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Chapter11

Violence in Games

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I agree with that, SG. If we want to liberate the medium from arbitrary limitations, setting more boundaries isn't the way to do it. I think the point stands that the medium would really benefit from a lot of designers breaking out of the win\lose, reward\punishment box, but that doesn't mean there is nothing worthwhile to explore in that direction. I do totally agree with the gist of Avi's post though.

Ritchie.Thai , I haven't yet read all the way through that article but I've really enjoyed what I've read so far. Jenova Chen's perspective resonates with me. I'll come back to it.

Avi, I'll jot down some thoughts about collaborative\constructive vs. competitive\destructive game mechanics and design the next time I sit down with the forum. Also, re: your earlier response to my suggestion that we are predominately educated by fiction... Of course it depends on the family, individual and their lifestyle, but I'd speculate that millions grow up today hearing much more from the TV than from their parents, even during infancy. It's practically become a substitute babysitter for many. Also, we never stop learning. If someone experiences ~13+ years of academic education, but watches TV daily for most of the rest of their lives (and in all likelihood watched some of it daily during schooling as well), you tell me which plants more seeds in that person's mind in the long run, and which is more incessant and repetitive. Anyway, whether or not the statement was a bit overreaching, my point was mainly to highlight the fact that media has an enormous influence on us.

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SG, I already hit the gist of the point in this post in the other thread so I'll keep that discussion there.

Edit, looking forward to your thoughts on mechanics and design. I actually don't disagree with you at all concerning those kids spending more time with TV and fiction, and I didn't in my original response. In fact, I'm not even referring to formal education as the primary other element they're dealing with. I think most families are heavily lacking in real child interaction especially in the US (which is where most of my perspective stems from though I know this is an international forum). I won't get started on academic education which follows a model of perfect equality that fails to acknowledge or address the individual and prizes rote memorization over the ability to acquire and apply knowledge in unconstrained situations. So I think most kids learn very little from school. I've spoken with many kids under the age of 10 who are actively aware of that. They told me when I asked them how they felt about school. I didn't lead the witness.

What I'm actually referring to is environmental interaction outside of direct education. Everything is information in that respect. If the parents do not interact with the child, they are actually teaching the child a tremendous amount simply by doing that. The other children that the child interacts with at school teach a great deal. The people and environments that the child is exposed to also teach a great deal. In that respect I think the impact that fiction has on that child is rather minor.

I think it's important to address that fiction CAN make a high impact, but that doesn't mean that fiction automatically makes that impact. If a child has a perspective which it has acquired from the environment then fiction which mostly mirrors that perspective will not make a large impact. This is really the strongest argument against the idea that fast-paced tv shows and games cause reduced attention spans or violent media breed violent dispositions. Neither of these are really true. What many people don't want to acknowledge is that the environment already breeds those things, and a lot of poorly thought out fiction just rides on the coattails. If you think about the fiction that you can tell you learned something from, it's probably the fiction that provided a new idea not just reinforced an old one.

The US is a country with an extremely heavy amount of nationalistic propaganda. That may piss some people off, but it's absolutely true. Almost every news source in this country is completely biased. Unfortunately it's also biased on corporate, scientific, and moral issues as well. It emphasizes violent and hostile events. Most people follow the exact same trend. They talk about war and death regularly without appropriately addressing questions of morality or the reality of those things. Parents, family members, and many other people frequently express feelings of largely unfounded rage and anger against other people. Most schools do almost nothing to capture the attention span of a child or to demonstrate the fun and experiences that can be had with concentrated effort. The public school system operates on exactly the same system of task-based punishment/reward that we're criticizing games for. So it's hardly surprising people get addicted to them. Most of them have been shown that the real world actually works that way.

The unfortunate reality is that if the school system, people, and families were different then the kids wouldn't have much interest in that sort of media or would demonstrate a far greater understanding of it. I have seen this multiple times myself as I used to work with children. The push on the media for problems of distanced identities, social difficulties, violent tendencies, and issues of attention span is simply scapegoating the problem. The real problem, as always, is the people. Popular media just mirrors what the people are already demonstrating themselves.

