Monday, August 4, 2014

What We Pretend To Be

EurekAlerts reports on a study of "risk-glorifying" video games that ties them to increased delinquency among teens:

In the new study, researchers conducted a longitudinal nationwide study involving more than 5,000 randomly sampled U.S. teenagers who answered a series of questions over four years in telephone interviews. They looked at a number of factors, including the playing of three violent risk-glorifying video games (Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, Spiderman) and other mature-rated video games. They found that such games are associated with subsequent changes in a wide range of high-risk behaviors and suggest this is due, in part, to changes in the users' personality, attitudes and values, specifically making them more rebellious and thrill seeking. Effects were similar for males and females and were strongest among the heaviest gameplayers and those playing games with anti-social protagonists.

Assuming they had reasonably solid control groups -- never a given in these days of widely and wildly bogus research -- this might have some validity.  I have my doubts, but I am not a game-player, don't have an Xbox or any of that.  I did fool around with one of the grandkid's "Call of Duty" game.  I quickly realized that it requires a lot of practice and dedication, and it's immersive.  You really have to "get into it" to get very far.

My guess would be that kids who are drawn to the more violent, risk-glorifying games are the ones who, as they grow older, are drawn to more violent, risk-glorifying behavior in the real world.  The games provide an outlet for one's innate (not necessarily genetic) aggression.

The older among us recall the same hysteria regarding comic books and television shows that were deemed too violent.  The difference is that video games put the player into the character and are participatory.  My instinct is still that you play what you are rather than become what you play.

The article quotes a Professor Jay Hull quoting Kurt Vonnegut:   'We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.'

That sounds deep and profound, but it is demonstrably not true.  One doesn't actually develop the skills necessary to be a world-class athlete, a mathematician, a successful business executive, or any other job that requires doing or producing by pretending.  I would not deny that there is a certain motivational benefit to be derived from visualization of achievement or affirmations.  That kind of "pretending" helps the person continue the hard work of developing the skills and abilities needed to become what they have chosen to be.

One may become a successful politician by pretense -- our current president being a highly visible example -- but that is because the whole thing is a pretense. 

Coincidentally, I just finished listening to an audio version of John Buchan's classic The Thirty-Nine Steps.  The protagonist Richard Hannay muses a couple of times, particularly during the climactic confrontation, on the nature of playing a part.  The only way to pull off a deception is to fully inhabit the character one wishes to create.  Deception is not reality, and, at some level, the player always knows it.

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