In which the gaming industry got pwned and don't even know it yet.
Gamer Revolution, Part 1
Red Apple Entertainment
Written by Marc de Guerre
Is it a case of ‘Make love, not Warcraft’?
Calling upon respected academics Henry Jenkins (Director, Comparative Media Studies, MIT) and Robert Kozinets (Associate Professor of Marketing, York), this documentary on the ‘revolution’ being experienced in the gaming industry by all rights should have a critical component liberating it from previous paranoid media pronouncements. Surely it’s time for a view other than ‘gaming kills’, ‘your teenage son will soon go on a rampage if allowed to play FPS’, or ‘GTA made me do it’?
Unfortunately, it seems not. The appeal to base instincts of fear and an unfair dose of misapprehension and misunderstanding appears ongoing. Alongside Jenkins and Kozinets appears Jack Thompson, a Republican attorney who battles against obscenity in rap music and violence in gaming, claiming that kids are exposed to ‘murder simulators’ and are thereby induced into copycat killings.
‘Games are bad, mmmkay?’
Gamer Revolution commences with much-cited statistics: gaming is now a $25 billion Hollywood-rivalling industry whose profits derive from over 800 million regular players worldwide. A game’s development costs have increased from approx. $40,000 in the 1980s to over $10 million – a huge outlay given that 80% of games fail in their first year. Cue Will Wright, creator of The Sims, the best-selling PC game in history (shipping over 70 million units as of January 2007), who is accorded royalty status as the gaming equivalent of Steven Spielberg. Wright is about to launch his new educational evolutionary game, SPORE, where players have to survive the biological challenges of being a microbe before they make it to land.
If Wright is the god of gaming, South Korea is the epicentre of its quasi-religious empire. Witness obsessive behaviour (yes, another comment about psychological effects) from the 20,000-strong crowds in Seoul, who have come to support their teams in a StarCraft face-off. In the most networked country in the world, talented gamers are a decidedly bankable concern, being able to earn six-figures p.a. given their chess-like processing powers and multitasked microsecond strategic moves. An average career lasts six to ten years, after which financial institutions seek to mold the gamers as stockbrokers. In this forum, mobile phone companies vie for the fans’ attention, investing huge amounts in hosting these competitions and priming their players in seclusion leading up to the tournaments. There’s certainly all the expected fanfare, with teenage girls gushing and cheerleading on the sidelines. Nerds are finally cool!
A topic which has been far from cool in recent times has been the recruitment drive for the US Army (where’s Michael Moore when you need him?). Enter a professor from Westpoint, who suggested creating a game marines could play alongside teenagers to engage them in the art of war. The result: America’s Army (AA). According to the designers, the game differentiates itself from other fictional accounts by modelling real-life action, and not allowing avatars to spring back to life until the start of a new round. Animators are taken on an annual three-day mission to show them how the firearms lock and load; the lighting in current combat zones is emulated as closely as possible. The strategy seems to have worked: recruitment is up significantly, and all quotas have been met since the introduction of the game. Unfortunately, there was no mention of Joseph DeLappe, an activist who uses the AA platform to demonstrate against the death and destruction of the Iraq war by laying himself bare over and over.
What’s the psychology of killing your own? GR interviews two teenage Palestinians who find it abhorrent that the US games are preconfigured to kill Arabs. The Syrian response (here characterised as a ‘dictatorship’ rather than ‘presidential republic’… hmm…) has been to design Under Siege, a mission in which Palestinians turn their guns on Israeli soldiers to liberate their homeland.
According to psychologists, there is something (disturbing) about looking at the physiognomy of other players and shooting anyway. The ‘first person shooter’ encourages headshots by awarding extra points. Was it a coincidence that teenagers who go on real rampages are able to shoot successive people in the head with 100% accuracy? The documentary points to functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) which is able to isolate the part of the brain which handles critical functions. It shows that individuals habituated to playing games utilise the areas of the brain responsible for aggressive response. So, are we all primed to kill? Let’s remember that technological determinism is an easy response, but not the correct one. We are much more than somnambulant at the controls.
In the next episode, virtual worlds online! I wonder whether they’ll mention Second Life… lol.