing: The Legend of Zelda: R3B00T

     I know it's been a while since my last post (again). I've been trying to get some original writing in before I posted this story, 'original' meaning not based on outside influences (such as Calvin and Hobbes). That story's still eluding me, so I've decided to post this one instead. It's a Zelda story set in the distant future, where the past seems to be a myth. I hope you enjoy it!


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Chapter 1

     The day started like any other school day; with the tedious roll call.
     “Naya Twale?” droned Mr. Kaybor, a balding, middle-aged man who seemed to lose a little more life every day.
     “Present,” piped a brunette in the second row.
     Mr. Kaybor's pencil twitched a little over his clipboard. “Ieron Quartz?”
     “Yo,” called the Goron exchange student in the back row, lounging in his desk as usual. He was busy flexing his chiseled arms for the girl next to him, who just sat and stared.
     Mr. Kaybor's pencil twitched again. He sighed as he read the next name. “Link Flunker – I mean Farosen?”
     “Past, present, and future,” I droned, mimicking the teacher as best I could.
     “Of course you are,” Kaybor muttered, making sure I heard before checking my name.
     Yes, that's me. Link Farosen, the only student in history to be held back in Eldinar High School. A fact no one lets me forget.
     “Good. All present,” he said, still in monotone. “Now class, this history course is generally designed to teach you what we know for certain about our past. However, not all history is so clear. There are some books, called the Apocryphal Texts, which were once considered factual, but are now known to be mostly fiction. These are the subject of today's class.”
     He sat down at his desk and typed something into it. In response, the wall behind him displayed a slide-show, starting with a picture of a sword and shield. The phrase The Legend of Zelda appeared below in red typeset.
     “How about that, Zelda?” I whispered, leaning my head back. “All this time, you've been legendary.”
      All I felt was a knock in the back of my head, but I could practically see her rolling her eyes at me, trying and failing to hide her smile.
     “The Apocryphal Texts, also known as the Legend of Zelda, is only that: a legend. The tales within of heroes and demons are a simple people's attempt to write history, with small portions of truth hidden within its mythological shrouds.”
     The wall changed again, this time showing a picture of a cave wall, with some people marked on it in paint.
     “This picture, found in the first book of the Apocryphal Texts, is supposedly the earliest version of the creation story, with a goddess using her magic harp to send the people into the sky to protect them. Obviously, this did not happen, or else we'd still be there.”
     He managed a chuckle at his own joke, then continued.
     “To understand this story, we must utilize what we know about past civilizations. Can anyone tell me about one aspect of their lives?”
     No one raised their hand, of course. After a few seconds, Kaybor rolled his eyes and pushed another button on his desk. With a small yelp, a girl to my right jolted her hand in the air, thanks to the teacher's electroshock button.
     “Thank you, Malia,” Kaybor said, while the other students snickered. Personally, I felt sorry for her; I've been in her predicament plenty of times. The embarrassment never goes away.
     Malia tried to shrink into her desk, but it was too late anyway. “They, umm” she whispered, “liked to, uh. . . hallucinate?”
     “Close, but not quite,” Kaybor said. “They enjoyed using hallucinogens, such as fermented milk and certain boiled seeds, to make themselves see what wasn't there. A common example is the recording of giant birds, capable of transporting humans. As we see in Text number one, Skieword Sworde . . .”
     He changed the picture again, but that wasn't the only thing different for me. The entire room changed into. . . I don't know, a mountain or something. I ran onto a wooden platform and jumped off, whistling as I fell. Except I fell into the sky! Everywhere I looked, I saw either a floating boulder or a giant bird. One of the birds, a bright red one, flew right up to me. I managed to grab onto the bird's back and. . .
     An electric shock jolted me back into the classroom, where everyone was giggling again. I found my hand high in the air, just like Malia's.
     “Nice of you to join us again,” Kaybor said, grinning. “How was your nap?”
     “What nap?” I retorted.
     Kaybor stared at me, puzzled, before turning back to the teleboard. I tried to keep a calm face, but I still freaked out in my mind. I didn't know what happened, but I hoped it wouldn't happen again. After all, I've heard seeing things that aren't there is bad for your mental health.
