Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Messages in Games

Originally Posted by kaylee:

From Fox News:
Several high-profile cases involving people who met playing online games have led experts to caution that such Web sites have a unique environment that could be a breeding ground for criminal minds...

..."The common goal of annihilating the foe can bring out a belligerence that sometimes spills over into real-world interactions, especially within those who become addicted to what they're playing, "said Robert McCrie, a professor in the law and police science department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

"You observe people playing these games -- it draws out a kind of aggressiveness and competitiveness in their behavior," he said. "There is a concern for people who become obsessively involved with cyber gaming."
The ridiculously aggressive, trash-talking behavior seen in online games has IMO several components:

a. the thuggishness in other parts of the culture (the NBA, for example) becoming more tolerated
b. the hypercompetitive design of these games themselves, which attract the more aggressive gamers
c. the possibility that the hyperaggressive people in these gameworlds are testosterone-rich to begin with
d. the reinforcement of aggressive-posturing behavior by observing that one's peers in the game are all acting that way
Throw all those things together and frankly, no, I wouldn't be surprised to see someone who's a loud-mouthed bully in an online game world behave the same way outside the game -- or vice versa.

Now, does one of these cause the other? In particular, does acting aggressively inside an online game world lead to more aggressive behavior in the real world? Does playing these games lead to people behaving more aggressively in the real world than they otherwise would have done if they hadn't played?

That's a lot harder to say with any certainty. I don't imagine there'll be too many professionals who'll choose to go out on that limb -- not without a lot more peer-reviewed science to back it up.


In summary, I think computer games are a part of our culture, just like other artifacts, and may similarly have some potential to affect what behaviors we choose to tolerate as acceptable. To mock that possibility seems as wrong to me as to ascribe to it power it doesn't have -- in both cases, the chance to learn something useful about ourselves is lost.

As pieces of our culture, computer games probably do affect the behavior of some individuals... but no, probably not as much as some people (who may have agendas) want to believe they do.