Experience and digital space

Short answer; No. Long answer; It’s a bit more complicated than that. With digital media, the ontology is often concentrated on viewing the relationship between the consumer, the media and the culture of the media. The digital part is significant. While there are now few generations that have grown up in a world that never lacked the digital component, it is still relatively new introduction in historical scale. Nevertheless, it is present everywhere nowadays and digital elements in out life most likely will keep growing as the time goes by.

Timothy Druckery, a theorist of contemporary media, even went so far to argue that it would not be possible to describe or experience the world without technologically digital devices. He argues further that the evolution from mechanical to technological computer  culture has been more than just a series of new techniques and technological advances, that it is more about the evolution between dynamics of culture, interpretation and experience. Much like Druckery’s collegues, he argues that representative works are based on experience, and it would be hard to argue against that.

Video and computer games are based on experiences people have. First computer RPGs had their roots in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns people had, and this applies to origins of Ultima as well.  Miyamoto has stated that The Legend of Zelda his goal with the game was to have the game feel the same way as if you were exploring a city you have never been in before. You can almost see the overworld map as a city layout in this sense, where certain paths are alleys, larger open areas are parks and numerous dead-ends permiate the game. Or maybe that’s just me. Satoshi Tajiri, the name behind the Pokémon franchise, based the game on his own experience with bug catching. Japan has a history with kids having bug catching as a hobby, and the latest big craze was during the 1990’s. When you consider how a kid has to cover creeks, run over rivers and search the forests for new bugs to catch, you begin to see the adventure and the excitement that Tajiri wanted to convey in Pokémon. You also begin to see where modern Pokémon has started to veer off, emphasizing plot over adventure. There was a good article how Yu Suzuki put Virtua Fighter’s developer through martial arts training each morning in order for his men to animate a punch or a kick right.

That is not to say a game can be created without any experience in subject itself. Hideo Kojima has never been a spy or a soldier on a battlefield, but he nevertheless put his experience from Western movies into use in Metal Gear. You can see the change in certain visual in Metal Gear Solid 2  when they got an actual military advisor on the team. For example, Snake no longer pointed his gun upwards and overall how characters began to handle weapons changed. Small, but rather significant change when you consider how much Metal Gear games depend on the whole experienced soldier schtick.

Nevertheless, all the above mentioned games are representative of some sort of experience and allow the player to experience a sort of simulation of it. With any new sort of media there has been the fear of losing something important to humanity, if you will. With digital media the question of the consumer’s identity has become a question through the fears of how any new media might (or rather will) change our way of thinking and the way we live.

Without a doubt we have both real and virtual spaces as well as the identities that go with them. We have a wear a different persona when we are with our parents or friends, and the same applies to the virtual space. Since the 1990’s virtual space has become more and more daily thing to the point of Facebook and other social media becoming almost essential. However, even in these spaces we have a persona on us that is different from others. Much like how when writing this blog I have a persona on you don’t see in other virtual spaces, though it is overlapping harshly with everything nowadays. While there is no physical aspect to virtual spaces (they are digital and non-physical by definition) they nevertheless are real and can carry to the “real” world. However, we can always the space we choose to interact with, though this has led to the birth of extreme comfort zones where one must feel safe all the time rather than challenging oneself and broaden horizons. After all, nobody wants to get stuck in place for all eternity. Unless they get hit by a car and fall into three years of coma.

Whether or not digital media and virtual identities change our selves in physical form is a topic for a different post (it does, but the extent in which way is expansive), but I can’t but mention that experiences the consumers gain from digital media affects us just as any other similar source. After all, electronic games are an active medium instead of passive like movies or music and require the consumer to learn in order to advance. This has led some to argue that games promote violence through teaching violent methods.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are the two names responsible of the Columbine Shooting in 1999, and two years later Linda Sanders, whom lost his husband in the shooting, sued 25 different companies, like Id Software, Apogee Software and Interplay Productions, claiming that the event would not have happened if games with extreme violence like this wouldn’t exist. It was argued that certain games allowed the two assailants to train their shooting skills with precision and affected the two in a negative way. However, as we’ve seen multiple times over, games do not cause kids to go violent, and it would seem to be far more about the individual and their mental health than the media they consume.

However, it must be said that even when games are escapism from real world, they still are a product of real experiences. Playing may be just a game much like any other, but the more real world expands into virtual spaces thematically and ideologically, the less there is separation between the two. Ultimately, playing a game will affect the real world persona of the player, thought he question how much is very much up to the individual consumer. Games have been discussing censorship, violence and current topics for more than thirty years now, and for a medium that is about escapism to a large extent, that does not bode well. How much value we can put on a digital world that does not make use of its non-real capabilities and ties itself to the real?

