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Video Games Teach…Evil Unmasked?

As I mentioned in previous blog entries for both my EL 250 (MWG Video Gaming) and EL 405 (New Media Projects) classes I am a huge proponent for the use of video games as teaching tools [see Raph Koster]. Though each game is different with its intended message and the audience which it is going to reach this is always carefully thought about by game designers/creators. As video games have been a major part of my life for many years I am at the point where I know what I do and do not like in my games [not trying to sound like a high and mighty gamer].

One thing that I often look for when personally choosing games rather than simply the promise of fun is whether or not the game’s subject matter touches on an issue(s) deeper than what is barely revealed in commercials or in magazine advertisements for the game [consciously or otherwise].

For example, there is often an idea about social out-casting in games that involve creatures that are alien to “our world” [whatever our normal world may be defined as now] and the issue of xenophobia is touched upon as these creatures are often presented as villains. This kind of thing really makes you think about the portrayal of evil in games. On one hand we have these alien bashing games, but on another there is also the allure of killing with no consequence which is not exclusive to these games I will admit. I think it is really all about playing a role in each game and how comfortable the player is with that role determines their game interests.

We also have to think about historical games that allow players to delve into a time period that they might otherwise not be able to comprehend where the villains are just as like them because in fact they are human. We are seeing a trend in games that allows the player to be the evil character like in Prince of Persia. The allure of taking on that opposing role is becoming more and more evident/popular.

In certain cases these types of games [with human vs. human conflicts] have the ability to show the evils of human nature in their truest form which is through cruelty to other members of mankind. Someone might not think twice about blasting a blood thirsty alien eager to destroy humans, but turn that alien into a mirror image of them in a war game and they might begin to have reservations about the act of killing. The social issue in each game [alien and human based] is about defining evils, and doing so with no pre-conceived idea of how evil looks or feels.

Though games based on the American Civil War and World War II may not be 100% accurate when portraying historical events [with genuine and first hand accounts sometimes lacking] they can present fair and unbiased versions of the actual events while at the same time leaving room for player versatility. Basically they aren’t re-writing history so that the South is victorious or Hitler reigns supreme in a contemporary Neo-Nazi existence, but you aren’t going to be playing as “Private J.M. So and So" that was an actual solider.

The value of [accurate] historically based games is a lofty one in regard to the need for our culture to understand human evils. War is often derived from the sick and twisted thoughts of an evil individual. What better way to deter people from being that way than to depict it negatively in a video game? In my opinion there is no better way to reach a mass youth-teen and even adult audience than through video games in this day an age.

Check out:
American Civil War: Gettysburg PC
Top 10 World War II PC Games

Comments (5)

I immediately thought of military simulation games, but also think of military re-enactment. My father-in-law has both Union and Confederate outfits. And consider how popular the Empire is in Star Wars games.

I agree, the Empire has that allure I am talking about. Sometimes people are drawn to a dark side, but it is almost troubling in a sense. Although you and I know Star Wars and genres similar to be fantasy, some individuals may take it to another level.

Interesting idea about the Civil War re-enactments. I have always thought of them as something you would have to approach with a level head on either side. I am sure some people fight for the Confederacy because they are trying to portray a historical event, while others might be harboring resentment for their loss. Have you ever been to a re-enactment?

Although I didn't dress up, I did attend a big Gettysburg re-enactment about six or seven years ago. At one point my brother-in-law was carrying the Confederate flag in Pickett's Charge. The confederate re-enactors drew lots, and a third were supposed to fall dead at a certain signal, then another third at the next signal. At one point I considered working re-enactment into an examination of simulation and role-playing computer games. (Brenda Laurel, author of Utopian Entrepreneur, did some excellent work on the intersections between computers and theater.)

If the South hadn't lost, the cause of the Confederacy wouldn't be as romantic. There are certainly people who are living out Old South fantasies when they re-enact, but my father-in-law has spoken quite unsympathetically of them.

That is a very neat experience. Thank you for sharing your story of the re-enactment. I was curious to know what a first hand experience was like at one. I can see what you are saying about the romantic nature of the Southern fight, and I am sure it is a sight to see in person.

Also I think the incorporation of re-enactments into your lesson would be a great idea. Maybe when you teach MWG: Video Gaming again? What kind of simulations did you have in mind? If you could ever teach the class during a traditional term I think it would be great to use virtual reality simulators like Nintendo's ill fated "Virtual Boy" or Namco's "VR Zone." And in regard to computer role playing games/simulations "Vampire: The Masquerade" and "World of Warcraft" are my top pics.

I even thought about the idea of acting out interactive fiction in kind of a mock/rehearsed play type of act. Just something for us to poke fun at the genre while looking at its schema.

Yes, definitely if I teach it during a traditional semester we'd spend time getting to know a virtual world. At the time I would have chosen Everquest, but WoW seems like a more likely choice now. I'm planning to offer the course next January.

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