Research = Game Quest

“ultimately all about filling in that information gap (p.30).”

As I librarian, this is what I spend most of my days doing. I help students fill in their information gaps. The have an assignment and need some information to complete it. The extent of information needed varies, but the need remains constant. The downside is that students are much more eager to explore a game than they are to explore an assignment.

“Filling in that information gap” is what the research process is all about. You know the end result: win the game, beat the boss, save the world/ or write the paper, complete the project. You may know the start, but what paths your game/research takes along the way is unknown. Some sources lead you to others; prioritize results/quests; evaluate information/characters to trust. Place those tasks in a game and people are interested, lay it out as an assignment/paper and well you know the results.

I think there is some work within those parallels… more on that tomorrow.

Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You"

“tyranny of the morality play.” P.13

Every medium has gone through this. In the 1970’s, the violence in Bonnie & Clyde touched off a debate about violence in Hollywood. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, N.W.A. and Ice-T’s Body Count kicked off another debate about violence in lyrics. Even crusading lawyer, Jack Thompson, got started on the national moral stage with his fighting 2 Live Crew and Body Count’s “Cop Killer.” And now violent movies and games are accepted as part of a larger body of work in each medium, and neither medium is judged solely on it’s controversies. So I guess video games get their turn.

But Johnson argues that it is not the morality, or lack of, that make video games valuable. It is the cognitive effect they have on the players. So much time and effort is spent discussing the content, that little time is given to the context. The act of thinking, planning, and playing is valuable. Some of the content is most certainly not suited for all ages (that is why the ESRB exists and rates each game), but the skills the games can teach provide the foundation for learning. Yes we as parents, educators and the public need to be aware of the ratings and the content but we should not eradicate them and cast them off as meaningless wastes of time.

Video games thrive on “seeking” as Johnson states (p.37). There are many layers of activity (both on screen and in brain) going on as a player moves through a game and that “seeking” is what keeps players playing. What’s next? What’s needed? How do I move forward, complete this goal? Johnson states that video games are “ultimately all about filling in that information gap (p.30).”

Judge voids new law on video games

Judge voids new law on video games

I missed this ruling while I was on vacation. The video game law that my old employer, the State of MN, passed was over turned.

The ruling follows the previous rulings mentioned in my posts and is not a surprised based on that case law.

Final Analysis on Video Game's Value

Through the analysis of social informatics and the three key segments of design, uses, and consequences, video games have the potential to create positive value in each. The various designs of video games provide a range of stimulating experiences that provide positive value. The uses, whether escapist entertainment, social interaction, mental release or education, all contain positive value to the player and culture as a whole. The consequences provide both potential positive and negative affects and require further research to conclusively there is a completely positive or negative consequence to video games.

An economic analysis provides video games contain economic value on multiple levels. There is clearly a market value to the information provided and the artistic expression contained within video games. The billions of dollars spent by consumers world wide on the industry, provide concrete evidence of their market value. Video games also have increased economic value as primary goods. The positive information learned from experiencing video games should be classified as a primary good since the skills help lead to a successful and rational life. This evidence for a primary good is offset by the potential of the video game information to do harm, which results in an irrational life.

Taken together there is strong evidence that video games do contain both artistic and intellectual value. Because video games are determined to have value, there is no support to treat and regulate video games any different than any other established media, art or information. If negative consequences can be directly and conclusively proven then there may be a negative value and provide justification for separate treatment under the law. But until that time, the current regulation legislation will continue to fail under constitutional scrutiny.

The framework analysis established a recognized value to video games that does not require and should not allow separate regulation through the legal or social system. The recommended method to control the violent content without infringing on others access or expression is to use the parental controls built into modern video game systems. Computers already have control software available. By November all the new consoles, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii all contain technology that allows parents to password protect games so ones with unsuitable ratings will not load (Lowenstein, 2006).

Finally, since the analysis framework recognized the positive artistic and intellectual value of video games, libraries should not hesitate to add them to their collections. Libraries believe in the collection, preservation and free access of ideas and expressions. This analysis shows video games are just that.

Social Informatics Analysis

I'm back in town and finished Steven Johnson's book, I'll post my thoughts on that soon. But in the meantime (while I unpack and mow the grass), here's my analysis of video games based on social informatics:

Under a social informatics framework, it is possible to analyze video games through the design, uses and consequences. Specific attention is given to the people, hardware, software, techniques/game-play and cultural structure of the games and the players.

