Friday, November 5, 2010

Implications of Self-Representation in Video Games and Virtual Environments

    In some ways, it’s scary how much human beings are changed by the technology in their environment because we tend to interact with those technologies in a very automatic and trusting manner.  We do not consciously reflect on the fact that the affective capability of any technology represents serious implications for the design and use of that technology. Given the amount of media of various forms that the average individual intakes, even weak effects can make strong contributions over extended periods of time.  From television to video games, exposure is leading to a change in the mental architecture of the individual media consumer.  Discovering the positive and negative consequences of these effects is important for determining what content is “fit” for consumption, in that it entertains without being detrimental to the well-being of the individual. 
    Of course, conceptions of words such as fit and well-being vary, but we understand that certain values are considered universally beneficial. However, in studying video games, due to the interactivity and self-representative properties of avatars, we have a new paradigm for study that involves a medium that provides an unprecedented level of individual engagement. Strong levels of arousal can be attained in a gaming environment because those avatars in the game actually become a representation of the individual to whichever extent that person is engaged with that virtual environment. Sociological analysis provides methods for measurement.
    The positive aspects of a video game come in many forms.  “When my team wins, we all win.”  This sense of community and teamwork is often unrivaled in most work places.  Being able to reproduce that in a real-world environment would provide the benefits associated with unselfish motivations.  The research must study the affective capability of video games and then perpetuate that sentiment.  
    The negative implications are also abundant.  For example, being able to reduce aversion to negative valence can be both positive and negative.  In training individuals to become better soldiers, the individual learns to shoot a rifle while in a stressful situation.  This is good for the soldier, and not good for the person at the other end of the rifle.  However, these methods of decreasing aversion can also treat PTSD, which is purely beneficial.   More research on affective capability of video games and virtual environments is called for, but what we already know from other fields can definitely help to inform the direction of this research to reduce the automaticity of the user and inform prosocial design. 

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