As an organization interested in media impact, our “water cooler” chatter around the office often includes TV series that shocked us and exposed us to something new, or video games we were impressed by. Read on to see the meaningful media HI staff has been talking about in May:
- Featuring: Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
- Game of Thrones
- Bates Motel
This is the second in a two-post series by guest blogger, Rafa Kern. Read the first post here.In my first post, I wrote about how games can be helpful in training our internal elephant—that is, how games affect our automatic processing and can help us develop new habits. In this post, I’ll explore how games can also affect the elephant’s rider, which represents our conscious reasoning. Before I do that, though, I would like to provide a disclaimer along the lines of the one Daniel Kahneman provided in Thinking Fast and Slow (2011): I don’t think the rider and the elephant are necessarily “true,” strictly speaking. It is sometimes hard to distinguish these two processes and harder still to map them onto physically distinct entities in the human brain. They simply stand in for two generally different ways of processing information. In essence, they are “useful fictions” that we can use to better understand how games can impact our habitual behaviors and identities.
Rafa Kern‘s research bridges the fields of design, interactive media, and education. Kern is a member of the Real World Impact Games Lab at Columbia University Teachers College, an initiative focused on designing and studying games for social and educational impact.If you’re like most other people, there are two voices in your head. Try it: tell yourself to be quiet. See? Two voices. In psychology, there’s a pretty handy metaphor used to describe the relationship between these two. Think of it like an elephant and a rider (Haidt, 2006). In this metaphor, the elephant is the voice that reacted to your telling yourself to be quiet. It represents the automatic mental processes, which are responsible for quick and reliable action and controls basic pleasure and pain. The rider, on the other hand, represents our conscious reasoning, or controlled system of thought—it’s the voice that did the telling. This system can project into the future to assess the consequences of our actions, and prompt further inquiry into the conditions that shape our reasoning. The elephant can be trained and guided by the driver but, at the end of the day, the elephant is the one in control.
Recently at HI, we’ve been doing a deep dive into studying storytelling in video games. We’ve sampled games from Grand Theft Auto V to Journey to The Unfinished Swan, and engaged in long debates about what makes a game feel “real” and what makes a “good” game. As part of our inquiry, we’ve been doing more reading than usual about games and how they work. The past decade has brought about a proliferation of literature (both popular and scholarly) on how video games are changing society. These articles come in two varieties: Video games will save the world and video games will make it more violent. After all of this reading though, we thought that it might be valuable to back up and start with some more fundamental questions that often get passed over in the popular press: What are games and how do they teach us? We put together the following primer to help place these questions within a basic theoretical framework.
It goes without saying that technology has changed the way we think about and interact with the world around us. When many of us hear this we’ll immediately think of computer technology and its impact on modern society. But this is not a new phenomenon; in fact, it is one that can be seen in any number of major technological thresholds throughout history. Think of the invention of the mechanical clock: the shift from biological to mechanical time affected society, not just in terms of scheduling, but our psychology as well. It’s theorized that these various technological shifts actually change our brains in such a way to allow for the next advancement to take place. In essence, without the clock becoming so instilled in human behavior that its existence is completely assumed, our brains wouldn’t have the capacity to understand the mechanics that lead to modern day computer electronics.
Imagine a research environment that brings together thousands of people for extended periods of time. The world is controlled, social, immersive, the participants are there by choice, and every moment is recorded. It’s a social science researcher’s dream—and it already exists. The environment is a virtual world called Norrath, and it’s the setting of the popular game Everquest II.Everquest II (EQII)is a massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) developed by Sony Online Entertainment. While the game wasn’t designed with social scientists in mind, the features described above make it the home of an “overwhelming amount of data,” according to Dr. Annie Wang, an expert in organizational research and social network analysis. Curious to learn more, we invited Dr. Wang to HI for our September anti-speaker series, during which she discussed her recent work examining player expertise and social interactions in EQII.
Movies, books, and television shows were, until recently, how most stories were told to mass audiences. Those mediums all move in one direction—they deliver a complete story to an audience. Gaming, on the other hand, is interactive; it’s a two-way street in which players have agency, or control, in the story. This participation can contribute to audiences’ increased learning or retention of information. The participatory nature of gaming and its ramifications for interactive data analysis promise exciting opportunities for measuring and understanding impact.In the social sciences, there can be a tendency to treat games like traditional media and focus on the game as a whole unit by assigning it to corpus or genre, such as “violent” or “educational” based on a single dimension of play. However, the interactive nature of games can offer insights into granular learning processes. Every level completed or executable player action can contribute to the measurement of that game’s effect on audiences. This approach is similar to recent economic studies on in-game behavior or the gaming industry’s method of playability testing, where game testers report on whether individual levels were an enjoyable experience or how well the mechanics of gameplay worked.To explain this type of evaluation in more concrete terms, we’ve chosen three game examples that are each engaging in different ways. We’ll walk through the particular ways in which they can create change in an audience, as well as give examples of how we might measure those changes.To read more head to Games for Change.
Images: jayisgames.com | diygamer.com