     Mr. Kaybor changed the picture into an old painting of a man's face, with a wolf's face below it. “This is an illustration from Text number seven, Twyliete Priencesse, in which a human is transformed into a wolf by a dark curse. This relates to their view of the Hylian's animal nature, the dark side of themselves that they hide from. . .”
     Without warning, the room shifted again, this time into a jail cell. My wrist was chained to the floor, but it wasn't my wrist anymore; it was a wolf's paw. I tried to yank free of the manacle, when I heard someone giggle to my side. It was some little girl with a stone helmet on her head. She smiled at me and vanished soon after. Just then, something dropped onto my back. I jumped around, trying to shake it off. . .
     “LINK!” Kaybor shouted.
     The classroom reappeared, with everyone staring at me in awe for some reason.
     “I just shocked you three times!” said the teacher, clearly freaking out. “How do you ignore that?”
     I shrugged. “Maybe you hit the massage button by mistake,” I joked, hiding the sudden fear I felt.
     Kaybor shook his head. “This is why you've been held back, you know,” he muttered. “You just can't focus on the lessons; you're always daydreaming, always goofing around. Someday, you'll regret that.”
     He turned back to the teleboard, but the school bell rang. The board faded to black, with the weekend's homework assignment flashing in white: study chapters 32 and 33 of history textbook.
     While I leaned down to get my books, I felt a tug on my hat. I stood up and looked at Zelda, who'd finished writing something on a piece of paper. She handed it to me and hurried out, eager to get to the next class.
     I smiled and shook my head. I can't understand a work ethic like that, always in a rush to learn something new.
     I left Mr. Kaybor to himself and jogged off to the Earth Sciences class, opening Zelda's note as I went.
     “Link, something seems off with you today. Sleeping through those shocks isn't normal. Meet me at lunch at my table so we can talk. I'll make sure it's just us.
     I read it through a few times to make sure I didn't miss anything. Zelda wasn't the kind of person to get nervous easily, so something must be wrong about those visions, or whatever they are.
     I didn't have time to worry about it, though. Earth Sciences was waiting for me, and I had a sneaking feeling there'd be a pop quiz when I got there.
     – – – – – – –
     The bell rang, and I slammed the pen onto the desk, berating myself for all the answers I'd missed. For the life of me, I couldn't remember how much pressure it took for green Rupeeium to change to red, never mind what metal fusions created antigravity.
     I knew it didn't matter, but that just made it harder.
     “Good work, everybody!” called Ms. Frallaz, in her usual bubbly tone. “Now, make sure you/ /make sure you read chapter 12 over the weekend!
     “Okay,” I said, in unison with the rest.
     “Great! Have a splendid/ /a splendid week!” she said, waiving at us.
     I gathered my stuff and brought my test up to her desk. As usual, mine was one of the few there, and the only one finished. She smiled sweetly at me, looking over the test a little before forgetting I'd arrived.
     I cleared my throat, then left the room. Ever since her botched brain enhancement, it was always awkward around her.
     The halls were crowded, so I cut through the sweat-soaked hall of injuries they call the gym. I sprinted over to the lunchroom door. . .
     When the visions came on again. This time, I found myself running a courtyard, trying to get to some tower in the distance. Apparently, the moon was falling right onto the tower, and a tiny voice was shrieking from somewhere around it. The moon even had a disturbing face, with glowing red eyes and a full mouth of teeth. There was a little ball of light with wings floating around my head, shouting something at me. I wasn't listening. I tried to slap myself, to make myself wake up, but I couldn't control my arm.
     A slam against the wall did the trick. I found myself lying on the ground with a sharp pain in my forehead. Apparently, I'd missed the door by an inch. I just sighed and walked through. At that point, the hallucinations were really getting on my nerves.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My 1st research paper on this blog: Video Games and the Human Mind

     I'm so sorry I've taken so long to post this one; I just wasn't sure how to put this long research paper in a little post (and I've also had Missionary Training camp for the last few days). I've now figured out it can't fit in a small post.
     Anyway, here's the other half of my writing, the research paper. It's a long one, but if you've got about a day to read it (and, since it's Summer, those days are more common), then here you go. Again, if there's something I can do to improve it, feel free to comment and let me know. Hope you enjoy it!

