It has been my experience that while we all have the common interest of games, love the medium, and love the experiences we share with games, there are instances Where there are still hostile divides on specific topics that seem to separate the gaming community. It is my belief that the frequency of these disagreements have created a need for a deeper look into games both as a subject of analytically study and a deeply complex craft. Like numerous series before this, DeconstructionCraft aims to explore the misconceptions or misunderstandings that typically halt serious discussion in search for a better understanding of the material. But here we will be focusing on what creates those misunderstandings and give the reader tools to dissect and break down a discussion to uncover the spoke in the wheel as it were.
MEDIA and CULTURE
We all agree that media has the ability to produce a neurological response in the viewer. Seeing your favorite food on the box makes your mouth water or having a tense situation in a war movie makes you physically tense and increases your heart-rate is all basically understood. Further more into this phenomenon of neurological association, when a person is beaten or tortured we respond on some level, sometimes cringe or have trouble watching, some people even get sick. This is a perfectly natural and well documented phenomenon. Through the grapevine nature of the popular culture’s news media the text has become misconstrued and their meaning perverted. The reason for this is the natural tendency of people to respond to information with heuristics. Heuristics is our earliest go to form of problem solving; it’s when you pool whatever you’ve heard or read about a subject to form what you consider to be a satisfactory answer based within the limit of your understanding on the subject. Heuristics is reading a text for it’s face value with only a face value understanding of the subject. As you could image, this is not the optional means of problem solving, it is simply the most practical because of the speed and lack of further effort. While studies document video games’ ability to produce responses in the brain similar to reward, punishment, in the face of whatever fiction in the game; there were journalists and parents that misinterpreted this to mean games teach violence. Where in fact, studies tend to imply that the more widespread our violent media the less violent crimes we have; as if fantasy is the brain’s way of coping with stress or something and that just as likely leads to people being less likely to lash out.
Our downfall is when we take these studies to defend games and use them to all too-quickly discredit others that focus on the player response from games, especially violent games. It is inescapable that the player does get physically tense when their character is in combat and does get the same neurological response of pleasure in winning. It cannot be ignored that media has a real effect on the player that mimics reality. The key distinction between the fact of media’s influence on the viewer and the false claim of media brainwashing the viewer is a nuanced one and only becomes clear with understanding of media’s influence.
In a manner our body does respond as if fictional material is real, but in the same instance it isn’t confusing the two. What’s happening is some subconscious level our mind distinguishes between reality and fiction, through the phenomenological wonder of imagination our brain is are able to project and simulate within the fictitious world. There are plenty of studies that suggest fiction and fantasy is a tool of the mind, some Darwinist theories indicate it’s mankind’s subconscious way of preparing the conscious body for the coming day, possible scenarios, etc. Picture fiction in the brain like an internal simulator, there have been many inventors claim to have dwelt on problems for months and then overnight dreamt the solution. Other theories say that it’s simply the outcome of neurological phenomenons (dreams are just random things in the brain from chemicals and your most recent thoughts). Whatever the reason we need it.
A quick distinction; games are the result of projecting an unreal thing onto a task. In Frogger, the player needs to get this frog across the pod, in reality what’s happening is the player is moving a controller to send electricity to have pixels change on a screen. We project the narrative of a frog onto a segment of pixels and recognize the movement as a thing that is in essence us, as an avatar. Same as a painting is simply colors on a canvas and we project an association between real life 3d objects or forms onto a 2d space. The phenomenological functions that lead to this being possible within the brain are the same ones that lead to a reader combining a series of words and their projected meanings together to create a meaning from a sentence, and then farther to create a fictional scenario, projecting onto and associating a jumble of symbols on a page as a dragon fighting the castle guard. My point is that as these things, games/fantasy/narrative are created by the same phenomenon within the brain and may be discussed as a cause of the same thing. All forms of storytelling interact within the mind through the same facets. The interactive nature of video games only distinguishes it from other mediums as a more “cold” medium in the McLuhan sense: that is to say where a medium like watching a film provides a great deal of sensory output and creates a more passive experience for the viewer and watching television by nature of having a remote and the ability for viewer input to control the sensory output the mind retains a level of activity within the experience. This isn’t to say “hot” mediums turn off the mind, through the very nature of “reading” a medium and the mediums presentation the mind always contains a level of activity. In comics your brain is active reading changes in time, space, and subject between each panel, in the “gutter” as it’s referred to in the industry. Similarly in film through changes in camera angle, and cuts in the scene, the mind instantly recognizes and attributes narrative to the differences. The scene cuts away and it’s dark outside, the “reader” instantly understands a day has passed, and most importantly the “reader” understands all of this differences within the space as fiction. With this understanding we can refute the notion of conditioning within interactive spaces of fiction as a conditioning that correlates over to reality. We might reminisce about driving around in GTA when we sit in our car on the way to work after playing, but we don’t try to hold the steering wheel as if it’s a controler or expect our vision to change to hovering over the car when we hop in. Games to not condition us past our fear of heights just because of Mario. Games do not condition us into thinking we all have three lives. That being said in GTA when your car gets broadsided you do physical tense up, when something jumps onto the screen in Amnesia you do jump, you do cringe when you misstep and fall off a ledge in Mirrors Edge, and it does in a way hurt when you have to cut off a finger in Heavy Rain.
There are two things we know.
A. Studies show that there the intake of fictional violence does not alter the individuals real life response to violence.
I.e. The intake of fictional violence or fictional deviance does not create real life violence/deviance.
B. Studies show that there is a neurological effect on the consumer when playing games, watching movies, reading books/comics, that is similar to when the mind reacts to real life stimulus.
I.e. The mind reacts to fictitious stimulus in a similar manner to the mind’s reaction to real life stimulus.
These studies are connected but completely unrelated subjects. Connected as they are both a line of study that is under the very broad umbrella of media and influence. And both unrelated as they are two very separate topics. As such these two studies by no means contradict each other, but due to misconceptions of the topics that lead to logical fallacies, every-time a study that falls under truth B shows up there will be a percentage that incorrectly associate it as an earnest attempt at falsification of truth A. As they are ignorant of the categorical difference in their mind it is a logical and clear association. This is when a legitimate attempt to contribute to and steer the discussion towards a logical conclusion becomes an illegitimate contribution that derails communication, an honest attempt at falsification for the sake of truth seeking becomes dismissed as an unrelated and moot point, post hoc ergo propter hoc. And the response dismissing the view as illogical leads to a strong sometimes heated re-response by those holding the view. Ultimately despite their earnest analysis of the situation, due to their limited understand of the fields surrounding the studies their context with which to judge something as logical -or likewise illogical- is distorted. Simply, they are ignorant. Ignorance steals logic from otherwise logical individuals.
Clarifying the claim and supporting it with directly related research and academic material is only so useful as to discredit the unrelated arguments and dismiss the makers of those arguments by those with the same understanding and context of you. Simply put, you cannot convince someone of something they don’t understand by referring them to information they also don’t fully understand. This only strengthens the divide. Here we realize that our true adversary is not always the individual we argue against, nor specifically the legitimacy of their stance, but the manner -the heuristics- with which they have come to that conclusion. The only means of furthering a discussion when communication has broken down to the point of petty argument is to be well versed enough in the fields of research and study related in both truths being used to understand and distinguish the line between relevant and irrelevant. To see where the argument’s stick lines of necessity fall short and where they hold up, not for the purpose of being able to best another in their ignorance but to ease them into a better understanding of the fundamentals and allow them the empowerment of teaching themselves out of their misunderstandings. An argument should not be for the gain of the individual in the right, but for the sake of upholding truth, and in truth the benefit of empowerment and education.