A Lawyer, A Scholar, and Madness

Biography essay about a woman I have come to respect so much.

Professor Elyn R. Saks is a woman with an impressive number of awards, titles and accomplishments tied to her. She is a professor of psychology, psychiatry and behavioral health for the University of Southern California Gould School of Law as well as the assistant dean of research there. She is also an adjunct professor for the University of California, San Diego, school of medicine, and a psychoanalyst with the New Center for Psychoanalysis (Saks 2013). She recently was awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her creativity and immeasurable contribution to the law especially as it relates to mental health patient rights and ethics. Through all of this she also suffers from schizophrenia, a life-long thought disorder that has left her hospitalized twice in England and once again in the United States. Her passion as an advocate in the field of mental health stems from her own experiences within the system as a patient and again as a lawyer for those who have found themselves a part of the mental health system. As if that wasn’t enough for any one person to balance she is also a cancer survivor. Sak’s story is one of an indomitable will and resilience in the face of multiple setbacks and difficulties. In 2007 she published her memoir, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, her retelling of her own recovery and her desire to chip away at the social stigma of severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia . Her retelling of her insights even at the worst of her psychosis is something which any mental health professional and lawyer should pause to consider, and her capacity to not only remember what she experienced when her symptoms were at their worst but also to talk to others about those experiences makes her the ideal advocate for mental health patients everywhere in the United States.

Saks has had a variety of experiences as a patient with paranoid schizophrenia and severe depression, some good and some bad. Her first hospitalization occurred while she was in a post-graduate philosophy program at Oxford. She was severely depressed and experiencing many paranoia

and psychosis including what is called ideas of reference and influence, which means she both thought that other beings were inserting thoughts into her head and that she was making things happen like killing people with her thoughts. Her thinking was so disorganized to the point that she could not string together a full, coherent thought. Her sentences, or what passed as a sentence when she was that sick, were full of incomplete sentences and unrelated words with the only accompanied association being rhymes or puns. These symptoms became a hallmark of her later psychosis, becoming more and more difficult to control as well as much more severe and debilitating, a waking nightmare as she has come to describe it (Dvorsky). During her time in England she resorted to such behaviors as burning herself and wandering alone in the tunnels beneath the hospital she was receiving treatment in. An interesting thing about the way the English psychiatric hospital system works is that despite her significant symptoms and self-harming behavior she was never once placed in seclusion or in restraints. The hospital doors were always open and every patient had the right to leave or stay and had a say in their own treatment, including whether they would take medications or not. Her case was not anything special; England had not used restraints or seclusion in their mental health treatment in over 200 years. Saks later compared this quite humane and compassionate treatment theory to what she experienced in the United States and used it as a reference in articles and books that she later published while in law school at Yale and later in her career. Her hospitalizations in the United States included wild swings between two very different systems of treatment: frequent use of restraints, seclusion and forced medications or redirection and encouragement to use coping skills to play out her anger and frustration. However, none of her treatment programs in the United States encouraged her to explore just what it was that she was experiencing in her psychotic state. Actually, they did the exact opposite in that the doctors and nurses were startled and scared of her and her delusions and psychosis and discouraged her from saying out loud what was going on in her head. This in direct contrast to what had been encouraged during her stay in England where she had succeeded in continuing to work on some of her masters level research and

essays even while she was hospitalized. She had felt heard, understood, and supported and therefore her recovery was faster and her time in the English system of treatment for mentally ill individuals was a relatively positive experience for her. She had very little that was positive to say about the American treatment system. It was a lesson and awareness that continues to influence her even now.