Perhaps the digital personae we use has become less important as the melding of two worlds continues, and the identity we assume is an amalgamation.

ICD-11 video game addiction is being pushed without proper backing

Without a doubt certain percentage of people who play electronic games overdo their hobby. However, this is only for a small percentage of the overall enthusiasts and hobbyists. Furthermore, it would seem that problematic gaming, that is the consumption of electronic gaming that is detrimental to everyday life, itself grows itself thin in time and dissipates on its own. A longitudinal study showed this with 112 adolescents. I’ve already covered why the proposal for gaming disorder has no basis, but it would appear pushing for its suggestions into ICD-11 has merit to it. Merit that wouldn’t serve science, culture, markets or consumers.

Ferguson wrote that less than 1% of people experience video game addiction. His writing is a good read. Game addiction in itself is a very different nature from e.g. gambling. I’ve actually covered issues with pairing electronic gaming and gambling with each other previously, but to make short story even shorter, video game addiction is far more often a symptom of an underlying problem than the cause in itself. Ferguson’s own study supports this. Hell, there’s even a paper arguing against the very concept of video game addiction.

In a discussion between Ferguson and an administrator at the World Health Organisation acknowledged political pressure from countries, particularly from Asian ones, factoring in the inclusion of video game addiction into ICD-11. If countries are pushing its inclusion, that means scientific basis comes second at best and whatever political stance these nations have come in first. That is extremely dangerous, as adding video game addiction opens doors for other far more intrusive and harmful suggestions to be included under its umbrella. Considering video game addiction is extremely loosely defined and would require far more research than what it has, there’s no guarantee any of the future additions would have better research behind it.

You may be asking yourself what nations would have need or use for this sort of addition to the ICD-11. Some nations have reported more deaths from non-stop gaming than others, and mostly we hear these reports from either China or South Korea. In 2005 a 28-years old man died because his heart failed during a session of Starcraft, BBC reports. It is interesting to note from that article that despite Starcraft being a real-time strategy game, professor Mark Griffith only talks about MMORPGs, a very different genre of game. You have far less interaction with your opponent in Starcraft that you have in e.g. World of Warcraft.

South Korea has seen drastic changes in its electronic game landscape, and one of the more worrisome changes came around 2014, when some members of the government began to regard games as a detrimental pastime. South Korea has discussed to enact game addition bill to limit not only the amount of time people should be allowed to play, but also games themselves. However, when you have legislators directly comparing video games to tobacco and alcohol, there is something amiss. South Korean gaming culture is far different from any other, e.g. you can actually graduate to be an e-Sports player. However, much like any other person who has a career in “sports,” e-Sports players suffer from injuries as well. Seeing how the South Korean culture has almost twisted games and e-Sports into a national pastime, it’s no wonder a lot of young people are willing to give a chance to become a player worth millions of wons.

The thing is, South Korea does have a problem with gaming, but rather as we are lacking in evidence for gaming addiction (we have more researches saying against it as linked above), it is far more probable that the South Korean gaming problem is a symptom from an underlying social and cultural troubles. Putting legislation that equates games with drugs and alcohol won’t cure the problem, it will manifest itself some other way later down the line.

Passing a law based on game addiction is hard when you have nothing to base it on. However, if ICD-11 would recognize video game addiction as a valid illness, there would be no need for debating or researching the issue much further; after all, you can simply point out that it’s in the books. That would be injustice.

One of the gaming limiting laws has already passed. The Shutdown law was passed in 2011 and limits people aged under 16 from playing online games during the night between 00:00 and 06:00. While this would sound decent in principle, it is not the government’s job to do what parents should be doing. Furthermore, this law challenged in few occasions as unconstitutional. However, the law is still in effect, albeit nowadays parents can request the ban being lifted from their child.

China’s following this South Korean example with similar legislation that would ban gaming outright from people aged under 18 between 00:00 and 08:00, and would necessitate computers and smartphones to be fitted software that would track down law breakers. Both South Korea and China require their people to use their real IDs when accessing their gaming accounts. In case of South Korea, this is a necessity with many of their websites in general. However, in 2012 Real Name Rule was struck down and rejected by court. The law requiring the usage of users’ real names was introduced in 2007 to combat cyber-bullying. Again, this is treating the symptom, not the cause. Furthermore, as gaming is a million-dollar business, by accusing game industry creating addictive products, governments could push forwards for harsher taxations and other underhanded shenanigans to gain more from the revenues. This may sound like a foil-hat idea, but seeing how few years back we found game journalism colluding and attacking their consumers and recently CIA spying everyone everywhere, this isn’t far fetched.

