Can Video Gaming Make you a Powerful Citizen?
Trespassing human limitations, a young boy in green clothing rises against the pixelated evil situations in the Kingdom of Hyrule. Link is a timeless video-game warrior who since the early 1980s has “defeated legions of evil monsters, explores vast lands, helps anyone he meets who is struggling, navigates deadly dungeons, and collects mythical items while pursuing his quest for justice and peace.”
With the emergence of Gesture Control, High-Def Displays and addictive story lines, Augmented Reality has taken the society towards a new world to inhabit, where every instance of danger is met with an adrenaline rush. Like never before, Video game heroes influence our imaginations to technological advancements. Just as penetrating (if not more) as movies, books, music and pornography, video games shape our cultural economy. Having said that, video games are still a recent phenomenon, and we question their ability to impact us on the level of more traditional and conventional art forms.
Craving Catharsis: The Art of Artificial Intelligence
The addictive effects of video games are long past the discussion. Addicted gamers use video games to modify their moods, demonstrate tolerance and show signs of relapse. Since the inception of the Internet, the ethics of video gaming is debated, both in favor and opposition.
However enticing and engaging it might be, genius movie critic Roger Ebert argued that video games can never become art. In contrast to art which is compelling and motivating to contemplate, he believed that video games employ your experience towards winning. With strategic moves of aggression and binary perspective towards a given virtual situation, a gamer is encouraged towards getting rewarded, and finishing goals determined by the game narrative. As Tom Bissel succinctly opines, “Prose gives you the chance to do what no other medium can, which is dare to represent the contours of human consciousness”.
Alternating this observation is the history of other art forms. From cave paintings to The Last Supper, and from gibbers of ape to Jim Morrison, human creativity has evolved with time to suit entertainment standards and even cut roads towards higher sensibilities of society. So why not video games?
Beyond conventional discussions about art and expressions, video games certainly explore the consciousness of the gamers like no other medium. Literary or cinematic heroes are locked in place and time by the time you consume their stories, game heroes rely on your decisions. Video games like Fallout presents before you the heroes that not separated from you the way Tyler Durden or Batman (Bruce Wayne) are.
Take the case of Bioware’s Mass Effect Trilogy for that matter. You inhabit Commander Shepard, a male/female (your choice) super-soldier who leads a resistance in the 22nd century against alien forces across the Milky Way galaxy. Based on your decisions throughout the game, whether to fight or escape, how to respond to a certain race of alien characters, who to save and who to kill, your gaming experience takes you towards a complicated storyline of branching narratives.
Whether you become a force for good (Paragon, in game vocabulary) or an evil (Renegade), depends on the moral choices you made, the actions you took. Drawing resemblance to real-life society, certain characters in the game will behave differently for you when you hold a Paragon ranking. Like life, your choices determine your path, your hero’s quest is your own, and you associate yourself with the victory.
Ideology as an Augmented Reality
With more of adventure-driven video games in the digital world, augmented realities are dominating the spectrum. Pokémon Go, a location-based augmented-reality game, allows the players to use the device’s GPS, camera etc to train and battle virtual creatures (Pokémon) that appear on screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player. Diminishing the borders of the physical-digital divide, the avatar moves along the game’s map as and when the players travel the real world. Combining the real and virtual worlds, these games permit our interaction through the fantasy frame of the screen. Naturally, a gamer feels like he has attained virtual powers in the real world, and this serves as the basis of ideology he endorses.
The technology is not exclusive to gaming alone. Consider visiting a bookstore where your device scans a book. Within a fraction of seconds, you see projected onto the book’s cover its reviews and ratings. Or zooming in/out towards a map on the screen. Or transforming sexual interaction for that matter. The possibilities are immense, and so are its utilitarian aspects. However, it is far from being any different to how our biases, prejudices, and ideologies work. Just as augmented reality supports physical information through algorithmic and calculated information, does not our mind use the symbolic texture of knowledge, expectations, political and economic ideologies to judge a real-life situation?
Wouldn’t Hitler offer the German compatriots the fantasy frame of Nazi ideology which in turn made them share a specific Pokémon-space, provoking them to fight against a common enemy?
All the World’s A Game: But the Future?
Andrew Slack explains “Fantasy is not an escape from the soul of our world but an invitation to go deeper into it.”
Fair to say, augmented reality imitates and materializes the ideological mechanism of (mis)recognition which over-determines our everyday perceptions and interactions. Simply put, all ideological pseudo-entities that are designed to add meaning to reality have similar simulations, whether through digital compatibility or political/cultural narratives.
With illusory landscapes and fictional narratives, we are thrilled and motivated to explore the game layout. But something more happens. You just have to see a gamer while he’s playing. An adult player when in a childlike avatar will show unconscious cognitive associations between himself/herself and childlike characteristics. When you’re loaded with an action-packed avatar, or say a racing game like NFS, your body mimics the game movements, as if you were the action hero/car driver, depicted in the screen. What does this mean for the future?
Gaming narratives can be efficiently used to spread awareness, even generate empathy among the targeted audience. An interactive and simulated learning experience such as video games don’t just tell you a compelling story, they make you a part of it. Not simply signing petitions or donating, but also participating through a network of connected devices, writing the next or last chapters of a powerful story line.
The strategy of inviting and engaging communities through narratives (fictional or otherwise) is an age-old civil tactic. Just like game developers use magnificent missions to bring the epic feel, so do Governments, Nonprofits, and social activists when they describe the larger missions of community. The intensity of the impact is, of course, dependent on the narrative, and the interests of the community-driven volunteers.
The future of successful engagement tools depends on understanding and mastering social patterns and structures of human participation, especially the adolescents and youth. More the interest in engaging the citizens in real and complex issues of the society, more is the need to impart ethics and incentives to participate in community-driven initiatives. Just like Link, whose mission is to save the world from evil forces threatening it.