Friday, April 27, 2012

Video Game Influence

Hey y'all.  So I was watching a video by Peanut Butter Gamer on Youtube, and in this video, "I Dream of Dreamcast Part 2", he makes a joke about a video game influencing him to go paint graffiti.  That got me thinking.  How much do video games actually influence people?  There are so many opinions floating around that it's really hard to pin down something that's actually concrete and scientific.  I mean, how exactly would Mythbusters tackle an idea like this?

I took a personality test recently, and apparently I'm an INTP, which means that I see logical inconsistencies faster than most, and I like to think.  No real surprises there.  So, due to this nature, I want to create a scientific means for deciding whether or not video games can influence people.

After watching a crap ton of Mythbusters, I discovered the means behind proving or disproving any given statement: you have to ask the right questions.  Like, if you're going to tackle the myth of whether or not someone can build a giant Lego ball that crashes into a truck, you have to ask several things.  First, how can such a ball be built?  Where would all the Legos come from?  How many people and how much time goes into building that?  Can Legos actually hold together long enough to roll into anything?

And so it must be with this myth.  But first of all, let us define the myth.  If you're going to make a statement like, "video games with guns cause you to shoot people", then that's pretty specific.  It seems too unsubtle.  To me, the question is why one would stop at video games.

See, there's a bunch of other things pre-existant to video games that could potentially influence people: books, plays, and movies, to name a few.  To me it seems pretty dang obvious that any of those could influence people.  Shakespeare, centuries ago, had a line in Hamlet that went something like "The play's the thing, to catch the conscience of the king".  The very fact that Shakespeare would make such a statement implies that he (or maybe just Hamlet the character) believes that a play could influence someone.

Also, I remember seeing a series of gun story shorts trying to tell youngsters that guns are nothing but trouble.  The very fact that someone would make a film like this proves that they believe people are influenced by shows.

And so...

Question #1: Can other forms of media influence people?

The importance of this question lies in media.  Now, if a story, movie, play, or whatever can possibly influence a person, why not video games?  The only way a game is different from any of those is due to interactivity, possibly making it more influential.

There are a lot of examples about movies and such influencing people.  For example, Star Trek created the Trekkers.  It not only influenced a lot of people to go buy pointy ears and futuristic uniforms, but influenced them to listen to the apparent moral values specific to Gene Roddenberry and company about humans needing to be wise, modernistic, and culturally perfect.

(Side note: Roddenberry had few real morals in real life.  Star Trek just makes him look like he does.  Seriously, read some books about him.)

Anyway, your objection to this might be that Trekkers are huge friggin' nerds, and of course they, being culturally downtrodden, would support something insisting on neo-equality (I say "neo" because apparently androids and holograms are equal to humans in ST).  Nerds like this, you say, are pretty easily influenced.  You're a normal person, and you don't particularly care for Trek yourself.

Okay, but you realize that I've got you, right?  Cavemen.  No seriously.  Do you believe in those guys?  Y'know, those dudes who live in caves, beat women about the skull and drag them home, and eat woolly mammoths?  Get this.  There is absolutely no evidence that a caveman ever existed.  The only single piece of "evidence" in this area are cave paintings of deer and stuff.  That, however, is inconclusive, as some dudes may have just gone into the cave to paint because they were bored or something.   Archaeologists have no clue why the paintings are there.  They don't know if it's storytelling, or religion, or just some dude showing off.

There's no reason to believe they actually lived in a cave.  Do you want to live in one?  They're damp, uncomfortable, and bound to be home to any number of animals.  Ancient people wouldn't want to live in there, because they have no way of keeping their homes pest-free.  People build homes specifically to control living factors.  You can't control a cave.

Also, where did that whole story of Neanderthals banging women in the head and dragging them home come from?  Absolutely no evidence for it.  There's no abundance of female skulls, battered about in some cave.  There's no cave painting of that activity either, and yet somehow the story has gotten loose.

(Another side note: I stole this bit of logic from G.K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man.  I still got you, though.)

It's like Alan Dershowitz says: If you tell the big lie often enough, people will believe it.  He was actually talking about lies people tell about Israel when he said this, but y'know, the saying could apply to other things too.

But no, no, no, you argue.  What "big lie" is a video game trying to perpetuate?  Well...y'know what?  That's a great question.

Question #2: Are video game makers trying to put out a message on purpose?

You might think that's a dumb question, but it's the sort of thing a Mythbuster wouldn't ignore if they were tackling this myth.  It may be irrational, but it may also be true...yeah, I don't think it is.  But it would need to be tested, just to be sure, or just to disprove it once and for all.  And that leads me to the next question.

Question #3: Are video game developers unintentionally sending specific signals to their buyers?

This is a more logical question, and to answer both it and the previous question, one would have to look across the board at several video games produced by certain developers.  We'd have to look and see if there are any consistent themes in their works and how often these themes appear.  That would take a lot of work, but to test the influencing myth, it would be necessary.

Oh yeah, there's a question I wrote earlier, but I need to put it on the list.

Question #4: Are video games more influential because you interact with them?

This is a very important question.  Books and things can influence you pretty good, but this is a little different.  Take for example, a nerd.  Nerds are a little more easily influenced by books, because they use their imaginations a little more to flesh out the plot of a book.  Thus, their imagination is more affected.  Non-nerds don't see a reason to flesh out plots of most books, though they do it with ones they like.