Another hard lesson for her was discussing her concerns and observations with psychiatric and law professionals who had a very different view of what was beneficial for psychotic and other mental health patients than what her experience showed her. She discussed the use of mechanical restraints with a professor she greatly respected. She was arguing that regardless of whether someone was psychotic or not the use of restraints is degrading and dehumanizing. Rather than understanding she discovered that he held the same opinion as most every other psychiatric professional in 1980s, “Elyn, you don’t really understand. These people are psychotic. They’re different from me and you. They wouldn’t experience restraints the same way we would” (NPR). Saks, at that time still a student in the Yale law program, was unable to tell her professor that his opinion regarding the difference between a psychotic and non-psychotic individual was wrong, that there was no difference between a psychotic and non-psychotic individual (NPR). She knew then that if she was to tell any of her professors about her own mental illness then her chances of being taken seriously as a lawyer were few. The stigma of mental illness was, and continues to be, so strong that even well educated and sympathetic people viewed themselves as different from anyone with a psychiatric illness. The us and them mentality does not stop at the border of a psychiatric treatment facility either. Within the micro-communities of inpatient hospitals there is an unvoiced hierarchy. People with less obvious illnesses like bulimia or anxiety or even depression considered themselves better, in some ways more human, than those with schizophrenia or other thought type disorders. Even during her own time in several inpatient facilities Saks had much of the same opinions. People who scared her were not the same as her, she was better than them, she didn’t need to be in the same place as them. She was confronted by her own

discrimination when another person in the same inpatient facility told her that he knew he didn’t need to be there any longer because he was nowhere near as sick as she was. He was too sane to be around someone like her.

Saks could have taken that sort of information and just tossed it away. She was still floridly psychotic when she was told this, but she had enough insight to know that she needed to take that sort of thinking into consideration. The next decade or so the mantra of “I don’t belong here because I’m not that sick” was something that stuck with her and which she used over and over to convince her providers that she needed to try getting off medications, that she was okay, that she really wasn’t someone with a mental illness. She was just not as good as everyone else at controlling her reactions and interactions with the very scary things that were going on in her brain. She was convinced that everyone from the other law students to her psychotherapists had the same sort experiences of killing thousands of people with their thoughts and that they were personally killed and tortured many times over by the same demons she fought with. They just knew how to keep quiet about it. Up until the 1990s even when she was on medications that helped with the delusions and paranoia she was experiencing she still had a lot of breakthrough symptoms. She described the experience as always having to fight to keep the door between the scary, intrusive thoughts and her own thoughts and what was going on in the real world. She could always feel or hear the scary things, they were always there at the edge of her consciousness trying to push through and torment her further. She had not really known anything else and so it was not a large leap of logic to think that every other person had the same problem of trying to keep nightmares from taking over their way of thinking. All that changed, her entire perspective changed, when she started on some of the newer antipsychotic medications that were developed in the 1990s. Saks described her experience in an interview she did with NPR in February, 2013, “I think I only really came to terms with having the illness and being careful about how I structured my life, ironically, when I got on really good medication. It made me realize that, you know, these

chaotic and violent thoughts weren’t things that everybody had.” Suddenly she wasn’t always aware of those nightmares knocking on some internal door in her mind. Her thinking was much more clear, she was less tired and much relieved that she didn’t have to fight to hold that door closed every moment she was awake.

Once Saks stopped fighting her illness she found that she was not as confined by it as she had been every day that she had struggled against it. Rather than being Elyn Saks, the lady who was always in fear of being the crazy bag lady muttering and yelling at buildings, she discovered she was able to be Professor Elyn Saks, a successful lawyer, teacher and good friend who happened to occasionally need to take some space for herself. Once she no longer wasted so much energy fighting to keep her thoughts straight or worrying over whether anyone else could see that she was struggling so much she was able to do more for herself. She began a program to become a psychoanalyst. She started dating again and married a very supportive man. She established herself as an expert in the law as it applies and relates to psychiatric cases through the research and publication of many books and reports focusing on the complicated ethics that often surround them. With colleagues at the University of California, San Diego she has started a research program to find other high functioning individuals with schizophrenia. With the release of her memoir and her even more recent TED talk she has joined the dozens of other individuals who advocate for recognizing and challenging the stigma related to mental illness. She has become so well known for her advocacy that celebrities like Glenn Close gave her a shirt that says “Schizophrenia” after asking her to be on the board of her nonprofit organization Bring Change 2 Mind (NPR Day). She has demonstrated that a diagnosis like schizophrenia is not a sentence to a life of little fulfillment or joy but is rather something that an individual can learn to work with and around to lead a completely productive life full of accomplishments and community service. Saks’s continued contribution to both the field of psychiatry and psychiatric law is one that completely contradicts the “grave” prognosis her psychiatrists gave her many years ago. Saks has been exceptionally successful in

her life in spite of her mental illness. “There are not schizophrenics. There are people with schizophrenia and these people may be your spouse, they may be your child, they may be your neighbor, they may be your friend, they may be your coworker” (Saks 2012).