Video Games and the Human Mind
By Knight Taylor
     Video games are a big thing among youth; according to a 2011 poll, about 91% of kids and teens play them.1 However, these games are possibly some of the most controversial forms of entertainment, with evidence shifting back and forth on how dangerous it may be.
     In an attempt to dispel (or prove) these claims, I've studied many sources on video games, both from the internet and from books, and studied both my actions and my sibling's actions while playing video games, trying to find the truth about these virtual realities.
     Here's what I found.
Why we play Video Games:
     There's a large psychological hook inherent in video games: the feeling of complete or near-complete control. While immersed, players feel as though they can do whatever they want. For example, in a driving game, they can be reckless and crash into anything they wish, without fear of damage or retribution. Likewise, in Super Mario Bros, enemies and monsters crumble before their power, and they feel invincible.
      Jane M. Healy, a professor of educational psychology, wrote about this feeling of control in video games: “Human nature drives us all to master problems. . . Video games are perfectly designed to promise mastery – in gradual degrees, which keep the player coming back for just a little more.”2
     This may also be why some – if not all – players tend to overreact to interruptions while playing: because they don't want their little bubble of control to pop before they're ready, kicking them back into the real world. I know I do this quite often, specifically when my younger siblings ask me for help.
Positive Learning from Video Games:
     There are so many “positive attributes” ascribed to video games today, and what I've put here is only part of what I've found. As a result, I couldn't test them all, but what I did test, I've commented on.
     Spatial Reasoning: Spatial reasoning is the ability to see and rotate 3-D objects in one's mind, and the ability to judge the distance and speed of an object in 3-D space. First-person shooter games, such as Halo or Call of Duty, are supposed to be best at this mental training, because the player must avoid attacks approaching from every direction of the 3-D plane. However, in my own study, I believe Lego Star Wars has accomplished the same goal for me with the same basic idea, but without violence.
     Socializing: Given the rise of online games over the Internet, games with co-operative (or team based) play are becoming very popular. In fact, it's not uncommon to find a group of players “meeting” through a game from across states or even countries. Games like this, of which Mario Kart is one, are supposed to improve one's ability to meet and socialize with new people.3
     To be honest, these kind of games are not allowed in my house, so I haven't been able to test this. However, in the few web-cam chats I've participated in, I've noticed something: meeting face to face is completely different than meeting over the internet. If a person is online, they can hide anything they want about themselves, whether it's their emotions, their intentions, or their facial expression, items crucial to live meetings. This is how online predators gather personal information and trust from their unwitting victims, by acting like someone they can trust.
     Hand-Eye Coordination: This is the most overstated attribute of video games, that they grant the player more precise control over hand movements. However, it's also been proven by the laparoscopic surgeons at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. The lead surgeon, Dr. James Rossner, noticed how doctors who'd played video games in the past made forty percent fewer mistakes during surgery. In fact, Dr. Rossner instructs his fellow doctors to play video games for half an hour before surgery, because the controls closely resemble those found on the laparoscopic instruments.4
     In my own experiments, I think this does occur, at least soon after playing.
     Improved Vision: Sadly, this doesn't mean that playing video games will eliminate the need for glasses. It actually means that the player is able to process visual information in better detail, such as identifying different shades of gray.5 The theory is that action games, such as the Call of Duty series, demand attention to many separate, finite details, all of which the brain attempts to see at once. As a result, the brain trains itself to see better in blurry, high-stress scenarios, such as driving in a fog.6
     Resource Management and Logistics: Games such as Sim City or Age of Empires deal with limited resources and a goal to earn more resources, be it through manual labor or business management (usually both). Often, the games throw unexpected costs at the player, from repairing earthquake-damaged buildings to raising armies in defense of your colony. This is supposed to help players learn when to take smart financial risks and when to save resources for a later date.7
     Problem Solving: All video games have a problem to solve somewhere, whether it's how to beat the other racers to the finish line or finding the right path out of a maze. Each different problem requires a different solution, and finding that solution requires logic. Therefore, the theory is that video games exercise and strengthen player's logic.
     In addition to playing video games, I've done many logic puzzles on paper, so I don't know if my logic capacity is influenced more by the paper puzzles or the video game puzzles. And yet, does that mean video game puzzles are just as good as puzzles on paper? I haven't been able to find out.
     Strategy: In some games, such as Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda series, there are very powerful enemies called “bosses” that require unique and difficult strategies to defeat them. In fact, there are even bosses that change tactics mid-fight, requiring an entirely different strategy. This aspect of video gaming requires quick thinking through rapidly shifting obstacles, as well as creating a plan during a stressful scenario.8