Video games, however, require no fleshing out.  You can play them exactly as they are, requiring no great leap of the imagination.  This makes them potentially more influential to non-nerds, and possibly even more to nerds.

I have no way of answering this question without any research, so I have no opinion on it for the time being.  Huh.  The games I played as a kid were the good ol' Nintendo old school greatness, like Mario and Mega Man.  They basically consist of an awesome dude going on colorful adventures against hilarious and interesting baddies.  It's not really a good control over testing whether or not these games have influenced me, as there are no goombas for me to stomp on or sentient robots for me to fight.

Hey wait...maybe these games inspired me to like heroes above anti-heroes....hmm.....

Question #5: Do games inspire you to do specific acts, or merely shape your mental attitudes?

This is the real kicker right here.  A lot of people who don't think video games influence you emphasize the first part of the question, using a type of propaganda called "straw-manning".  To straw-man is to basically reduce your opponent's argument to its simplest form in the hopes that the simple form will make it look stupid.

For example, a person might say, "hey, look at all those games with shooting people.  You don't see a bunch of people going out and shooting others after playing the games, do you?"  The trouble with that statement is that it seems to force you into answering it with no, but actually there's been no study (to my knowledge) that tests this statement flat out.  What I mean is, has anyone actually watched a bunch of kids playing shooter games and then observed them getting violent?  There's a lot of violence out there today, and lots of shooter games, but nobody has really ever been able to either establish or refute that the two are connected.

That reminds me of this really creepy time at work.  I was at the used bookstore, selling some video games to some customers.  They were buying shooter games, and I happened to mention that I like old school stuff.  One of the dudes was like, "That's no good.  You need to shoot people".  Really, I'm not making this up.  I chuckled (nervously) and replied that I was fine shooting ducks.  Y'know, like Duck Hunt.

That creepy little incident right there is enough to make me want to test and see if video games directly cause people to shoot others.  Think about it.  If Star Trek is enough to cause a certain group of people to become Trekkers, then possibly shooter games have a similar group of easily influenced people who will crave violence.  It might not be a large percentage of the population, but look how much Trekkers have influenced stuff.  There's no telling how much a group of shooters could do.

And so the second part of question five seems to thus refer to the non-"Trekkers", the people who don't belong to a group that happens to be easily influenced by the media at hand.  For example, the anti-gun propaganda I mentioned earlier does not obviously influence me, as I firmly believe that guns can be used responsibly -- namely, to defend one's house and create the impression in local criminals that if they attack me, they're going to die.  Think about it.  If you live in a town where near everybody owns guns, are you going to break into their house and try to attack them?  Probably not.  Even if you get away with hurting them, they have neighbors.  Predators go after the weakest prey.  It's just nature.

Thus, no set of propaganda is going to make me become anti-gun.  The question then becomes, does this anti-gun propaganda influence me even a little?  Or more specifically, does watching this propaganda influence my behavior in any way, shape, or form?  I don't know, as it's been a while since I've seen it, and I didn't record specific emotions before or after.

I will say that last time I saw it, the stories of people doing stupid things with guns only made me feel like those people aren't so bright, and that their parents didn't teach them anything.  I mean, seriously, you're going to take a gun to school just to impress a girl?  Really?  REALLY?  I'd be more impressed if you brought in a dead elk carcass, because that's proof you actually know how to use a gun and what to use it on.  And I could have elk, which I've heard is really tasty.

Wow, that was quite a rant.  In any case, my overall point is that you have to test and answer these next questions.

5a. Is there a specific group that is easily influenced by shooter video games?
5b. Are the people don't seem so easily influenced affected in any direct way by violent shooter games?

Hm.  I think if you did a test on violent video games, then there should be a sub-category of the test specifically referring to outlandish video game violence.  Like, for example, the game Lemmings, where you use a bunch of little elf-looking critters to get to the goal line, and you do violent stuff with them to this end.  Like, you can make them explode to clear paths.  Or maybe a study could use the game Katamari Damacy, to see if rolling up people and animals into a huge ball and turning them into stars can be influential to violence.  Or maybe just influence into wearing tight purple pants.

Question #6: Do outlandish video games influence people to be violent?

Okay, so that's my reasoning set, and anyone who wants to have an accurate opinion of whether or not video games influence people will need to answer these questions in some way.  I mean, anybody can have an opinion, but that opinion is more or less meaningless if it has no fact behind it.

Here's a recap of all the questions.

Statement: Shooter video games cause violence.
Question #1: Can other forms of media influence people?
Question #2: Are video game makers trying to put out a message on purpose?
Question #3: Are video game developers unintentionally sending specific signals to their buyers?
Question #4: Are video games more influential because you interact with them?
Question #5: Do games inspire you to do specific acts, or merely shape your mental attitudes?

---5a. Is there a specific group that is easily influenced by shooter video games?
---5b. Are the people don't seem so easily influenced affected in any direct way by violent shooter games?
Question #6: Do outlandish video games influence people to be violent?

Alright, so do you think I missed any questions?  Comment below if you think so.  Or if you just want to share an opinion or experience, comment as well.  Lemme know all this stuff.

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