A Completely Unexpected Thing

I’ve been getting a lot of hits on my blog the last few months. It’s all completely related to the essay I had posted in the middle of spring semester 2013, . As of 2pm on 8 Oct 2013 it was 935, an average of 5 a day since it was posted in April. It’s been really weird, to the point that I decided to go through and edit it a bit to make sure that anyone who just c/p without reading the whole thing would get a few weird questions from their teachers and maybe realize that plagiarism isn’t cool.

Today it occurred to me that perhaps not all of the views were due to the fact that people were just looking for something to plagiarize with. Sometimes people really are just looking for ideas on what to do. I decided to do a wee bit (read 3 minutes worth) of research and discovered that for at least three search terms “video games essay”, “video games are good for you essay”, and “sample video games essay” my blog post is on the front page. It’s actually numbers six, three, and two respectively. Holy shit. What the hell, dudes?! That is one of the absolute last things I would have expected to find. I know that the google algorithms basically say that the more traffic you get the higher up on the list you go, but I never expected to find anything that I have written get so high up on the list.

It also makes me worry even more about whether or not people are being not so cool and copying my work. *sigh*. Oh well. I hope people at least enjoy reading. Some part of me hopes that my atheism essay starts to experience the same success because I feel like that one is just as worthy of thought. Anywho, I just had to share my what the hell sort of epiphany thing.

Why Should You Consider Atheism? A Persuasive Essay

“I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it” (source). This quote from Albert Einstein always comes to mind when I try to convey to others why it is that a lack of God or gods does not make the universe any less meaningful or lackluster, but instead bright with wonder and curiosity. It is one of many misunderstandings regarding unbelievers, heretics, atheists, agnostics, or whatever you should want to call those who have come to their own conclusion that they can no longer believe in a particular God or gods. That is right, most atheists were not raised in a family of non-believers. The vast majority have spent time in churches, attended Sunday school and participated in church events (source). They each come to the conclusion, in their own way, that there is too much cognitive dissonance between their own logical perception of their world and reality and the potential for any sort of deity. To be a non-believer does not mean that a person loses their morals, their understanding of right or wrong. It does not mean that they no longer have passion for their fellows humans nor for causes that benefit those in need. It does not mean that they have become any more or less than what they were when they did believe in something else being out there. Most importantly, it does not mean that they have declared war upon any particular church, group, or country. Atheists and agnostics are people who have chosen to live their lives without God or gods and honestly believe that it is the best way for them to live. I would like to challenge everyone, regardless of their faith, to consider what non-belief means and why it is a way of living that should be considered.

I have heard over and over again that non-believers are always causing trouble for the church and are just as zealous as the fundamentalists they are campaigning against. However, according to a comprehensive study performed by Christopher Silver with the University of Chattanooga found it is less than one out of six atheists who would fall under this description, most of which have recently been hurt and cut their ties with a particular faith or church. This study also found that Atheists, much like Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and every other religion, are not made up of one homogenous group but instead can be described as part of sub-sects falling under the umbrella description of religious-nones. The more caustic and argumentative of atheists have begun to claim a new name, anti-theists, meaning against religion or belief. It is an apt reference to people who often seek out those who do not believe as they do, that there is no God, no pantheon, no creator, and work to convince them that they are wrong. Richard Dawkins, a biologist known more for his role as an antitheist preacher and author, is often held up as what every atheist must be within their hearts. I argue that nothing could be further from the truth. While men and women like Dawkins may be something of celebrities at conferences and quoted over and over it is not because their words are the only truth, but because their words are often the first glimpses many have of this other way of thinking. A way of thinking that is outside the teachings of Sunday school and church. They are an introduction to questioning what has been considered fact, of beliefs that may or may not be applicable to a person’s life any longer.

