The video gaming industry is one of the fastest growing entertainment industries in the world, with the variety of consoles increasing dramatically over the past couple of years. Starting with the PC, gaming platforms have evolved to include the three Playstations, the Wii and the X-Box – to name a few. But as the industry has progressed, parents and politicians the world over have become concerned about the effects of violent video games on the youths who play them.
Studies conducted in American universities have attempted to link violent video games to aggression in teens. A research paper undertaken by Iowa State University argued that the recent phenomenon of school shootings in America may be linked to the popularity of violent video games. Indeed, this argument seems validated by Michael Moore’s famous documentary Bowling for Columbine. The documentary examined the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999, which claimed the lives of 12 students and one teacher. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the massacre, enjoyed playing Doom, a very violent video game series.
In her 2011 book, Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal puts some much needed statistics – which fundamentally challenge the view of gamers as repressed, violent and anti-social individuals – into the violence in video games debate. First off, she gives thirty-five years as the average age of gamers. Second, in America, 97 percent of youths play games, of which 40 percent are female. Finally, about a quarter of gamers are actually over the age of fifty.
Amongst those gamers, there may be people like Harris or Klebold.- violent lunatics who would be violent lunatics with or without the stimulation from violent games. There may also be ordinary people who subliminally infuse these acts of violence and over time accept them as normal human behaviour, becoming desensitized to right and wrong.
Before the computer revolution, we would play Monopoly or Where’s Wally or Rummy Tile to keep entertained, as well as to learn skills like strategy, observation or timing. Now that we use computers, iPads and mobile phones regularly and spend more time online, the question remains – how can we move with the times and still develop this fundamental skillset through play, without having to resort to violent video games?
A brilliant example is Farmville. Farmville is a non-violent, cartoonish game attached to Facebook. It was designed by Zynga with the stated aim of “giving the world permission to play”. The central theme of Farmville, and the reason for its close association with Facebook, is giving people from all over the world, and all walks of life, a fun way of interacting online. Given the globalization of contemporary society, not to mention the increasing reliance on technology, this idea seems quite pleasant.
McGonigal, in Reality is Broken, takes careful note of the potential benefits of gaming. In particular, she pays attention to the teamwork needed for online gaming. Central to the design of most games is a reward system. Players are presented with an array of obstacles, which must be overcome in order to progress. To accomplish this, gamers need to think clearly and patiently. In online – as well as other multiplayer – gaming platforms, teamwork is required to overcome these obstacles. This reward system is being utilized in classrooms throughout America as a means of ensuring that children remember lessons – by adding what was previously unknown in the classroom: fun.
Unfortunately, the majority of South African schools do not have the necessary equipment to best take advantage of the educational opportunities offered by gaming. However, Urgent Evoke – a new and innovative online gaming platform – offers a solution to this problem. Urgent Evoke is part game, part social media network.
It was set up by Jane McGonigal, the author of Reality is Broken, and allows gamers to engage with the crippling issues faced by the Third World. The object of the game is to find innovative solutions to these problems, which can range from water sanitation to adequate healthcare. The game also acts as a network for players in the Third World to interact with potential sponsors in the First World. Winners at Urgent Evoke may be offered employment or internship opportunities. In some cases, scholarships may be on offer.
In this case at least, it seems that gaming could be a force for good, not to mention good for your career.