D0929 T2216 Y2008Morality Play

At Tied the Leader, we have invested untold amounts of energy in raising the profile of the gamer. The naysayers of our pastime would describe us as unwashed shut-ins who are one experience point away from being brainwashed into perpetrating a murderous shopping mall rampage on the innocent masses. We have heard those paranoid accusations too many times, made by under-informed pundits during a slow news cycle. They need not be linked here.

The Gunslingers know better, having broken down the barriers of the game to meet one another in real life on many occasions. Gaming has enriched our lives without compromising it. We resist the stereotypes that would have people feeling sorry for us – or even worse, fearing us.

Recently, we gained an ally in that fight. A Gunslinger by the tag of Chae Si passed along a refreshing analysis sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, conducted by the Pew Internet American Life Project. You should check out. The operating theory is that gaming is an interactive experience that can expose eager young minds to the ills of the world. This meditation inspires them to altruism as compassionate citizens who end up making a civic or charitable impact on their society.

The study focuses on younger gamers – teenagers between 12 and 17 years, to be exact. In compiling their data, they interviewed 1,102 of them. Here are their most interesting findings:

97% of American teens ages 12-17 play some kind of video game.

Those statistics are staggering. Essentially, the next generation of Americans is a generation of gamers. All of them. People like your friendly neighborhood gamerblogger grew up alongside video games. Not everyone understood, or even appreciated, that passion. The people who will nail shut his coffin were born into a world where everyone is a gamer. Every single one of them – weighing in at 97% of the new society.

76% play games with others at least some of the time.

Of that controller-wielding populace, more than three quarters are travelers in the realms of multiplayer. This gamer can remember when multiplayer denizens were the 1%ers – the Hell’s Angels of gaming. This is why the really old gamers never complain about lag. In the playing of now-ancient games, they’ve seen far worse lag than a Halo National will ever find in a Big Team Battle. By the same logic, the very first Olympians didn’t worry about losing their shoe deal in doping scandals. No dope. No shoes.

Before Bungie made “Matchmaking” a household name, playing a game against a live-target [over the Internet, or in a live setting] was a bug-ridden novelty. There was a time when LAN Parties were a signpost of the uber-geek. It was an exotic undertaking of which few were capable. Now, they are more common than poker night, it would seem. What are the odds that 76% of junior high school students know the value of a Royal Flush?

76% of youth report helping others while gaming.

Beyond the sheer scope of those statistics, the social implications are even more interesting. Within the tactical scenarios that are present in a multiplayer game comes a demand for teamwork. We can only assume that is what the proctors of this study meant by “helping others while gaming”. In cooperating towards a common goal [i.e. capturing a flag, manning a Warthog team, ranking up to General in something other than Lone Wolves], a sensibility can emerge that helps to shape a gamer into a responsible citizen. Didn’t our gym teachers stress the importance of team sports for the very same reason?

44% play games where they learn about a problem in society.

Many games deliver their own parable:
+ Grand Theft Auto IV carries within its missions a lesson in the deficit of honor inherent to a bid for revenge.
+ Call of Duty 4 depicts a terrifying outcome for unregulated nuclear proliferation on the global stage.
+ Halo 3 paints a stark portrait of holy war brought forth by a theocratic tyranny leading an army of zealots on a mission of genocide.
+ Knights of the Old Republic allowed each Jedi to choose their own path – and once they took their first step towards the dark side, forever would it dominate their destiny.
+ Rock Band… uhmm. Well… Ah, screw it! Rock Band is a waste of your time. Sell that shit on ebay. Sign up for guitar lessons if you want to learn something about your world.
[Disclaimer: this opinion may stem from the fact that I couldn’t get the Chilli Peppers out of my head for two weeks following ChicagoLANd 3]

Beyond any given campaign, the multiplayer application for a game provides a chance to [as the study said] “learn about a problem in society”. Tied the Leader has presided over these problems until we were blue in the faceplate. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Honor. Respect. On Xbox Live, the hits keep coming. While it is painfully obvious that the average gamer tends to choose the low road on the Tsavo Highway, it cannot be denied that they are given a choice to be who they want to be…

52% play games where they think about moral and ethical issues.

The most intriguing aspect of this study is the suggestion that gaming can lead to the contemplation of morals and ethics. Think that’s a stretch? It shouldn’t be. While the analysis in the article seems to allude primarily to games like Sim City, there are elements of this study that speak to any gamer – including the citizens of the Halo Nation.

Like any good story, a game that captures our imagination relies on conflict. Good Guys versus Bad Guys, most typically. When conflict is present, any thinking individual is forced to ponder which side for which they fight, making a conscious choice about the identity of the Good Guys. Thus, games require the player to make decisions, be they moral, tactical, or social.