The typical non-believer is not going to proclaim that they don’t have a god to pray to for all to hear. For most atheists or agnostics the lack of religion takes up so small a part of their time that it is insignificant (source). Some like to debate their ideas with others but merely as an intellectual exercise. Others couldn’t care less about the whole religion thing. They don’t understand why there is so much trouble caused by debates between believers and non-believers. The best word for them is “meh.” There are others who stand in the middle ground between believers and non-believers. This middle group may not believe any human can know whether there is something out there or there isn’t. They don’t care if that something is a sort of great universal energy or power that encompasses all or an actual all-knowing entity or nothing at all, they just believe that there could be something more out there. Mr. Silver even found a group of atheists who continue to go to church or synagogue because they enjoyed the rituals and community. There are many, many more different variations upon this theme. There are as many ways to be an atheist or agnostic as there are ways to be a believer. It is truly an amazing example of how many different ways there are to understand and interpret the world. Perhaps the most inspiring of things to me is that these non believers do not require some written or spoken code of conduct to know what is right and what is wrong.

This, the question of morals, is perhaps the single greatest conflict between believers and non believers and the greatest obstacle a person who is experiencing a crisis of faith has to overcome if they are going to become a non believer. This comes from a misunderstanding about how it is that humans develop their morals. Yes, religious teachings help us to establish our morals but it is in much the same way that we learn how to speak. We are surrounded by these concepts on a daily basis in every aspect of our lives in churches, at school, in the home, our family and friend’s homes. It is a necessity that every child learn what is considered right and wrong within their own society. An atheist does not need a bible to tell him or her that killing is wrong. They only have to look at the laws of the land to know that it is punished by society. However, an atheist may be confused by a person who follows the bible, particularly the Old Testament, when there are so many examples where people are murdered and it is considered right in the eyes of God. The story of Joshua and the destruction of the city of Jericho and all the men, women, children and even animals within the city is one which many atheists point to and ask believers, “Why? Why is this okay?” There is also of the question of how a group of people can reconcile the revenge based teaching of “an eye for an eye,” from Leviticus 24:19, with Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount that declares, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (biblehub). An atheist or agnostic may look at this contradiction and declare that at least their concept of morality is consistent. They do what is right based on an internally consistent and externally approved set of mores and values without having to waver and consider between two different teachings. That is not to say that every person who reads both the New and Old Testaments has trouble deciding which teachings they based their morals on, but it has frequently come up in discussions between peoples of different belief systems.

The question of morality is not the only debate that occurs when people of differing beliefs converse. The most common question heard is, “How do you know that your religion is the right one?” There are thousands of religions believed throughout the ages, some that are still around and others that have become extinct along with the civilizations that followed them. A person who is willing to look at this information and ask how there is one true religion when there are so many potential religions that could be right. Richard Dawkins points out the problem with believing that one, and only one, way of thinking is true, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one step further” (source). Most atheists and agnostics have voiced this as one of the first questions they start asking that leads to their deconversion from religion (source). If a man or woman begins to ask for some sort of proof for why one religion is more right than another they have a lot to look at and ponder.

One of the most prominent questions that really doesn’t seem to have any answers is what makes this one religion that a person grew up with more right than one in a different culture or from a different time. If there is only one true and right religion and way to believe and any who do not follow that system will be tortured, lose their souls or be stuck as ghosts wandering the world forever when there are millions of people born prior to the establishment of that religion or in parts of the world that have not heard of it or had the chance to hear about it. This may not be a concern to some people, but many others they have difficulty understanding how any deity can dole out such punishments while stacking the chances against a society or individuals. In the words of most children, that just doesn’t seem to be fair. Certain people, just by pure silly luck, were born in the right place and at the right time to hear a very particular religion and therefore can be saved from eternal suffering. Everyone else is just plain out of luck. Non-believers often have trouble reconciling this concept because it just doesn’t make sense that any god or pantheon of gods would punish people who never had a chance to know them. There are religions that declare that God is not a specific entity but rather a formless and all encompassing universal power that is understood and related to in different religions based on what fits in their culture so that the Christian God is the same as the Egyptian God Amon Ra is the same as the Hindu God Shiva. All are different aspects of the same unknowable and incomprehensible power. Examples of these belief systems are pantheists, deists, Secular Humanists and some Unitarian Universalists. Unitarian Universalists in particular are accepting of most possible ways of seeing a god or gods, questioning the existence of some greater entity or nothing at all (source). Secular Humanists are typically agnostic or atheist but are accepting of all peoples of all faiths and really just want everyone to recognize the humanity and goodness in everyone.

