Virtual action heroes doing real good?

April 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

What if the famous game World of Warcraft or any of the popular action and war strategy games would offer the gamers a chance to promote non-violence and peace, while they participate these violent games by shooting, killing, raiding and conquering their enemies? What if we had means to make the games create economic profits that are explicitly directed, by the gamers, to promote peace and nonviolence where they think it has the best chances to do good. This could be in the form of a peace-business model, funding, pay systems, bets, fees, and profit sharing, for example.

What if the gamers’ investments to support their preferred targets, initiatives and activities that promote non-violence, could also be accomplished in the form of a computer game where it is possible to create and enjoy strategies that best promote these valuable aims? What if the game community together could follow, in real time, how they are helping people and what they are accomplishing in Africa, Middle-East and other places suffering from violence and war? This is one of my peace-promotion dreams that Mark Nelson from the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford and Jari Takatalo, my colleague (who also provided the photo of his earlier study in a CAVE environment) have shared with me.

Following the discourse on the potential harmful effects of action games on young players is often colored by stereotypical thinking by the worried academics and journalists, that somehow the players are victims, helpless people, indiscriminate and even inhuman personalities who have no higher or spiritual interests, values and motivation in life.  But what if they are just like you and me, except that they are skillful gamers?

Well, indeed they are. One can already say that the whole generation of boys, and more often also girls in leading western and Asian countries play the computer games daily. There is no sense in thinking that the gamers would somehow be different from the rest of us, it is simply a stupid stereotype that is repeatedly present in numerous articles dealing with the relationship between violent (real) behavior and violent (virtual) game playing. If games would really cause violence, the world would be a total battlefield everywhere already: playing is now a part of the everyday life of the hundreds of millions of young and middle age people all over the world. The numbers just don’t fit.

I’m quite sure that all active players have got enough of these prejudices, are irritated by them, skip the articles, internet sites, and tv-programs that deal with the suggested problems of aggressiveness, and just continue their playing and knowing that “these stereotypes have nothing to do with us”.  I’m even more convinced that the gamers can form extremely powerful communities and individuals who are skillful and motivated to promote good things in life and in the real world, independent of what they do in their virtual gameworlds. We can assume that all people below 30 years belong to this potentially amazing, million scale  force.

But the thought that I like to entertain most, is that a chance to promote non-violence and peace while playing these war, combat and action games, would offer a natural way for the gamers to express themselves as real human beings, even through their avatars, but also, at the same time, to enjoy the specific privilege to do good via gaming, against all odds and giving something back, giving something to think about to these journalists, academics and other one-eyed analysts who are convinced only about the negative effects of game playing and who treat the gamers as non-human victims of technology and game industry.

Anything that is possible in the real world is socially and humanely possible in the virtual gameworlds where these people spend their time just like the rest of us sit in the pubs, restaurants, sports halls, malls, art exhibitions, scientific conferences, and other public places where we will never have the same huge potential to promote peace and non-violence that the gameworlds can now offer, and especially in the future. It would be a shame and bad business not to make this happen.

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