Sunday, June 05, 2005

Those Who Can't Do, Teach Violence

Terra Nova
wrote about learning stuff from video games and Games*Design*Art*Culture added some thoughts. It looked to me like the general line of reasoning was this: Gamers like to claim that violent games don't teach violent behaviors, yet we say that we can make games to teach people nonviolent subjects; How can we live with the contradiction? Do games teach or not?

I thought I'd throw in my ever-decreasing-in-value two cents.

So I guess here's my 1.43 cents.

I think the answer to this lies in the distinction between exactly what games are teaching, can teach and do teach.

My most important assertion: There is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between the actions a person makes in a game and the thought patterns they are extrapolating from that manipulation.

As an example: when I make Mario jump, I'm not learning how to jump better. Nothing in that action prepares me to slam-dunk. I'm certainly not making it more likely that I will increase jumping in my daily life, or that I'll run around trying to smash turtles. What I may be doing is increasing my reaction time to projected sequences in a virtual space. What's commonly called twitch-behavior. I'm also formulating an analysis of how long it takes for Mario to jump in response to my button-press and therefore calculating a general plan of how to react to future threats.

Of course, I've already talked in this blog about how firing a gun in real life is just not at all like firing one in a video game. This still doesn't mean that a kid won't build a conceptual model of firearms that is strikingly flawed, with lethal results.

But if your child shoots someone because they claim to be unsure of the lethality of a gun because in a game it takes several shots to kill someone, then your child is an idiot. Plain fucking truth. Because what's at issue there is that the child was willing to do violence. The fact that they 'didn't know' the gun would kill is irrelevant. Someone, some real-life human being, failed to teach basic socialization to that child.

So we're really talking about different issues.

The first thing we should investigate is: What types of attitudes are games suggesting as valid, what effect does this have on different ages of gamers and what types of behaviors are they adopting in response to those attitudes?

The second thing we should investigate is: What types of general thought processes are utilized/formulated while playing video games and to what degree are they applicable to different real-world tasks?

The third thing we should investigate is: What are the best formats for maximizing retention of information in educational games, and what kind of interactions produce that retention?

The fourth thing we should investigate is: Why the fuck can't such seemingly educated people as politicians tell the goddamn difference between correlation and causation, still?

Games don't so much teach as suggest. I would argue that they aren't necessarily as suggestive as non-interactive media because a gamer has the ability to modify the media. In a first-person-shooter the player always has the option to not shoot back. It's highly unlikely to be a course of action, but the choice is there. An Arnold Schwarznegger movie, where he blasts Arabs while spouting cheesy jokes, offers no choices at all - which, to me at least, makes it more pedantic than any videogame.

Children are impressionable. This is clear. The problem with any kind of media is that without a mature figure to guide children, they are going to learn all sorts of really shitty, backward, awful behaviors. That's because a good portion (most? all?) of art/media rely on the expression of emotions that are strong and important and aren't necessarily fluffy and cuddly. Sometimes the media has room to comment on itself, to help provide a reasonable framework, but often this isn't the case. Which is where educated, socially-aware individuals come into play.

And in reality, we live in a world of shitheads and bad parents and worse role models and violent, insane assholes.

There will always be people claiming that the video game made them do it, or the television, or their abusive daddy, or the talking dog, or twinkies, or any other stupid thing they can throw up like a magical ward.

The riddle of our actions is that nothing makes you do anything, but everything makes you act. The best solution may be fostering culpability, and indeed much of maturity could lay in being able to claim your mistakes and failures, no matter how terrible or idiotic.


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you on the issue of movies being more restrictive than a video game. If you wanted to get really technical about it, there is a game manual telling you to shoot the demons in doom. More importantly there is a friend/dad/brother/mother/sister telling you how to play if this is your first FPS. Games are more interactive, they put you in the role of the person firing the gun and thats what makes a FPS fun. The problem is that people of the far sides of both issues are the most prominent. Either you don't think games affect kids at all and give your child ritalin and tell him to beat mario3 in 30 minutes or no allowance, or you think we can make blanka go evil with game images as in StreetFighter, the movie.

Thats my cent. I saved the other one for this phrase.

Como se dice Rocket Whore, en espanol?

Deacon said...

I'm not sure you really disagree, as such. I said games aren't necessarily (the word to emphasize) as suggestive as movies, owing to their interactivity (our choices can seem more meaningful).

And not to be nitpicky, but you use the word restrictive, which seems to me to refer to a level of interaction, while I was discussing suggestion, which refers to the ability to affect behavior. Those are two very different things.

You made a good statement to the effect that there tends to be a 'right' way to play a game (the designer's intent, what the manual says). And also the encouragement of a way to play the game (social aspect, if any). These are important, definitely, and some games do their best to offer a more directed experience, but the ability to effect the medium given to the player is still greater than in a movie (if it isn't, well, then you're watching a cutscene . . . )

Then you say that games are more interactive, which was pretty much what I was referring to by discussing the importance of choice. To clarify: in games, choice tends to rely much more on consumer input - we can, as JOSHUA learned, always choose NOT to play, but then, we can choose NOT to watch, too (as Videodrome told us) - movies are skewed toward creator.

I'm not really sure about your initial statement: How, then, do you see games versus movies? AS restrictive. Less restrictive? More?

And in reference to my point: Do games make it easier to push a particular attitude or behavior, or does their interactivity always provide at least a small measure of 'wiggle-room' to derail the designer's intent?

Deacon said...

Oh, I meant to tell you . . .

Rocket Whore, best as I can figure, in Spanish is (drumroll):

Puta de Cohetes.

Well, that's whore of rockets, but I kinda like that phrasing better. For some reason it sounds much more fanatical. "Suck the tip of my Minigun, Whore of Rockets! Dripping Spawn of The Redeemer! Turgid Flak Cannon!"

Anonymous said...

Games feature more ways in which to restrict a sense of freedom they don't fully realize. Movies are always much more restrictive but in ways we all, as audience and mostly passive have come to accept. Even our more expansive games offer us a series of more choices, but they do not really offer us the use of our choice. In mario I can choose to jump, to dash, and to duck. I cannot play the game and choose to run to the left. A more modern look would be in the every popular GTA games I can choose to use only those things that I can pickup. I can't for instance, build a fence for that house I just rammed into. Games are much better at giving us the illusion of real choice. All games have objectives and all objectives by design have certain methods of achieving them. The real trick that is necessary for a game is to create that illusion that the goal really becomes my goal (I want to deliver 25 pizzas, and not that I just want to hit the next level) and that they ways I choose to accomplish my goal are capable and don't feel restrictive. If you take away the restrictive nature of the game then what does it become? A movie, book, song will eventually end. A game that didn't end, and offered true choice would be art, and playing it would be art, and currently, it's science fiction at best.

Anonymous said...

Actually, some MMO's allow creation of stuff, ie. games within the game. It's called second life, check it out.

and, i agree. Anyone who is willing to commit violence, but didn't know of the consequences, is an idiot. Couldn't have said it better.

Anonymous said...

I think the bigger impact of games are on the children playing them. Their mind quickly grasp the idea and then they try to implement the same in the real life.

Game Development