[posted by Gavin Robinson, 3:39 pm, 18 October 2007]
Chris at Mixing Memory has posted about a psychology experiment which suggests that playing First Person Shooters improves spatial reasoning abilities, which also leads to improvements in mathematical skills. This is interesting in itself, but it also relates to his previous post about gender in maths, science and engineering, which looked at evidence for stereotype threat: the expectation that women are weaker in these areas causes them to perform below their potential, and this adds to the myth that women are actually worse, so the stereotype is perpetuated. There is plenty of evidence that on average women do worse at spatial reasoning than men, but the evidence from the experiment Chris cites strongly suggests that this is down to cultural factors rather than innate sex differences. A group of people who didn’t normally play FPS was made to play Medal of Honor, which resulted in a dramatic improvement in spatial reasoning abilities in both men and women. It seems likely that women have failed to benefit from this effect in practice because the perception that FPS games are only for men puts them off.
Another Mixing Memory post on the subject of games mentioned an experiment which found that the amount of blood in Mortal Kombat affects the aggression of the players. I can see right-wing alarmists who hate games deliberately misinterpreting the word “arousal” to portray gamers as sadistic perverts,but it looks like an interesting piece of research. I don’t know if this research has anything to say about gender (I can’t get at the paper itself) but studies of aggression are highly relevant to investigations of the relationship between war and gender, such as Joshua Goldstein’s work (which I really want to finish reading when I’ve got out of the quagmire of English Civil War historiography!).
(I also regret deleting the Gender category. I wasn’t using it for anything that wasn’t also covered by women’s history, but it would be quite useful here.)
Joshua S. Goldstein, War and Gender (CUP: Cambridge, 2003).
[posted by Gavin Robinson, 7:57 pm, 14 October 2007]
There’s an interesting article about Real Time Strategy games over at God Is In The TV (mainly a music zine, but they cover all kinds of culture). This piece is much better than some of the drivel written about gaming by professional journalists. It suggests that the conventions of the RTS genre are changing, with resource management increasingly going out of fashion.
It’s a couple of years since I was heavily involved in RTS gaming, but my experiences tend to agree. I noticed this trend when I made the switch from Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds (which might better have been called Age of Star Wars – it was basically Age of Kings with a Star Wars skin on it!) to Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. In SWGB there were 4 resources, and managing their extraction and use was a major part of the game. The first 10 minutes or so of game time (less in real time as it was commonly played at double speed!) were mostly spent gathering resources, building, and making more workers. Nobody who knew what they were doing would advance to tech level 2 before they had at least 20 workers. If the game wasn’t ended by a rush in level 2 or 3 it turned into an attritional grind. At maximum population in tech level 4 it was best to have about 60% workers and 40% military units. DoW was a very different kind of game. There were only 2 resources and the main one accumulated by taking and holding strategic points rather than extracting it with workers. Even with their special abilities it was rarely worth having more than 10% of your population slots filled by workers. However, tactics needed to be more sophisticated than in SWGB and units had to be micromanaged a lot to get the best out of them.
I don’t know whether these changing fashions are driven by the game developers or by demand from gamers, or whether it’s a bit of both. It’s hard to say whether these changes are making RTS games more or less realistic. As I’ve said before, strategy games always reflect arbitrary decisions made by their designers more than they reflect real life. But it’s maybe more important to note that changes in gameplay might be related to changing perceptions of war. The old style games which encouraged resource management tend towards a John Childs view of war: that war is attritional and usually ends with the exhaustion of one or both sides. The newer style with less resource management tends towards a Malcolm Wanklyn view which makes tactical contingency and innovation more important than a determinist emphasis on resources. (Maybe there are better examples but I’ve picked two early modern historians whose work I’m familiar with.)
I’m not sure how significant this all is. As far as I know RTS isn’t a very large genre. If the tastes of RTS players are changing that doesn’t necessarily say anything about changes in popular attitudes to war. As a final thought it’s interesting to note that the reduction of resource management in RTS gaming is going on at the same time as increasing anxiety in real life about global warming and peak oil. Things would always get tricky in SWGB when the nova crystals ran out late in the game, and I remember one game where carbon became ultra-rare because we’d used up every tree and rock on the map! Is the new style a way of escaping from these issues rather than confronting them?
I’m trying to get some “proper” English Civil War related work done this week, but at the weekend I did some more First World War stuff. In April I posted about World War I on Flickr, when I uploaded my great-grandfather’s photos from Cottbus PoW camp. Now I’ve added his letters, and another photo which I got from ebay. Although he isn’t on it, it was taken in the theatre at Cottbus and one of the men has the same “Bing Bong Boys” navy outfit:
I’ve now put each letter/postcard in its own set to make the link between the front and back of the same document more explicit. The sets are then arranged into collections. Some people on the Great War Forum were able to help me locate Cottbus Camp No. I, so now most of the photos have been placed on the map.
I also discovered that another Wenham brother might have died in the Great War. I don’t know why I hadn’t ever looked for Wenhams on CWGC before, but I found a Charles Wenham who could well be one of William’s brothers. Some of the evidence is circumstantial and I need to do more digging to be sure, but the epistemic probabilities are quite high. So far it looks like he joined 10th Lincolnshire Regt (Grimsby Chums), served overseas, was wounded and sent back to England but died of his wounds. Unlike the soldiers who died overseas, his body was brought home and buried in Cleethorpes cemetery. Again the Great War Forum has been a great help, and you can see more details on this thread.
And with regard to the other World War, I played some more of Brothers In Arms: Earned In Blood. I was still a bit curious about the post-Hill 30 storyline, but so far it’s been quite boring, and I gave up when I got into a silly tank level that’s suspiciously similar to the silly tank level in Road To Hill 30 that I complained about before. But there are more trees this time…
Gary at Victoria’s Cross linked to yet another piece of lazy journalism about computer games. This is the other side of the coin from why aren’t there any World War I games: Why Are There So Many World War II Games? There are so many things wrong with this article that it should have been easy to knock up a critique of it in a few minutes, but I’ve been too busy with other things so I’ve only just got round to it. Anyone with half a brain might want to skip the rest of this post. Lazy blogging which just points out the obvious errors of lazy journalism in far too much detail is arguably as bad as the lazy journalism itself.
I’ve turned off the comment timeout plugin, so comments on most old posts are open again, and should stay open as long as they don’t attract huge amounts of spam. I’ll be manually closing comments on posts which are getting spammed too much but I hope most of them will stay open.
Good news: Calendar of State Papers Domestic, one of the most important printed sources for British history, will be available online later this year. Bad News: it’s a paid subscription service. It remains to be seen how much it costs, but it’s particularly annoying because the project is funded by a charity, and the material is probably in the public domain, having been published by HMSO more than 50 years ago. More details at the IHR website.
Battle Through Time was a computer game released for the Commodore 64 in 1984. It featured a time travelling car and levels based on World War 1, World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam. Just another example to bring up when lazy journalists say there aren’t any WW1/Korea games, or that WW2/Vietnam games didn’t start to be made until this century. And to emphasise the links between cinema and gaming, the background music included “Suicide Is Painless” for the Korea level and “Ride of the Valkyries” for Vietnam.
And I’m still looking for Military History Carnival Hosts for September and afterwards. If you’re interested, e-mail me or leave a comment.