Games of any kind, be it sports, card games or anything else, are addictive in their own way. For modern electronic games, it’s a whole mess to open why they could be addictive outside the usual action-reward scheme. This is because electronic games have more dimensions than gambling. After all, games are a tool to give leeway for people from their everyday life in an electronic way that supports social interaction through cultural landscape and aims to both challenge and please the players at the same time. They are not gambling, except Complete Gacha in Japan, as gambling quite literally requires wagering money or something else valuable under uncertain conditions for higher gains. Of course, games are designed to pull the player in and be enjoyable, but that is what every form of entertainment does.

If video game addiction would have something to be tied to, it would be escapism. Escapism is always tied to something else than the tool people escape through, and the question I must ask here; what are people escaping from if they are willing to kill and die because of video games?

ICD-11 proposal for gaming disorder has no basis

World Health Organization has a new proposal in the ICD-11 category, one which would add ‘Gaming disorder’ as a valid disease. The definition for this disease would be the impaired control over daily life in which video games would gain priority despite negative consequences. This is tied to Hazardous gaming, where a pattern of gaming that causes physical or mental harm to the individual or to people around of this individual. Hazardous gaming is essentially just a step towards gaming disorder.

I’m calling bullshit on this proposal as it is now.

You probably clicked the link above and read the short description for gaming disorder. Just from that alone we can surmise few problems the proposal has. First of all, the proposal includes only video games, leaving arcade and PC gaming alone, and hazardous gaming simply refers it as ‘gaming.‘ Granted, the terminology I’m using is more old fashioned in comparison, but using video game as an umbrella term for all electronic gaming is weak at best and shows the authors have little knowledge of the industry’s history. Because of this the proposal ignores the fact that games like pachislot, that is undeniably a video game if we were to use the modern umbrella term, are more dependent on gambling addiction than on the proposed form of gaming disorder.

To add to this, those who are playing video games as a career in some form would be singled out to have this disorder. Psychology as a soft science struggles with things like this, as case studies may not apply to the larger population and vice versa. Furthermore, what is considered harmful in these cases is somewhat open question again. The discussion about what is normal behaviour falls into behavioural psychology a bit too heavily and would be a discussion on its own. I would argue in this case that a person who would have symptoms of gaming disorder may simply be a person who is a hermit and finds solitude in his hobby instead of mingling with people. Whether or not he has a disorder would be questioned. Furthermore, if we were to change the hobby in an individual case like this to something like watching movies, would he then have movie viewing disorder? Such disorder does not exist in the papers and has never been proposed thus far.

There are no long-term studies that would support gaming disorder as proposed. Even short-term studies are hard to come by, and the few examples I had in my mind have eluded for me for the time being. However, the addictive action that electronic games offer is not much any different from other forms of similar activities, but these are not singled out as separate diseases for whatever reason. No other leisure activity like video games, or electronic gaming if you’re an old fart like me, has been singled out like this. While some could argue that gambling falls into this category as a singled out, the psychology of gambling is a bit too much to open here and has proper research basis to back it up.

Furthermore, 26 scholars have written an open letter, rebutting this proposal. You can read the whole thing at Research Gate. Their arguments is that inclusion for gaming disorder, even as a proposal, would have economic effects on the industry. Singling a media out like this would be akin to showcasing the harmful effects of tobacco, the difference here being tobacco’ negative effects had solid evidence behind them. Possible effects of this proposal would be adverse limitations on the industry at large. At worst, possible prohibitions and limitations of what sort of games and what content games could have could be realised. South Korea already employs harsh limitations on games as it is. Last UN’s CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) wanted to ban Japanese media that depicted sexual violence against women. Kumiko Yamada, the representative of Japanese wing of Women’s Institute of Contemporary Media Culture, responded to CEDAW’s proposal by stating that their view on the matter was an absolute No. Translated version on Niche Gamer. The reasoning to Japan’s response was that first of all, they are fiction and do not threaten real people. Second reason was that these fields are filled with women, and such ban would do the exact opposite what CEDAW’s aimed at, as disallowing these women to portray fiction whatever they wished would create new venues of sexism towards women. If this proposal about gaming disorder would pass, it would mean limitations and even bans similar to this would come to pass under the guise of population health concerns.

As the open letter states, passing the proposal could lead into a moral panic. Gaming in general is no foreign to these, as the industry’s history is well marked with controversies regarding violent games, and more recently about games with sexual content. This would tie itself to the aforementioned limitations and bans, when in reality no good evidence is backing up.

As such, if the proposal would to pass, it would be met with harsh criticism and high scepticism from both common population and scholars. The open letter goes even further and states that passing gaming disorder would harm WHO’s reputation and medical community in general, would dramatically reduce the utility of such a diagnosis, especially when it is not grounded in proper evidence base. Singling games out from the rest of the media out there would open a Pandora’s box of behavioural disorders, where any and all activities from sports to gardening could be diagnosed as a behavioural disorder, saturating and demeaning the whole field at large.

