Friday, October 22, 2010

Online Worlds and Compassion

    Cultivation Theory, Agenda-setting Theory, and the Spiral of Silence(1) represent some of the most salient theories for our current interests in media communication studies, with each of these theories representing a facet of influence that can direct research. Cultivation Theory as applied to video games and virtual online communities is interesting because it confounds the normal social roles and behaviors of the individual with unrealistic or hyperreal occurrences.  As Williams mentions, online worlds differ offline perceptions(2).  It may well change the way our society evolves.  In the vein of my interest, compassion potentiation, there is not much apparent “good news” that can be drawn out from competitive and violent games.  While the multi-player games that involve teams going on missions foster cooperation amongst their group, any outsiders are still seen as enemies.  It would be interesting to relate the concept of compassion fatigue to online worlds where there is no reward for compassion and no other need for any reciprocity of kindness.
     Much in the same way that Gerbner and Gross theorized that television caused an “enculturation” in the individual by changing their perceptions of reality to match those presented through television programming, the video games that individuals play may change the perception of the players.   This has implications for both negative and positive changes to human behavior.  Our virtual selves do not suffer the same consequences that our real-life bodies do, but the information that is presented to us in a virtual environment does make an impression on the way we think and interact with others in the real world.  Therefore, if negative actions are awarded in the virtual world, this can have an effect on the way we think, even if only to a small extent.  Conversely, if positive (prosocial) actions are rewarded in the virtual world, that may be able to reinforce those cognitive modes of kindness, empathy, and compassion in the real world.      

Griffin, E.M. A First Look at Communication Theory.  (7th ed., 2009) (Chs. 27, 28, 29)
Williams, Dmitri.  Virtual Cultivation:  Online Worlds and Offline Perceptions.  Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916.

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