This might surprise many adults, but teenagers are actually aware of what videogames do to them in terms of attention span and time management. Impatience, a feeling of disconnection with the world: videogames only seem to exacerbate the adult-teenage (anti-)communication issues that have been known to happen for generations.
This has led to a grave problem: teenage lack of patience for the real world, along with a feeling of detachment with said world—which isn’t as exciting as the game world—tends to end up in a high rate of school drop-outs (mostly boys). This is something pointed out by Professor Philip Zimbardo in his talk “The Secret Powers of Time”.
While Professor Zimbardo indirectly says we need to go along with the changes that are occurring—in this case, time perspective and social interaction brought about by technology—I wonder why not exploit these factors that are changing us.
I’m going to carry on with videogames instead of going on about social change and what not; doing so will only lead to me confusing myself: it’s happened once today and that’s enough.
So how can we exploit videogames? We need to analyse how they affect us and the way we interact with our real environment and channel these changes into more positive behaviour.
Thankfully, there are people already on the job.
Recent tragedies associate game violence with real violence. If people mirror what happens in games, why not give them something better to reflect?
Heavy Rain was designed to give a more realistic image of what surrounds murder than GTA does. The story focuses on four people involved in the investigation of a serial killer. It aims to allow players to explore the emotions and thoughts inside the characters, from the victims’ families to the investigators. I know this sounds boring, but there is quite a bit of action to engage you (I played the demo; trust me).
In February 2010, at TED2010, Jane McGonigal gave a talk on how new games connect the virtual world, which so many people seem to be riveted by, to the real world. How did she do it? By giving the virtual world our real world problems (sharing is caring ,I guess). One of the games is called “World Without Oil” and it immersed players in a world where oil was on the brink of running out (closer than us). They created enough online content to make the premise credible and challenged players to come up with solutions for the problem facing them: how can we live without oil? Players are asked to report back on how they changed their lives (via blogs, videos, photos…). This all translated to changing their real life habits. According to Ms. McGonigal, the pilot programme (with 1700 players) was tracked for 3 years after the launch and most players (I’m guessing this means >50%) have kept their new-found, oil saving habits.
I have attached Jane McGonigal’s TEDtalk to the end of the post.
One last thing: what if videogames are changing the way our minds deal with themselves? Well, they can (sort of). According a study in Canada, people who play videogames show greater awareness and control when in dreamland. Research suggests that brains relate dreams to videogames because they are both alternate realities. Give the mind control of one, and that might empower it to control the other. It should be noted that by control we don’t mean anything like reality bending, but more stuff towards the interaction-with-the-world end of the spectrum. This may not seem like much, but it might allow those with nightmares to change what happens to them in their dreams.
This would be a great way of testing whether or not you’d do all the things you keep screaming to characters in slasher films.
So let’s all play videogames (in moderation… don’t get crazy!) and help make the world a better place—also with less nightmares!