Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Computer Gaming Ratings?

I watched a program last night on gaming. I haven't really been into gaming in a big way for a while. Normally I'll buy a new computer, play a game or two for a couple of weeks and then put it aside. The addiction thing... well I haven't ever really been that addicted. I mean, I've used it as a distraction. When my father had a heart attack, I found myself up at the local Internet "cafe" most nights but knew it to be a distraction. Anyway, here's the episode I was watching:

It starts off really weak. However, by the end of it, it had me thinking and relating things back to my own experience.

I had a friend who would spend time with a friend of his and that friend's wife and they would, for days on end, play a game. The game in question was one of the first massive multiplayer online role playing games. This friend of mine brought the manuals to the game before even getting a computer. He studied it. When he did get a computer, he dropped out of university in favour of playing this game. At a party, he described having a conversation with someone. The penny didn't drop that this conversation wasn't entirely real until he said "and then a dwarf sat down on the log beside us".

It's one of those moment's I'll never forget. It wasn't the dropping out of university that made me realise that this guy had a problem. It was the integration of an online experience with the real world. The fact that he could talk about an experience online as if it really happened in some real context. He didn't hesitate in telling us about the online conversation - remembering that this is well before voice chat in games became common place.

This guy was a bit younger than me and my friends. At his age we were carting our computers off to each other's places for the weekend where we'd get next to no sleep and play games against each other. There was the legendary performance of my best friend and I as we held off 3 players - we didn't win. We just held our own and made them winning a hard won affair. We were in a room next to each other and were communicating with very minimal clues as to what each of us were doing. i.e. "Got guard. Going below". "Up high. Need back up". etc.

The difference though? We were in the same vicinity. I would get up and make us all a pasta meal for dinner (cooking for any parents that were around) and we'd sit around and talk or we'd go down to the bakery and grab something for lunch. We'd stop and talk to each other. Even for the bigger (50 or so people) impersonal events, I remember stopping for a moment, getting out of my chair and finding the person who had been a thorn in my side during a certain game. We'd stopped, shared a pizza and talked for a little while.

Enter this TED talk:

During the Christmas holidays one of my friends was getting really irritated with his son who was crying over not being able to unlock some secret level of some game. He was trying to explain to his son that it doesn't matter. It's a game. It only really matters to him.

After watching that TED talk, I wonder if that was perhaps attacking his culture. I don't really like it when people attack my culture (whatever that might be - I'm a little lost on this point myself). It's important to him now and that's what's important (I think I might have said something in a previous post about "living the moment" i.e. it's less important to deal with what did happen and much more important to deal with the present perception of what happened).

The question is, what do you do? The first video says that gaming can go down one of two directions. Compulsion satisfaction and compulsion manipulation. I don't think I would quite frame them in this context. For example, some online maths programs, while manipulating a compulsion, have kids learning with an enthusiasm with which they wouldn't have otherwise. And Compulsion satisfaction, although earlier in the clip it does define this as a compulsion to learn, has certain negative connotations. It's not as cut and dry as framed in that clip.

The second video says we should really be working with kids to learn things from games and avoid attacking what is essentially our kid's culture.

Meanwhile, we have ratings on games. They're rated in the same way as movies though (I completely disagree with the way things are rated - sex gets a higher rating than violence though one we have to deal with, the other we could survive without). The rating system doesn't take into account the fact that games are interactive. Besides which, rating systems should be taken more as a guide rather than a hard and fast rule.

So, the question is, how should we define games as being more harmful than other games? Does the game have elements or completely subscribe to bits which are described as immoral game design? Is this just another learning opportunity? i.e. would problem gambling be better avoided more if these elements were brought to light?

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