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[snipped for concision]

I think it’s interesting and worthwhile to explore the kinds of associations that game mechanics themselves might produce. Games are not just showing the viewer something. A player is engaging in a behavior - learning by doing and perceiving simultaneously, making the suggestive and educational power of games significantly greater. The plot (if there is one) is one layer of information the player is receiving, but the mechanics of gameplay are delivering a message all of their own. So… If a game world is incessantly hostile to the player and requires that they kill or destroy things in order to survive and progress, I would say that the game design and mechanics are enforcing competitive interaction. Kill or be killed is perhaps the ultimate competitive mindset, and so playing out this kind of activity is strongly reinforcing a competitive outlook, and competitive behavior. It is not important whether or not the player is competing with an actual human being for this to be true, although if they are, I imagine the sense of competition and consequent reinforcement of that mode of thinking would be greater.

If a game world is predominantly responsive to player creativity and\or curiosity, I would say the game design and mechanics are nurturing constructive or cooperative thinking. It may seem a stretch to call any non-competitive gameplay “cooperative”, but I think any interaction with NPCs in which their information or activity (rather than annihilation) assists the player towards their goal can be boiled down to a sort of cooperative experience. Any interaction in which a game world, whether or not it contains personified characters, is assisting and positively responding to the player effectively shares this cooperative kind of structure. We can see how the way a game is designed generally puts, for the duration of gameplay, the player into either a cooperative or competitive relationship with the game. It's not a stretch to consider how practicing that relationship\state of mind repeatedly might begin to impact on how people perceive and interact with each other.

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I was going to start exploring some examples and possibilities for game mechanics but I might leave it there for now as I think the crux of what I wanted to say is there in those last two paragraphs. Always interested to hear more thoughts, disagreements and so on. Oh, and I would have said this in that post, but I actually hit the post length limit haha.

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Edit, you make an excellent point, and I think there's actually an easy way to blend both our points. The media has the largest influence over anything that we have not given serious thought to. The less thought we have given to it, the more easily influenced we are by something we randomly see. This accommodates the fact that if a child is picking up a large amount of information concerning a certain subject from outside sources (parents, peers, teachers, observation) then they are not likely to be influenced much by seeing the same subject portrayed in the media. On the other hand if the child is picking up very little information from outside sources then there will be a high degree of, often unperceived, influence from the media.

This goes for adults as well, but in the case of adults we can drop the exclusive mirroring of the child. For adults it concerns how much serious thought the adult has given the subject. If the adult has not given the subject serious thought then their perspective on that subject defaults to that of a child (first to outside sources, then to media). If the adult has given serious thought to the subject then they will be far less susceptible to either outside sources or the media.

So yes, I definitely think that game mechanics count as a form of potential media influence. This plays back into what I've said concerning that most of our education system is actually based on a punishment/reward mechanic almost identical to that used in games. It's funny because I started strongly disliking the use of punishment/reward in games at roughly the same time I figured out that's what school was. In other words, as soon as I started putting serious thought into whether punishment/reward was really an adequate human motivation, I lost interest in all punishment/reward related things. In that instance I would definitely say my initial psychological programming towards punishment/reward mechanics was started much earlier than I started playing games. However kids now often start punishment/reward based games before they start school. Many of those games are said to be educational which means the children start to reinforce very early that real learning is based on punishment/reward.

I would definitely be interested in hearing more of the mechanics you have considered and the influences they might have.

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Just a quick response. Ya, that sounds right to me, and I think the compartmentalization of education, among other things, probably leaves a lot of holes for media influence to fill. I agree about punishment\reward. I can understand why it's found its way into games.. It's a hard cycle to break as it's so ingrained in our culture, history and (probably for most of us) upbringing. In game design, I think if you want to encourage your player to behave in a certain way, in order to best experience the game, punishment is the least smart way to do it. It doesn't nurture a player mindset in which they truly appreciate your game! The desired player activity should be its own reward, by being a pleasure to engage in.

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