Scholars Look at Games People Play

Atari Sponsors Video Conference at Ed School

Only a few blocks from the crowded arcades of Elsie's and Tommy's, video games were being examined this week in a more academic light.

More than 100 educators attended a three-day conference at the Graduate School of Education about the role of video games in education. The participants included teachers from across the country who have done research in psychological effects of video game-playing, and representatives of video and computer companies.

The conference was organized in February at the suggestion of executives of Atari. Inc., a major force in the video game industry. Atari donated, $40,000 to help pay for the conference. Through a subsidiary body, the Atari Institute for Educational Action Research, the company also distributes grants for video game-related research.

Ted Kahn, executive director of the Institute, said that they have given out about one million dollars in the last year and a half.

Play Time

When the participants in the conference broke from their discussion of video games and social behavior, medical rehabilitation, and formal education, they retired to the ground floor of the Ed School's Gutman Library to apply theory to practice. Examples of about 20 video games and systems were exhibited for examination and play.

B. David Brooks, an instructor at the University of Southern California, reminded the audience at one of the panels not to "lose sight of the fact that video games are a form of entertainment," and those in attendance at the conference strived to heed his words as they brought their clinical knowledge to bear on Millipede. Donkey Kong and other games.

Playing Donkey Kong, one researcher observed. "Oh, the balls can roll off the end--what is this, just a random number thing?" "I don't know." his fellow researcher replied. "I try to save the hammers so I'll have them when I need them," he added.

Gender Gap

One issue discussed in depth at the conference was the observed differences in ability and interest in playing the games between the sexes, and then related ability to deal with computer and video technology. Most participants agreed that males seem more interested in playing the games.