Perhaps it is this awareness of the many possibilities and acceptance among the atheist and agnostic community that makes it appealing to so many who are uncertain. One does not have to declare themselves an atheist to be part of it. Some atheists will challenge those who are questioning their own belief, but there are many, many more who are willing to discuss and be open about their own journey from being a believer or being raised in a religious household to declaring themselves a non-believer or no longer religious. They understand that it is never easy to leave behind a long established way of thinking of the world and the comfort of the rituals provided by religion. This is why non-religious individuals have established organizations like Universal Unitarianism and Secular Humanisism; they wanted to provide some of that same support and structure that religion provides. Atheists, agnostics, religious-nones, deists, pantheists and those who don’t care are just trying to live their lives in a way that they have found to be the most logical and sincere for themselves personally. Douglas Adams, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, summed this up quite eloquently in his book The Salmon of Doubt. “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”

Just a note: If you want to use this as a source, cool. I’m totally down for that and would be happy to share with you some of the sources I used. However, I do ask that you be considerate of the fact that this is my 6th revision of this essay. That means I put in a lot of work and taking credit for another person’s work is cheating yourself as much as that person. If you’re going to use me as a source just keep in mind that I’m just a random blogger who happens to be taking classes at this time and am not, in any way, considered a great 1st source for material. If, however, your assignment is regarding information dissemination and impact of social networks, cool! Have fun.

Bits and Pieces of Thoughts While I Think on my Next Bit o’Fiction

First things first, or at least things that excite me – My English teach really liked my video game essay. There are a few teensy things I need to clean up, mainly a few awkward word choices and left over “on”s and things from my massive number of edits. Once I’ve done that, she wants me to enter it into an essay contest that happens at the school every year. The winner gets $50 and entrants get to put their name out there for teachers to get to know. When it comes to more subjective classes like English, psych, etc. I feel it’s important to have your name associated with the idea that you are a good writer before you enter a teacher’s classroom. Perception means so much and teachers are more willing to gloss over errors if they already “know” you can write, as humans are wont to do. Even my current teacher did something like that for my 2nd essay when I had two really bad cut/copy/paste-based errors. She didn’t take off points for those like what I would have expected her to because she knew that they were editing fails, not writing fails, if that makes any sense.

I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to use as my topic for my next argument essay, but haven’t really had anything stick out to me. Well, I’ve got two things, but I can’t decide if I really can argue either of them effectively because I am just a wee bit passionate about them.
The first is equal marriage rights. I’d end arguing for a case that would include marriage licenses being granted to two or more people above the legal age of consent who are willingly entering into the civil contract regardless of gender, sex, procreation status etc. Most people have an issue once the “more” part is added in, and to be fair, with the way current laws are written that affect civil marriage law contracts it would get really convoluted and tricksy. Especially things like inheritance and social security benefits and whatnot. Especially if the primary bread winner/head of house passes or decides to divorce one or more of the other parties. What happens to the rest of the contracts? Are they will that primary person or binding amongst all parties? Oy, such a headache and the primary argument against such marriages.
The second is abstinence only versus full disclosure sex ed. I (luckily) grew up in county that taught full disclosure sex ed by default and started in fifth grade. Yes, parents always had to sign permission slips to say “sure, teach my kid about sex” or “find them something else to do cause I want to be the one to educate them about sex” or not educate them as the case would likely be. I think I only saw maybe three kids not have permission to be educated in sex ed from fifth through twelfth grade. That’s pretty awesome in my opinion, especially considering that it was a requirement for every year of school up to high school and then was taught in bio and two or three other classes that were required for graduation.
Anywho, the point is that I feel pretty strongly about these topics, but think I could maybe argue either one of them. My teacher did give me the okay to write my essays on more divisive topics should I choose to because I could “handle” them maturely. On the other hand, this next essay is going to be sent out to the rest of the English dept. and I’m not sure that I want to write about anything so politically charged, no matter how well written, and be known as the student that is too opinionated/liberal/socialist/controversial at the end of my first semester of school.

