Picture copyright: https://boingboing.net/2016/12/31/no-russia-didnt-hack-vermon.html
Video games can have a deep impact on us. The interactiveness, the feeling of accomplishment after winning a hard level and the visual satisfaction they provide, create an enticing activity for most of us. According to Entertainment Software Association, more than 72 percent of American households play video games with the average age of the player being between 35 and 40. Other surveys show that the percentages of young people who are regular players reach as much as 99 percent for boys and 94 percent for girls (MacArthur Foundation survey).
People of all ages seem to love video games. And for that reason this immense market is constantly evolving, trying to cover the needs of every customer or even create new ones. This is why the big producers have begun to expand the genres of video games following the traditional model of cinema and TV. Having started from games as simple and basic as Space Invaders we now have the capability of enjoying role play games, comic book adventure games, multiplayer games of global scale and even games that introduce the player into a virtual reality. Nowadays, games are not only about having fun by moving a character here and there, completing tasks and killing minions, but can also function as documentaries, educational guides, training tools and even means of propaganda.
This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Countries have been using movies, TV shows and entertainment in general for pushing their agenda and convincing people for their «righteous» views for decades. On the other hand the hidden or unequivocal message of video games often passes unnoticed by the players themselves or the broader public opinion. This might be happening because of the broad range of titles that continually enter the market, unlike the three or four major movies and shows that come out every year, for which people and critics will talk about again and again. My point is that video games are usually above suspicion as in the end adults, and surely children, think that it is nothing more than just a game.
We tend to commend and reflect on the deeper message of any piece of art that catches our attention. It’s clear that a movie like “12 year a slave” is not simply a product of entertainment but is also a powerful cultural statement, a way of telling a story and sharing an opinion. Virtual entertainment is the contemporary mean of writing or rewriting history according to the motives and the beliefs of the maker. And while we might realize that about other forms of entertainment, how often do you ask yourself what is the notion behind “Assassin’s Creed”, “Battlefield”, “Mortal Combat” or even “SIMS”?
A recent research done by Statista, showed that children in the UK aged 12 to 15 spent 12.2 hours a week on gaming, with that number rising steadily since 2013. If a movie is powerful enough to change ones perception and ideas then what is the potent of a video game at which the player is happy to spend tens of hours on? Moreover, young people usually play video games alone, away from the notice of their parents or any adult who under other circumstances would be willing to talk about the experience of their children, the same way they do after they have finished a book or have watched something on TV that is important enough to trigger a conversation.
Video games are great and their potential positive uses are countless. However the more they evolve and become an inseparable part of people’s lives, the more we should raise our awareness concerning the ways they might be used. Forms of propaganda can be found everywhere, from newspapers and books to TV shows and social media. Video games are not an exception and we should have our eyes wide open when dealing with them. At Virtual Youth Work we will try to approach this aspect of video games as well.
Writer: Akilas A. Mitkas