     Perseverance: In every video game, there is the aspect of failure and another chance. In Super Mario Bros, the main goal is to guide Mario, the main character, from one castle to another while destroying or avoiding dozens of monsters. If he touches any of the monsters (without jumping on top of them), he dies and the player must start over again.
     As annoying as this is while playing the game, the player will most likely continue until he or she finishes.9 That is perseverance through the lens of video games. However, this attribute, while sounding very noble, is really more irritating in practice. See Neglecting Responsibility for a better description of the downside of this attribute.
     Identifying Patterns: This seems to be more on the subliminal level of acting during video games. While the player is fighting monsters or solving puzzles, they find patterns in the game's mechanisms, such as how a particular enemy only uses two or three different techniques. This is because each game has its own internal logic,10 and patterns inevitably arise through this logic base. Finding these patterns allows the player to play the game better, especially during boss battles, where finding patterns is critical to the player's strategy and survival.
     While studying this, I believe I've found these qualities in myself, and I think it might be from playing these games, although it could be from the books I read as a child (Redwall, Encyclopedia Brown, and others like them).
     Simulation: Games that simulate real-life scenarios, such as Age of Empires or The Sims (a game where the player controls one person; not Sim City, a game of city planning), give the player a chance to ponder what he or she would do in that scenario. This allows the player to explore options they couldn't normally attempt in real life. Also, because of the nature of games, he or she could easily revoke that choice and see what the other outcome would be.
     However, all of this proposed learning comes to nothing without one crucial detail: Transference. Taking skills learned from one setting and applying them to another setting. After all, with learning to find patterns and using spatial reasoning, it would seem that people who play those games would be amazing at math, but this isn't always the case.
     According to Professor Jane Healy, the brain is so complex in all of its computations that seemingly similar processes to us can be controlled by widely different areas. For example, listening to music doesn't help with auditory skills, even when the music has lyrics, because “words and melody are processed by totally different cell networks.”11 Therefore, training one's mind to press buttons and manipulate a pattern doesn't necessarily make it easier to find patterns in real life. Also, each individual is different from each other, and what works to teach one person may never work for another.
Other Positives of Video Games
     Reduce Stress: Specifically, games that are “easy to learn, but hard to master,”12 like Tetris or the Angry Birds app, are supposed to help lower stress levels by distracting one's mind from its present concerns. In this aspect, it's a lot like reading or watching a movie.
     In my experience, when I've only played 15-30 minutes of casual gaming (as recommended), I do feel more calm and relaxed. However, the feeling doesn't usually last for longer than a few minutes.
     Improve Memory: Many games, such as Wii Play or the Legend of Zelda series, require memorization of clues or patterns, so they're thought to improve one's memory.13 There are even specialty games designed solely to improve one's memory retention and I.Q, such as Big Brain Academy.
     In this testing, I've found that playing such games doesn't improve all areas of memory. I've been playing video games for years, but I still have trouble remembering the names of people I meet. However, I do find it easier to remember plans and stories, which are a large part of the games I play, so it does seem as though they can improve memory.
     Reduce Depression: A study done by the East Carolina University found that certain games, like “Bejeweled” or “Bookworm,” greatly reduced the subject's depression symptoms. The site says “the study found that there was a 65% overall improvement in general mood and anxiety, in addition to a reduction in physical symptoms, including tension (49.6%), anger (55%), confusion (50%) and fatigue (58%).”14
     In what I've seen, I believe these types of games do just as the study describes, and the effect lasts a few minutes longer than the Angry Birds effect, but it's still relatively short.
     Video Games as Classics: This was a shock to me when I first heard the theory. As much as I enjoy playing video games, I was skeptical about classifying them as “classics,” placing them on level with Charles Dickens' Great Expectations or Shakespeare's writings. And yet the author of this theory, Jason L., describes very clearly how some video games (not all) would be considered classics.
     To start, he explains his definition of a “classic,” which he found in the book, A Thomas Jefferson Education. The author of the book, Dr. Oliver DeMille, gives this checklist for a basic definition of a classic:15
  1. The Classics Teach us Human Nature
  2. The Classics Bring us Face-to-Face with Greatness
  3. The Classics Take us to the Frontier to be Conquered
  4. The Classics Force us to Think
  5. The Classics Connect Us to Those Who Share the Stories
  6. Our Canon Becomes our Plot
     On his blog (at videogamescholars.blogspot.com), Jason L. goes into greater detail about which video games would be considered classics, outlining exactly what it is in those video games that qualify as “classics.” It would take too long to describe everything he has found, but I can put down a few examples:

     “In the game The Sims you need to take care of an entire household.” (human nature.)

     “In this game [Tetris]. . . Your goal is to keep making rows disappear. . . You need to be quick, constantly analyzing the whole screen. You are constantly thinking. (force us to think.)16

     There is much more I could write, but this is only a report, not a book. If you are interested in reading the rest of his argument, please visit his blog. Suffice it to say, it has convinced me that certain video games can definitely be considered classics.

Negative Aspects of Video Games

     Desensitization: Games like Grand Theft Auto or Halo have violence and killing as a central action, something the player is expected to accomplish before moving on. Grand Theft Auto has even more problematic actions within it, such as language and innuendo. It's thought that continually repeating these actions in the video game desensitize the player to these vices, lowering their dislike and guilt for their wrong “actions” in the game.17

     In fact, it's possible that the games could outright encourage this behavior at a young age, because “the child is in control of the violence and experiences the violence in his own eyes (killings, kicking, stabbing and shooting). This active participation, repetition and reward are effective tools for learning behavior.”18

     Increase in Aggressive Behavior: Desensitizing one's natural distaste for violence and actually acting violently are two different things, but both may happen after playing one of the more violent games, such as first-person shooting games (Halo, Call of Duty, etc.).

     A study on this topic was conducted in the year 2000 with 210 college students (106 were male, and 104 were female). The test was to have the participant click a mouse faster than the nonexistent “opponent” after having played fifteen minutes of a preselected video game. One of the games was very violent and graphic, while the other was not. The participant was told to set a level of noise to “punish” the opponent with varying levels of a sound blast if the opponent lost.

     The test was designed to see whether the violent game players had more of a desire to punish the opponent than the non-violent players, and that is what happened. The participants that played the violent game used higher levels of sound blasts and set them to blast longer than participants who played the non-violent game.

     In my research, while watching others play video games, I have seen more violent reactions during game play, and not only during excessively violent games. Even games with mild violence, such as Super Mario Bros, can trigger this reaction in some people.,

     Anti-Social Activity: Players who have a less social personality than others are most susceptible to this attribute, simply because the games they play afford them a haven from the world. I haven't found any specific games that contribute to this, but it seems like any video game would do this.

     The basic premise is this: when a person plays video games excessively to detach from the world and relax, he or she may learn to gravitate to it whenever depressed feelings come on. This could be the starting point of an addiction, described below.