On a completely unrelated note, I’m excited about the weather here. We’re supposed to get a pretty decent amount of snow between tonight and tomorrow night and I have nowhere to go and no one to meet until Wednesday morning, which means I get to just enjoy the snowfall. Huzzah! Pretty weather will be nice.

Play Video Games, It’s Good For You – An Argument Essay

This is mostly for Ed, but also for any others who would be interested/curious. Many, many thanks go to Jeff for editing and helping me to make it much better and spiffier than its previous incarnations.

Play Video Games, It’s Good For You

Video games have been accused of contributing too many acts of violence or aggression for decades. What the media misses is that video games have many benefits we haven’t found in any other media. Society should stop being afraid of video games and instead start looking forward to how we can best use them to benefit ourselves and our children. Anyone who doesn’t understand why needs only take a quick look at our society. Surveys have shown that 90% of children in the United States play video games. 70% of heads of households play video games, too. That leads to the average age of video gamers to be 33 years old (Bavelier, “TED”). Society is changing and non-gamers are being left behind.

Millennials, those born between 1978 and 2000 (Madland 1), grew up playing video games. Home video game systems (known as platforms) such as Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation, and don’t forget computers, were well established before they began primary school. These young adults have participated in the rapid development of video games from the most simple of games like Pong, released by Atari in 1973 (Winter), all the way to games like the super-realistic BioShock Infinite, released across multiple platforms in 2013 (Take-Two). To play Pong players manipulated a wheel on a controller to move a white line (the paddle) up and down one side of their television screen to prevent a white dot (the ball) from getting past their paddle. The graphics were incredibly simple. By contrast, games like BioShock Infinite are action-packed, fast-paced, and full of realistic scenery and characters. There are dozens of genres of video games, but most can be split into several broad categories, the most controversial of which are “first person shooters”, also known as FPS. These games use the perspective of the character being played; pulling the gamer from the more remote godlike view frequently described as third person perspective. FPS games also have a focus on violent game play where the main objective Leroy Jenkins is to shoot enemies. Today’s young adults play many of these genres, including FPS, and have gained skills from video games that were never anticipated. Depending upon the type of games they play, they may have a greater ability to: track visual information, process and make quick decisions, focus and complete complex tasks.

Some of the most controversial video games are also the ones with the greatest potential benefits. Fast-paced, FPS like BioShock Infinite, Halo, Doom, Half-Life, Borderlands and third-person equivalents like God of War: Ascension, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Force Unleashed have all been accused of being too violent, but the benefits gamers gain from playing them are astounding. Researchers like Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green have pwned been able to demonstrate in multiple laboratory tests that playing these fast-paced games increases a person’s ability to track multiple pieces of visual information and decrease reaction time. They also have worked with another researcher, Alexandre Pouget, and showed that fast-action games also decrease decision making time. Basically, these games have so much going on all the time that for someone not used to following and tracking so much information it can be overwhelming. Gamers have no trouble keeping up with this information overload. This essay was found on a blog and was used without permission, therefore it was plagiarized. The players are able to assess, make decisions and react quickly because they had to learn how to do so in order to play and advance. Here is a list of all the things they must keep track of for themselves, their allies and their enemies: physical place within the world, their objective, ammunition, health status, where they need to go, what obstacles are in the way and what objects may help. If they are playing by themselves they may have to give orders to their computer allies. If they are playing with other humans then they have to be able to communicate effectively with them while tracking all the other data. Oh, and they’re getting shot at while doing all this.