The point is that gaming is an undertaking that engages its audience and stimulates their problem solving intelligence. The mind of a gamer does not atrophy in the playing of these games. We do not become soulless zombies through our investment in this pastime. Such a suggestion would be more appropriate for teenagers who experience victory only vicariously through the accomplishments of some drug-addled sports figure, in which case the only decision they make is whether or not they are influenced by the barrage of advertising for products they don’t need. Yet, there are never any pundits that decry the ills inherent in the amount time our children spend watching professional sports.

Gamers are active participants in their entertainment. They are confronted with decisions that will speak volumes about their identity in this world. While it might be naïve to hope that this experience will shape a gamer into a constructive member of their society, it certainly is refreshing to see someone exhibit an understanding for the potential for virtue among us alleged freak-show geeks and house-bound losers.

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 7

  1. #LINK D0930 T1017
    L0coM0tive wrote...

    Awesome article DeeJ! Thanks for the find Chae!

    It’s interesting to note that the research community is just now discovering what we’ve known for years. Video Games can have a positive affect on our lives, foster critical thinking and problem solving skills, and promote the same emphasis on team play and sportsmanship (given the right environment) that playing team sports does.

    The emphasis on ‘civic engagement’ in the original article seems to be unfounded. The 76% that report helping others while gaming could could be referring to stealing the buddies kills and calling them Noobs. Just saying.

    I also think that learning about issues in society is a little bit much, to use DeeJ’s example with halo:

    “Halo 3 paints a stark portrait of holy war brought forth by a theocratic tyranny leading an army of zealots on a mission of genocide.”

    I have an inkling that only the most advanced of the high schoolers would grasp this thread in the Halo narrative. My suspicion is that the kids (especially the younger ones) were either asked leading questions, or weren’t asked to justify their answers. I would be interested to hear what exactly they learned about the world.

    The main point that I take away from this article is that gaming is social. Realizing and leveraging the social and problem solving aspects of video games could create a positive affect on today’s youth. I’m glad that someone other than community insiders are discovering that.

  2. #LINK D0930 T1030
    TTL Cleanbeats wrote...

    Excellent. This would be a great article to show a co-worker of mine who responds in disgust to talk of video games. She spends most of her day talking about baseball though. An article like this will probably sway the opinion of a devoted “anti-gamer” like her,but it might atleast shed a light on the other side of the coin.

  3. #LINK D0930 T1037
    Ballistic wrote...

    “California, rest in peace!”

    Good stuff, I have seen more and more articles lately about this same subject. Here is another, debunking certain myths about gaming.


  4. #LINK D0930 T1106
    L0coM0tive wrote...

    Eight Myths about Video Games Debunked

    My favorite is number 7:

    7. Video game play is socially isolating.
    Much video game play is social. Almost 60 percent of frequent gamers play with friends. Thirty-three percent play with siblings and 25 percent play with spouses or parents. Even games designed for single players are often played socially, with one person giving advice to another holding a joystick. A growing number of games are designed for multiple players — for either cooperative play in the same space or online play with distributed players. Sociologist Talmadge Wright has logged many hours observing online communities interact with and react to violent video games, concluding that meta-gaming (conversation about game content) provides a context for thinking about rules and rule-breaking. In this way there are really two games taking place simultaneously: one, the explicit conflict and combat on the screen; the other, the implicit cooperation and comradeship between the players. Two players may be fighting to death on screen and growing closer as friends off screen. Social expectations are reaffirmed through the social contract governing play, even as they are symbolically cast aside within the transgressive fantasies represented onscreen.

    Sound familiar?

  5. #LINK D0930 T1219
    Quantifier wrote...

    Thanks for the assistance for when I need to defend myself against all these sports fanatics.

    While this is certainly great to see, we also all know there is much work yet to be done in the realms on online gaming – keep the vigilance in speaking your lessons true Gunslingers!

  6. #LINK D0930 T1413
    TruthPastor SBG wrote...

    Great write-up!

    The social interaction of Halo specifically for me has led to many new friends from around the country. It is really nice to take a business trip and have people that you can meet and spend time with.

    This social interaction has also lead our clan to have a Bible Study on Monday nights as a way of promoting the culture our clan is build upon. It is open to anyone who has Halo3 and has brought new friends into my life!

    As one of the (uhem..) older gamers in the community, it is great to see the recognition of the social aspect of the Matchmaking system!


  7. #LINK D1008 T1340
    Iming Nutzov wrote...

    Very well written, Deej.

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