The question you may have now whether or not I am deluded enough to say that there is no disordered gaming. That answer would be No. There are numerous ways a person may end up playing games more that it is healthy, but in numerous researched I’ve read the core reason is more often than not somewhere else. An action in itself can be just a symptom, and singling our excessive gaming in itself disorder would put a patient in possible danger if the underlying reasons are not solved and properly treated. The proposal’s worst case scenario considering health could be treating a symptom while completely disregarding the cause.

Christmas is here and parents need some guidance

With the release of the latest Grand Theft Auto we also got slew of news on parents and professional psychologists panning the game universally as a negative influence to children who play it. At this point, most of you will have alarm bells going off in your head, thinking what the hell is wrong with these people. For me, it’s a yearly event.

Let me tell you a story that I might have already told previously, but it’s still just as valid.

Few years back I was browsing some games in our local electronics store. At the time, the shelves had more selection than what we have nowadays, as the profit the stores gain from video games has dropped like a hammer sinking in river. A proper-looking mother, with a pretty spot on three-size, asked yours truly a question about games, as she knew nothing of them. Well, being who I am, I gladly helped her in deciding what she should do. First of all I asked what kind of games her child enjoys and how old is he. Sure enough, the kid had games spanning from Sly Cooper series to Call of Duty. Pretty standard games really, but she was unsure, as games had changed somewhat since she bought anything the last time. Sure enough, PEGI System has gone through a few revisions, and this was around after the latest one. I explained the markings on the game and how the PEGI system works. After some discussion that PEGI is a recommendation system and that it isn’t all encompassing universal law, thou it is sort of illegal to sell R-18 games to under age in certain regions countries. PEGI in itself is a recommendation system.

This led into discussion about the maturity of individuals and how physical age is never a direct indication of psychological maturity. For example, a child aged at ten can be completely OK with watching horribly violent movies and sexual material, while another person of same age might get traumatised by the material. After all, it is up to the parents to supervise their children and assess if they are mature enough to be exposed to a chosen material. This is, of course, practically impossible and hover parenting is generally not a good idea. However, video games and other entertainment is a different thing. I do agree that parents should be aware of what kind of entertainment their children are consuming in front of the screen, be it on PC or a game console.

Anyway, we chatted there for about an hour about these things and what they were to her. Ultimately, she confessed that a lot of this stuff was new to her as she never really thought any of it properly. I was glad I could help her, and after the chat she chose a game based on what her child had been playing previously and what his tastes were. Of course, parental concerns were present, but I later bumped to her and she told me that her son was delighted to get that particular game as a present.

Needless to say, the staff of the store, gave me a weird look after this.

What I try to illustrate with this story is that parents don’t know jack shit about the video entertainment in general. Only just recently we’ve seen a generation reaching adulthood and getting kids that understand what video games and films are as an entertainment in their current form. These people have been born in the 70’s and 80’s, and have witnessed the golden age of video games as well as how television, movies and world wide connectivity has changed. However, this is also a generation of stagnation, the one that doesn’t dare to dream. Much like we are taught to read movies, news and ads the right way to get the best out of them and not be fooled, we should be taught to understand and read other video media as well. Newgrounds and Youtube are the prime examples of the Web 2.0, but as much as we see it talked about, we don’t see anyone wanting to educate us on it. Personally, Web 2.0 is kind of bullshit but that is beside the point. The point is that if we’re taught to read behind the traditional media, and I’m covering films and TV with this remark as well, why is it so hard for some people to read through video games? As they are now, video games use vastly similar ways to convey messages and use almost the exact same visual methods as any video based material, be it a TV-series, movie or ad. Which actually begs the question if this is a good thing overall, but the point stands.

Of course, we know the answer. Any new form of entertainment is seen as a threat. Before video games it was the computer nerds, before that it was the radio geeks, before that it was the kids reading books all alone in their rooms, and so on.

It would be awesome to have some sort of leaflet that shortly explains what video games are, where they come from and why there’s no reason to be afraid of them. The problem lies with the individual parents of course, and that’s why one person can’t do it without the help of some larger organization. For example, if a well known game company like Nintendo, or a well known electronics company like SONY, would start a campaign to open this video game thing to those who feel they’re left outside, it just might be the thing to allow the worrying parents to understand that video games are just fictional entertainment like movies, music, television and books.

There was a decade long study on television’s and electronic game’s effect on children’s psychological adjustment. In short, video games have no negative effect on the psychological growth. As usual, we can always say that they do have effect on people with prior abnormalities, just like with any form of entertainment. A normal person won’t go out and start killing people after playing a session of Modern Warfare, whatever the age might be.

It’s a difficult issue, and I hope it’ll be met, just like the issues with other screen entertainment has been.