The typical human’s brain is completely incapable of coping with processing all this information. However, the brains of gamers adapt so that they can keep track of all the information they need to. Bavelier and her team found that a video gamer’s brain physically changes so that the player can process all of this information, and, most importantly, use it. A video gamer is capable of making accurate, informed decisions faster than a non-gamer with the same percentage of right answers. Bavelier and Green demonstrated that this benefit from fast-action video games sticks around for at least six months after a test subject has played only 10 hours over the course of 2 weeks. This means that every person can gain this benefit without actually being a gamer, as long as he or she is willing to put in a few hours a week to train his or her brains. This is really exciting because many of these changes have immediate benefits off with her head outside our living rooms, the most obvious of which is driving. When driving, the increased awareness, ability to track the many things going on around us and to make correct, fast decisions about likely outcomes of movements is invaluable in the prevention of car accidents. Playing video games has a huge impact on an individual’s brain and as a result has a direct impact on how gamers interact with and navigate our world.

Many gamers are told over and over that they have trouble focusing, and that they must have ADD because they do so well in focusing when there is so much happening on their screens all the time. However, exciting new research, again from Daphne Bavelier and her team, is showing that gamers’ attention and focus is actually better than that of non-gamers. They are capable of resolving visual conflicts faster, which is frequently used in the lab to determine attention and focus capabilities. However, video game detractors point to information released by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) regarding increased Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis rates since 1997 with growth rates as high as 22% between 2003 and 2007. They argue that more and more children are being exposed to video games and more and more educators and parents are complaining that their children are unable to focus on things like classroom instruction the female orgasm and homework (Klass). What has been found, though, is that these child gamers’ brains, as well as the brains of their already adult counterparts, are very capable of focusing and they can maintain the same level of performance in stimuli-rich environments like what we find in many video games like World of Warcraft, much of the Final Fantasy series, and the previously mentioned first person shooters for hours. Detractors like Dr. Klass actually point to this seeming contradiction as part of the causal relationship between ADHD and video game play. However, Gabe Zicherman, a leader in the development and application of “gamification” or how to apply video game concepts to real life, disagrees with such views. He suggests that it is adults that need to catch up and keep up with kids, not slow down kids to their slower pace:

Is it that our children have ADD or is our world just too freakin’ slow for our children to appreciate? … The evidence is found in the games that they play. Consider the video game World of Warcraft. When I was growing up the maximum skill that I was expected to display in a video game was simple hand-eye coordination, a joystick and like a firing button. Today’s kids play games in which they’re expected to chat in text and voice, operate a character, follow long and short term objectives, and deal with their parents interrupting them all the time to talk to them. Kids have to have an extraordinary multi-tasking skill to be able to achieve things today. We never had to have that.

It should then not be a surprise to discover that children who have become excellent learners in high-stimulus virtual environments may have trouble settling down into a sedate classroom with other children who are also conditioned to learning through video games. Tom Chatfield has written multiple articles and a book on how video games are the perfect education and motivation tools. He points out that children are constantly learning in a virtual environment where there are consequences to not accomplishing a task, e.g. losing a life, a tool, or not meeting a time requirement. There are also clearly stated rewards to completing the task as well as possible unexpected rewards that are doled out at calculated increments. Video game designers have been fine tweaking the ratio of difficulty, rewards and consequences to being a dumbass so that they know exactly how much to throw at a gamer at what level in each game in order to keep that person engaged and coming back for more. Educators could learn a lot from what these designers already know; children who are engaged and rewarded in an interactive learning process can and do give their entire attention and focus.

