It's interesting how eventful the year has been, when it has really just begun. Only a little over a month ago, I arrived in Australia as a Fulbright Scholar studying the Psychology of Game Design, or more specifically, how the design of social systems in online games impacts player behavior, but though I'm far from my usual stomping grounds, I've stayed involved - and in many ways - am busier now than ever.
But then, that might just be because GDC - the Game Developers Conference - is coming up, and my work with the IGDA Serious Games SIG is keeping me quite busy, in addition to time spent preparing for my talk at GDC on "Crowdsourcing: Communities as a Force for Good" with noted Community Manager Rick Heaton of Extra Life and Russ Pitts, founder of Mental Health Charity TakeThis.
Not that I'd want to give up either.
It has been an honor to serve as chair of the Serious Games SIG, and to work with the dedicated and passionate members of my steering committee, who all believe that games have a potential for more than just entertainment.
That games, in many ways, have changed - and continue to change - the world.
We used to think of Video Games as Magic Circles, synthetic worlds wholly apart from the world outside, but games (in general) have been part of the human experience since before we were properly human. And as our medium evolves, with online play and social connectedness becoming more and more important, we're finding that those worlds aren't quite so separate after all.
But then, designers have known this for a while, since much of good game design is based on psychology. We've just experienced a bit of language drift in the decades apart, with knowledge and the terminology used to describe that knowledge locked within siloes, with the terribly designed "Video Games and Violence" studies of a decade or so ago and the panic they engendered driving the division in both directions.
Today, even though the conversation has moved on in the academic sphere, and in industry, it hasn't elsewhere, with the aftershocks of that conflict lingering on, both in elements of the game community which have become sensitized to criticism that uses language similar to that used a decade ago, and in the minds of some parents and officials, who are genuinely concerned about the possible risks of the new media - risks that are often overblown and exaggerated. Studies may have failed to find a connection between games and violence, but that sensationalist topic is still what is on people's minds, not the demonstrated power games have to cure, heal, and support people who so desperately need it.
One only has to look to the Anti-Vaccination movement and all the deaths that occurred because of it as an example of what happens when an unscrupulous academic writes something for a headline. Anti-Vaxxing only gained popular support after an article about a landmark study that purported to show a link between the Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and the onset of autism was published in the Lancet, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world. Which would have been fine, except that the study in question was a product of fraud, and its author, Andrew Wakefield, a self-interested hack. Though he violated his Hippocratic oath and every canon of academic ethics, and has since been stripped of his license to practice, people in the movement still cite him and his study, meaning that responsibility for the resurgence in world-wide infections, to epidemics, and widespread deaths can be laid squarely at his feet.
In games, the situation is similar enough, with a mad rush of well-intentioned people buying into the rhetoric of games causing violence and attempting to do something about it, while others, in reaction chose to portray them as simple entertainment with no effect on the real world. And though the conversation is no longer on the headlines of national newspapers after Brown vs Entertainment Merchants Association (2011), in which the literature on games and violence was rejected by the US Supreme Court, as it had been in "every court to consider them", as it "did not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively”, and “suffer[ed] from significant, admitted flaws in methodology,” undercurrents linger on.
There are a number of people who still clearly remember that time, and have come to associate criticism of any aspect of games with an attempt to bring down the medium - because there was something of an existential threat five years ago. Today, the industry is bigger than ever, having surpassed film in revenue, but that fear remains.
And fear, in history has been the driver of many, many ugly incidents.
Which brings me back to being a Fulbright Scholar. In the wake of World War II, the most destructive conflict the world has ever seen, U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright famously said: “If we do not want to die together in war, we must learn to live together in peace.” That end, he created the Fulbright program - the largest exchange program in the world - to build bridges of peace and understanding between the nations of the world.
Because fear - especially the fear of a community - isn't something you can fight with reason. It isn't something you can logic away. And its not something you can just decree to be gone.
Its something you have to understand and grapple with emotionally.
As a registered nurse, therapeutic communication is one of the first things you learn - how to acknowledge the other person's fear, anxieties, distorted beliefs without necessarily validating them - how to listen, how to reflect, how to heal. That voice of acknowledgement, not simple refutation, is something I think is missing in the discourse today, and as a Fulbright Scholar, I seek to build bridges and make peace - not just across national boundaries and between nations, but across boundaries between worlds, cultures, and understanding.
In the modern age - the age where virtual and real have become one - it is important to be connected to the world around you, but also to understand the many worlds each of us live in - the many attitudes, beliefs, and backgrounds that have shaped us and have made us who we are today. Only then can there truly be peace; only then, can we truly heal one another.
This is not an official Department of State website or blog, and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.