Monday, October 28, 2013

Video Games and Society: A Short Reflection

By generating more than $800 million in the first day of sales, the recently released video game Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) is highly successful commercially. This comes as no surprise as the game series’ predecessors also generated high revenues and GTA V was extensively marketed through media campaigns.
People playing GTA V have to fulfill different missions in the fictional City of Los Santos. Thereby, these missions are most often only accomplishable through violent actions like stealing cars, shooting police officers or getting information by torturing other people. The overwhelming graphics and the huge open and interactive world of Los Santos add to the video game’s realistic environment.
Since a couple of years, I fulfill my duty as a military psychologist assisting military personnel (mainly recruits) in need of psychological counseling. In this context, it occurs to me that video games play an increasing part in the life of twenty-year old males and are co-occurring with social or psychological problems. During conversations, the recruits frequently tell me of spending three or more hours a day on video gaming. A small proportion also shows addictive behavior and the corresponding withdrawal symptoms related to excessive video gaming.  At the same time, most of these recruits report reduced participation in real world social activities (e.g., being members of a clubs, political participation). Taking into account the very selective population my observations are based on, and the risk of over-interpretation, I would like to reflect shortly on the consequences of video gaming for society.
Starting with the consequences for real world contact due to an extensive consumption of video games, people may have reduced social experiences. Research related to social psychology consistently showed that social contact is a powerful mechanism to reduce stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination among different individuals, groups and organizations in society. Therefore, diminished social contact and a societal tendency for individualism and self-realization may are related to video games confronting people with increasingly realistic open world scenarios. Additionally, there still exists an unsolved debate about the causes and effects of violent contents in video games.
However, there are also positive aspects of video games. People who experience difficulties in real world interactions can be offered a less stressful and demanding online alternative. Many video games are designed exactly to address these integrative aspects of online interactions, as the game’s challenges can only be solved cooperatively. Further, realistic video games combined with integrative online features are the result of an interconnected and globalized society. Hence, video gaming may develop skills and capabilities required for being successful in such an environment.
I am surprised by how silent research in various disciplines is when it comes to the analysis of societal consequences related to video gaming. In this context, a public discourse among the various stakeholders (e.g., families, clubs, organizations, game developers, employers, researchers) and their responsibilities related to video games is needed.

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