The fact that video games are a tool that can be used for education, and therefore do have an impact on the human brain, means we do need to be aware of what the potential negative impacts of those changes could be. What most every person has heard as an argument against video games is that they encourage violence and aggression in the people who play them. Multiple studies have been published on the topic, but when those studies have been reviewed and compared, it was found that they contradicted each other, and in many cases, used flawed methods to reach their conclusion regardless of the results (Mitrofan). Christopher J. Ferguson with Texas A&M University used meta-analysis to review 12 studies available to him at the time of his publishing (2008) and found that researchers often used flawed methodology, drew conclusions that were not supported by their evidence, or in general could find no link between video games and violence. Of all the research that I could find on the subject, the most conclusive causal link was that violent video game or media exposure does decrease a person’s response time to help someone after they suffered a violent event, if they noticed that something violent was going on at all (Anderson). If this were an effect that lasted for an extended period of time, this would be concerning to me. However, Holly Bowen and Julia Spaniol of the Dept. of Psychology with Ryerson University found that there is no indication that people who play violent video games have any long-term emotional desensitization to violence in their immediate surroundings. They do acknowledge that there may be a period immediately after playing these violent games that a gamer may be desensitized, but it is not an effect that could be attributed to an increase violence and aggressive behavior in those test subjects. Essentially, the evidence so far is showing that video games have a short-term impact on how people respond to violence and are likely desensitized to violence and possibly even reading for a short period after they play violent video games, but there is little evidence that there is a long-term impact. The heart of the argument against violent video games is based on the idea of a long-term, negative impact on gamers. Research just does not support that position.

Video games have become a part of our culture and a part of our lives in many ways. As a society we need to focus our energy and attention on is how to use them to make our lives better. We’ve already seen research that shows how video games can be used to help with several tasks with real world applications. We can use video games to increase our ability to track multiple objects and thus be able to monitor more of our surroundings while driving. They teach people how to be able to focus and maintain attention in situations where there is a lot of information to absorb in very short period of time. Video games can help us to better analyze what is going on around us and make quick decisions about the best action to take in a variety of situations. New research about the benefits of video games is coming out every year. It is time for us all to step forward and embrace the technology around us that has so many benefits and work together to mitigate the deficits that are present. Our society will not be ruined by this action, but will instead be enhanced further. There is one further thing we need to do. We need to sit down and pick up a controller. We leave ourselves at a disadvantage if we refuse to play out of false concerns regarding violence and aggression. Video games are here to stay.

Help!

I have an essay due for English that requires I analyze an image. The only things I have to keep in mind are the audience, keeping it interesting, and that the image have enough to analyze for an essay at least 2-3 pages long. Title, captions and text as part of the image are all fine. A real photograph or an art piece are fine. Wow, does that leave it open ended or what?

So, I would greatly appreciate feedback on whether any of the images below look like they would have enough potential content without me having to explain all of fandom or cultural context and only focus on the concept of the photo? A little explanation is fine. Four paragraphs of lead up before even beginning to analyze the image is not. Clear, yes?

With that being said, in no particular order, here are a few options I’ve found this afternoon.

I am human


“Clara Oswin Oswald, the woman who had enough strength of character to refuse to become a Dalek and maintained her own self and identity. Daleks are a race which has thousands of years of practice destroying other races, including converting them through destroying love, hope, and self-identity.”

The First and the Eleventh


“The First Doctor and his latest incarnation the Eleventh with their always there companion, the Tardis and one of their most terrifying enemies who kill through letting you live, a Weeping Angel.”

Darth Vader vs. The Doctor


“Darth Vader, the fallen hero, vs. The Doctor, the madman hero, as he protects those who cannot protect themselves with nothing but a screwdriver.”

Edward Elric


“Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist daring the viewer to stare at his human and machine self and sitting upon alchemy equations, his doom and salvation.”

Link and Epona facing the world


“Link starts on his adventure with no one but a horse to battle everything that is wrong with the world and save it from the brink of destruction.”

Roleplaying/cosplaying


“A quiet moment at a con shared between a father and his child which in most any other circumstance would be considered normal but due to the nature of cons and con-goers, it is seen as contrary.”

Follow your curiosity


“A young man and a child share a moment of discovery where the curiosity of a child overrides the judgment that many adults already have ingrained regarding the young man.”

A Madman with a Box


“The Doctor contemplating what he is to himself and those around him and the only constant in his life.”

A Stairway the the Clouds


“Clara climbing a set of stairs that leads to something which only children still think possible, a home high up in and resting on the clouds.”