I talked to Dan Norton, Dan White, Chris Swain, and Jason Oda about games they create. Jason Oda and Chris Swain are creators of political video games, while Dan Norton and Dan White create games for science and educational projects.
The most prevalent theme was that the video game industry is stigmatized within society, which, among other things, prevents them from being utilized for their real potential and leads to much frustration among the creators of games that promote social and political causes. Negative statements about the impact of video games on players’ behavior have been issued by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and American Psychiatric Association. These comments ground the negativity surrounding video games (Sherry, 2006) so that that it seems impossible to rid the industry of the negative image, no matter how hard the industry tries. Such was the overarching theme that emerged from all interviews with developers of games with social causes. Participants noted that society as a whole is barely able to distinguish between the good and the bad influences associated with video games, and much of society looks at them as waste of time at best (Dan White; Jason Oda, participants). Today little is known about the advantages that video games can bring to the learning process, and Jason Oda argued, “video games are not taken seriously by a lot of people…[and they are considered to be] sort of a fluff.” The fact that many American organizations blame playing video games for increasing violence among players adds to the stigma. In spite of the fact that no social science study has proven a causal relationship between violence and video game play, society apparently does not want to take any risks; it continues to suspect gaming as a contributor to violence. Society, it seems, prefers to stigmatize video games at worst and ignore them as a form of art at best.
White, an educational game developer, argues that there is more to games than just “shooting people.” But unfortunately, the video game industry does not fight the misconceptions so that the image of gaming as a tool for violence in the virtual world persists. Furthermore, given that the image of the video gaming industry is viewed harshly within the society according to Bogost (2007, p. viii) “videogames [continue to be] considered inconsequential because they are perceived to serve no cultural or social function save distraction at best, moral baseness at worst.” To develop a more positive image of video games within society means overcoming prejudice because the “stigma around video gaming causes people to associate it with the things that have been used for it so far, which… blinds [people to] the possibilities [of] what you can do with them” (White).
Overall, the attitudes of developers toward the construction of video games’ image within society can be characterized an observation made by participant David Michael when he said, “people are somewhat limited in their ideas of what games can accomplish.” To replace the stigmatized image of video games in the society, the video game industry professionals propose that society look at games as a form of art (Oda). The industry professionals argue that games can teach people new values and new verbs. And new cultures tell of people “who do things that you may have known nothing about before you started” to play the game (Norton). All cause and educational video game developers agreed that as time goes by, many things could improve, especially for cause and educational games.
One of the impediments preventing society from realizing the true potential of video games is the fact that the medium is still too new to be taken seriously by the public. Despite that fact, however, cause and educational video game developers agreed that things should get better. Given the opportunities presented by the internet, it is “a great medium for different ideas to be passed around” (Oda). Another developer is certain that “a lot of progress [will] be made” mainly due to the fact that games have “a lot of untapped potential” that is likely to rid the industry of its stigma (White). As he points out, referring to the use of the video games for promotional purposes, “the bonus element that games do have, however, is the fact that it is a new medium and its market is not completely saturated yet.” White continues this line of reasoning and argues that educational games have the potential to make the understanding of many educational concepts easier due to the fact that they “address a lot of things that are totally busted in the education right now.” The main advantage of the video games is that the gaming technology can explain something to players in a simple and entertaining way. It intertwines the concepts of learning and fun, making it possible for learning in political communication to be fun, (e.g., The Anti-Bush Game, which educates players about potential dangers of voting for a particular candidate). Moreover, game playing can also provide a simple way of learning about complex things such as elections and gerrymandering (e.g., Oda’s Anti-Bush Game or Swain’s Redistricting Game). Thus, video game developers for social and political causes argue that games represent an interactive medium capable of entertaining people while educating them. According to the developers, this attribute of video games is unnoticed in society so far.
Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Sherry, J. (2006). Would the great and mighty Oz play Doom? In P. Messaris, & L. Humphreys (Eds.), Digital media: Transformations in human communication (pp. 225-236). Broadway, New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.