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.