Archive for the ‘video games’ Category

A study on the effects on the brain of ‘violent’ videogames has resulted in this almost wholly indefensible interview on MSN.

Just a few of the problems I would point out:

1) The underlying assumption is that “increased activity in a part of the brain that governs emotional arousal” is somehow worse than “activity in the parts of the brain involved in focus, inhibition and concentration.”  There is an undercurrent of puritanism here; self-control as the highest standard.  But you can’t lump all “emotionalism” under the heading “bad.”  If this distinction was clear cut, Fox News would be off the air right now, and everyone involved in a protest rally would be in jail.  To quote Leonard Nimoy, “I am not Spock.”

2) The concept that one game was ‘violent’ and the other not is questionable.  The ‘non-violent’ game was “Need for Speed: Underground.”  In the “Need for Speed” series, one races away from the police and dives headlong into oncoming traffic at 150 miles per hour.  Hardly an ‘innocent’ experience.  Meanwhile the ‘violent’ game was a World War II shooter.  Interesting to point out that killing Nazis is actually far less objectionable in modern society than leading the police on a car chase.  What’s actually worse?  Killing an ‘enemy,’ or evading the law?  This strikes me as American ‘individualism’ clouding the moral judgment; though it’s also probable that individualized, one-to-one violence is the more ‘damaging.’  This kind of complex question never comes up in the interview.

3) The title is “teen brains changed by violent videogames.”  This is an accusatory phrase (which is even used to justify asking whether Columbine was due to violent video games) which is not entirely defensible.  One could write an article on virtually anything and take the accusatory stance that it ‘changes’ the brain.  Human beings are not static.  Change is not necessarily bad; nor is it necessarily permanent.  Thankfully the interviewer does imply this later, though the issue is skirted over quickly.

I will, however, agree that the study itself was good.  And they do raise the very valid point that ratings systems are lenient on violence.  (Though they stop short of criticizing anything but the video game industry, which is not appropriate.  At least violent games are rated teen.  There are some PG movies with quite high levels of violence and death.  As long as the violence is bloodless it isn’t regarded as bad…)  It’s not so much the interview subject that I question, as the interviewer.  The outsider clearly take a more expansive view of scientific findings than does the scientific community.  Perhaps its time to write a news report on how ‘scientific findings cause emotional reactions and change teen brains.’

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After the complete lack of any comments whatsoever when I requested links to important articles on games and aesthetics, I finally decided to do a little poking around this morning myself.

Truth be told, I’m not sure what I found.

– Using Emory’s journal finder, I was not able to track down a single gaming journal.  The only one that I found was actually a gambling journal.  (Don’t ask me why they use the less objectionable term ‘gaming’ rather than ‘gambling.’  You’re a scholarly journal; you’re allowed to use the term despite it’s connotations….) 

– 99% of all “are games art” arguments that pop up in internet searches are simply the ridiculous rantings of the young.  Statements such as “of course games are art; why do we have to talk about this crap” seem to be par for the course.  Decidely unhelpful are these statements.

However, a few of these blog posts do lead, after much digging, to a couple of potentially valid links.  I haven’t had time to dig into any of them yet, but I somehow get the feeling that Henry Jenkins from MIT has already said much of what I have to say.  I’m not entirely sure that it matters, because if he’s the only one then he’d probably like some company.  But considering his pedigree and the number of journal articles he’s published in Computer Games Magazine, he’s clearly thought at great length (and great depth) about this.  So much if not all of my statements may simply be an echo of some of his, though I may try to publish it anyway (as publication is essentially currency for a grad student).

So anyway, thanks for the lack of help.  (I’m actually being serious.  Considering the responses that I read to other people’s blog posts on this topic, I’m quite glad that I didn’t have to wade through 100 posts from teens saying ‘of course games are art’ on my own blog.)  I think I’m a bit more clear on the state of things now.  (But only a bit.)

Perhaps over Christmas break, when I actually have some time, I’ll try reading “Unit Operations” or “Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders” and see if there’s anything along my lines of thought. (Strangely, Jenkins himself doesn’t seem to have published any actual books in the area.) Or, perhaps I won’t read any of these things. Quite frankly, I’m not sure if it would even be necessary. I might simply flesh out my own essay and go it alone as an interloper.

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As regular readers are no doubt becoming aware, I’m struggling to maintain interest in my classes to start this semester.  Many of the films we are screening in my classes are entirely devoid of interest for me, and it gets tougher to be a film scholar when watching films actually feels like work.

So my brain has been all over with other things lately, trying to maintain an interest in scholarship without actually concentrating on classes.  I spent about four hours yesterday creating and doing internet searches for the my Ralstonism research (see the new page to the left underneath my ‘links’ page link).

This morning I’ve spent about two hours scratching out a rough draft of an essay on video games as art and the ways in which they are always negatively compared to filmmaking.  I’ve no clue whatsoever if any of the things that I’m saying are of any value to the game studies community, as I’m not in the slightest involved in the field.  I’m approaching it entirely from a film studies perspective and from a comparison with the seemingly endless ‘is film art’ debate that my field had to go through when it was young.

Anyway, I’ve been questioning the strengths and weaknesses of games as art and would like to read some other prominent essays on the topic before I decide if I have any ideas that are worth trying to flesh out and publish, or if this was simply a few hours spent wandering through my own thoughts on gaming and is only worth posting on the blog.

So, if anyone knows of online essays or the locations of essays in specific magazines that are generally considered to be the cream of the crop in arguments about whether video games are or are not art, point me in the right direction with a comment.

And yes, I do know about the Roger Ebert thing….

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