     Less Emotional Control: Video games that require attacking, specifically first-person shooting games, incite in the player's mind the desire to destroy the enemies, associating them with hate and frustration. Then, if the player is interrupted or stops playing, that anger can easily be turned against those around him or her. One example of this is described by a teenager submitting his story for the New Era, an LDS youth magazine:

 “I started to notice that after playing those violent games, I could not be nice to people. One time, after playing a game, a friend asked me if he could get something out of the refrigerator. I responded to him very rudely. I thought I was joking, but he didn’t. I felt horrible for being mean to him and making one of my best friends feel bad”19

     Depression: This seems to be the opposite reaction to the Perseverance listed above. When the player is trying over and over again to beat a level, failing each time, a choice is offered: either try again, hoping to succeed this time, or give up and assume the level is impossible. At times, when the latter is chosen, feelings of inadequacy arise, causing the player to think If I can't do this, I can't do anything. This doesn't happen often, but I have seen it occur from time to time. Usually, depression symptoms start after an hour and a half or two hours of continuous play.

     Lack of Imagination: Even though video games are supposed to help with strategy, it is possible that the continued visual contact could diminish one's imaginative abilities, especially in young people. The main problem seems to be that, because most video games are pre-programed in their actions and visuals, there aren't many options for out-of-the-box ideas.20 If the player sees another option in a particular situation, but the game's mechanics don't allow for the option, it may persuade the player to ignore unconventional ideas and follow the rules of the game. Of course, the idea of transference comes into play here, too, so it may only occur within the game.

     Neglected Responsibility: As an occasional victim of this vice, I know how irritating this can become. While playing video games, watching others play video games, and thinking about something funny that happened while playing video games, the usual chores and schoolwork take backseat to the novelty of the game. When left unchecked, the excuse of “just one more level” or “just a few more minutes” drains another half hour, ruining any preplanned schedule for the day. This not only requires extra time spent catching up on undone responsibilities, but also increases the player’s stress level as they realize how much is left to do. I've had experience with this outcome, and have seen it in my siblings as well.

     Addiction: This is the main fear of many anti-gaming opinions. However, the examples are so rare that the APA (American Psychological Association) hasn't even classified it as a mental problem yet.21 There is a rough estimate of 8.5% of possible addicts among 8- to 18-year old youth, but “until the APA has defined what video game addiction is exactly no one can say what constitutes video game addiction.” In other words, without a basic description, it's very hard to tell for sure if anyone has this addiction22. The generally accepted symptoms include depression, neglected schoolwork, anti-social tendencies, and obesity in some subjects.

     Basically, it seems that many, if not all, of the topics I've outlined in the “negative” section are symptoms of video game addiction. So how would one figure out whether another is addicted?

     The only really defining factor of video game addiction is in the duration. If the player is playing video games all day, only taking breaks to eat or sleep (and sometimes ignoring those as well), they are most likely addicted. There are many websites and books about healing this addiction, all within a google search.

What is the Final Verdict?

    In the end, though, what has been found? Do these numerous positives surpass the few negative aspects? Or do the devastating risks outweigh the smaller benefits? I believe the answer lies in one final principle: Moderation. In nearly every source of information I've found, the positive attributes are only available to those who play in small increments, while the negative consequences come from playing for hours on end. And still, the playing time that would overwhelm one person would be fine for another, simply because they're different.

     Therefore, in the end, all I can say is that each player must be wary of their own playing limits, controlling themselves and avoiding over-playing. This way, the benefits of video games are more accessible than the pitfalls, allowing even more fun from video games.
     The truth is, video games can be either helpful or destructive, depending on the person playing them. It's like the old maxim: “Guns don't kill people; people kill people.” Video games are fine as a form of entertainment, as long as personal safety limits are found and kept.

2Endangered Minds, pg. 207


4Don't Bother Me Mom – I'm Learning!, pg. 7







11Endangered Minds, pg. 206




15A Thomas Jefferson Education, pp. 68-74