Design: The design of video games software ranges in content appropriate for users ages 3 and older. The ESRB has ratings designed to describe games for 3-6 year olds, 6, 10, 13, 17 and 18 years old and above (Vance, 2006). Video games are designed in a variety of different genres to appeal to various constituencies. There are sports games (Tiger Woods from EA; Mario Tennis from Nintendo), action games (like the previously mention Grand Theft Auto), educational games (Oregon Trail), flight (Microsoft Flight Simulator), life simulators (The Sims), fighting (Mortal Kombat ), puzzle (Tetris) and a variety of other games designs (Buckleitner, 2006). The editor of Children’s Technology Review, Buckleitner (2006), stated in his testimony to the House of Representatives that there “there has never been a better time to pick up a controller and to play (¶5).” This variety of software creates value for the people engaged in and interested to engage in playing video games. The software design is a strength for the players and a strength for the industry since it allows a wide range of expressions and experiences.

Without this variety of design, many players would not find meaningful experiences with the games themselves and the people they are playing with. Many games are playable online with players from across the globe. This multi-player design creates common shared experiences for players from varied cultural background within the United States and around the world. Some multi-player games (World of Warcraft) are designed to encourage player groups (guilds) to form and experience the game together. This specific example creates value and utilizes all components of socio-technical systems (Kling, 1999). The people playing are interacting with the hardware running the software/game using the group experience game-play design technique to advance through the game and by doing so create their own in game sub-culture.

Uses: The courts cited that playing video game software that contain violent game-play elements may serve as an outlet for other violent expression (ESA v. Granholm, 2006). If this is the case then, violent games provide value under a social informatics framework for both the person playing and the cultural structure as a whole.

Consequences: The design of the game-play, in the variety of games mentioned above , includes a wide variety of elements that result in positive consequences. Author/researcher Marc Prensky (2006) claims that kids are learning from video games, and learning more than within traditional educational settings. Although the claim of more than traditional educational settings may be a lofty goal he does site specific skills. Players are learning logic, reasoning, prediction, math, team building, and responsibility from games across genres (Prensky, 2006). While only some of these are skills taught in school, all are qualities society and culture gives value to. Many of these games, from “E” to “M” rated, contain open ended game design that allow a player to explore a game world, interact with other characters and deal with confrontation in a variety of ways (Price, 2006). Games that utilize an open ended design often set up puzzles or tasks for the player to complete in order to move forward. One example of this is the adventure game series by Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda. The game-play challenges from these types of software create what Steven Johnson (2005) calls telescoping. “This skill lies in focusing on immediate problems while still maintaining a long-distance view (Johnson, 2005, p.54).” This skill creates value under social informatics for both the player and the culture as a whole. The planning, multi-tasking, organization skills created through this game-play is a positive consequence.

While these are positive consequences of video games, under social informatics analysis there are other negative consequences as well. The consequences for the players and culture through violent video game software and game-play are well documented by the advocates of video game regulation, as stated earlier. The increased aggressive brain activity and the reaction training that violent games and media create negative consequences on those experiencing the games and those interacting with them later (ESA v. Blagojevich, 2005; ESA v. Granholm, 2006). The consequences are valid and important under social informatics since the technology and the interaction with it play a role in impacting society and the culture as a whole. If violent video games are creating negative consequences while other games are creating positive consequences the value of each type of game may not be equal and additional evidence should be considered.

Other studies on the consequences of video games directly challenge the findings of Dr. Anderson or Dr. Kronenberger in the ESA v. Blagojevich case. The court found that the tests of Dr. Anderson failed to show that video games ever caused a to directly commit a violent act or even increased the level of overall violence in society (ESA v. Granholm, 2006). Dr. Nusbaum, from the University of Chicago, challenged those consequences stating that are multiple behaviors that could show the same results (ESA v. Blagojevich, 2005). These challenges to the negative consequence of both the person/player and the society/culture suggest that the negative consequences are not direct. There research of Dr. Kronenberger does show negative effects of violent media, and under a social informatics framework violent media in general would have a negative value for both the person and the culture.

Given the current state of research on video games the consequences to both the person and the culture are mixed. Video games can provide the value that Prensky and Johnson discussed, but the violent aspect of some games can lead to the results described by Anderson and Kronenberger.