I am not a gamer. I hardly ever play video games, and have only very sporadically played video games in the last several years. Interestingly, I played a ton of video games as a child--hours and hours of them. I played all of the classic Nintendo games like Super Mario Brothers until I got all high-tech and got a Nintendo 64. I also clocked many hours playing violent computer video games like Duke Nukem 3D and Doom 2. How I loved shooting aliens and watching their heads explode. Ah, memories
I spent a little over an hour last night playing "Borderlands" for PS3. Borderlands is considered an "action role-playing first-person shooter." It's set on an alien planet, and there are four different characters: Brick, a tank-style "Berserker", Lilith, a Siren who possesses powers of invisibility and some elemental powers, Mordecai, a sniper hunter with an attack alien bird-thing, and Roland, a soldier. I chose Roland because I liked his name and I wanted to be a big black guy. My gaming partner chose Mordecai. I didn't get the entire gist of the story, but from what I gathered we were mercenaries venturing out on this planet to collect riches by completing various missions for other non-character players and shooting aliens and hostiles. I like shooting aliens.
I really liked the artwork in this videogame. It's not super-realistic, but very stylized--almost like a graphic novel. My gaming partner informed me that the style is called "cell shading" (similar to how A Scanner Darkly was done, if you've seen the movie). I had a lot of fun playing this video game, especially since I was playing with another person. I have very limited experience playing co-operative video games, and it was nice for this person to show me how to play, since I'm such a newbie. We went out on missions together in order to accumulate weaponry, supplies, and money. I did surprisingly well, considering how out of practice I was. I died a few times, but was revived by my partner. Mostly, I was shooting at other humans at long-range distances or at these nasty little alien-beasts called Skags. Here's a diagram of all the different types of enemies:
Honestly, I had a lot of fun. I'm pretty competitive, so it was exciting for me to shoot as many of the nasty little buggers as I could. I found myself shouting expletives when I was being attacked, because I got so into it. It was fun escaping into a make-believe world where I'm allowed to release my primal aggression freely and openly. There wasn't much about the game that I didn't like. I loved the setting, I loved artwork, and I loved killing aliens with big-assed guns and collecting money. My desire to play video games has increased from this experience. I won't lie.
I'm not surprised by the American Psychological Association's findings on the effects of video games. Prior to this course, I took a social psychology course that went into this topic a little bit. Gamers are the first to say that "there's no valid evidence" to prove that playing violent video games has any negative effects. However, as we can see from the APA's website, that's not necessarily true at all. This makes sense when thinking about the concept of catharsis in clinical psychology. Basically, it's a load of crap. The idea used to be that engaging in aggressive activities like punching a pillow or playing hyper-competitive violent sports was a good way to blow off steam and release anger that would otherwise be directed inward or towards another person. That method has proven to actually be completely counter-productive. Engaging in violent activities actually increases arousal and anger, and while providing a short-term diversion, actually increases a person's overall aggression over time. It's basically creating a reward system in the brain for fostering aggressive behavior, rather than learning more adaptive methods like meditation and laughter to redirect the aggression. So, having said that, is playing video games any more harmful than contact sports like football or boxing? The verdict is still out on this, but I would venture to say "nope." I do, however, agree that frequently engaging in aggressive and violent activities increases the likelihood of a person's aggressive and violent responses to given situations in real life. As stated from the APA's "Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions":
"High levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school and during free play periods, and violent criminal behavior."
The "Death From Above" article on Slate.com provided a unique perspective on gaming that I had not considered--how video games can actually teach people to behave responsibly in real combat situations. It talks about how modern ultra-realistic video games are often blamed for violent acts and incidences like the 2007 incident where an Apache helicopter in Baghdad opened fire, killing unarmed civilians and two Reuters news staffers. This article argues that rather than blaming video games for causing desensitization and lack of discretion in real-world combat, we should acknowledge the fact that video games are actually teaching people more responsibility and better discretion:
"But at the same time, warfare video games are becoming more realistic--and not just in the blood-and-guts way. Many of them force players to follow the rules of engagement and make difficult judgment calls about when to shoot--and when not to."
I'm not convinced that video games actually help soldiers prepare for real combat missions. It's too early in the game to see the actual impact that these virtual reality games have, but I do see their potential. I also know of a lot of young men-one's that I have gone to high school with-who were absolutely enthralled with the idea of enlisting in the army to shoot the bad guys because it was so bad-ass and fun to do it in video games. I think that first-person shooter video games, especially those that imitate real combat missions do absolutely have a responsibility to their players to be as realistic and responsible as possible. Or maybe video games should be less realistic so that the lines between reality and video game aren't so easily blurred. I'll stick to shooting aliens. We don't want a bunch of desensitized, idealistic gamers fighting our wars against other human beings, do we? Do we?