May 13, 2014

Edward Snowden — who acted so drastically to affect millions of people in the real world — acquired his moral structure through the playing of video games.

I wasn't going to blog anymore about the GQ interview of Glenn Greenwald, but something I just read made me want to show you this:
You mention in your book that Snowden's moral universe was first informed by video games.

In Hong Kong, Snowden told me that at the heart of most video games is an ordinary individual who sees some serious injustice, right? Like some person who's been kidnapped and you've got to rescue them, or some evil force that has obtained this weapon and you've got to deactivate it or kill them or whatever. And it's all about figuring out ways to empower yourself as an ordinary person, to take on powerful forces in a way that allows you to undermine them in pursuit of some public good. Even if it's really risky or dangerous. That moral narrative at the heart of video games was part of his preadolescence and formed part of his moral understanding of the world and one's obligation as an individual.
The thing I just read that made me want to show you that is Nick Gillespie's article in Reason titled "Are Video Games Art?/Why games should be taken as seriously as novels, films, and other forms of creative expression." Gillespie quotes the film critic Roger Ebert: "Video games can never be art," because they "do not raise my hopes for a video game that will deserve my attention long enough to play it. They are, I regret to say, pathetic."

Gillespie and Ebert seem to be talking about what is good art, but what I'm concerned about here is the way art affects us, the way minds are formed by the experience of art as an alternative to the experience of living our own lives. Whether the art we consume is good or bad and whether it comes in the form of novels or films or paintings or comics or video games — or holy scripture! — it displaces life in the concrete world where what we do and say has consequences on human beings whose facial expressions we see and who talk back to us and take actions that can benefit or harm us.

Edward Snowden — who acted so drastically to affect millions of people in the real world — acquired his moral structure through the playing of video games. That's important! What is the morality learned from video games? I'm afraid of the new generations that will take on power in the real world based on this particular artificial experience. It's not that I feel good about all those other artificial experiences that inform an individual's morality. But it seems especially dangerous for young minds to develop within such a pervasive sensation of alternate reality.

And yet where are all these young male heroes, deeply imprinted with a grandiose sense of mission and an urgent call to go on a quest for survival or salvation? I'm guessing mostly they're trapped within their games, clamped into virtual reality, and never coming out. That's something else I'm afraid of!

121 comments:

Ann Althouse said...

I haven't looked at any comments yet, but I'm predicting comments that go off on the subject of how women have caused men to take refuge in the fake world of video games.

pduggie said...

"Like some person who's been kidnapped and you've got to rescue them,"

Well, as Anita Sarkeesian has taught us, its actually almost always a damsel who has been kidnapped and you, the male protagonist have to rescue them to maintain patriarchy.

CWJ said...

It seems that the moral structure attributed to Snowden may not be generalizable beyond only a subset of video games.

I haven't played the games so maybe someone else can answer this. What moral structure do you learn playing any of the wildly popular grand theft auto series, or any of the first person shooter games?

rhhardin said...

Nothing will ever beat EIGENSMASH.

A VIC-20 program that zeros out off-diagonal elements of a real symmetric matrix by plane rotations.

There's a lot of sound effects, explosions, and so forth as elements are driven to zero.

It's a guy thing.

K in Colorado said...

No, actually, I was going to point out how millions of guys play video games, but do not form their moral paradigm based on them. There are always a small subset of any group (comics, Star Wars, video games), for which their particular "thing" becomes their be all and end all of everything.

Remember the hysteria over Dungeons and Dragons back in the 70's? D&D would either make you a Satanist or you would lose all touch with reality and want to run around in the steam tunnels in full costume (well there are groups that like to dress up and run around in full costume and have a weekend immersion, but that's just a hobby - wink, wink). Myself and the college friends that played D&D, as far as I know, turned out OK.

Jane the Actuary said...

Funny, I was thinking about this the other day -- or, rather, I was thinking about how we as a society are very fond of criticizing men who spend their free time playing video games ("video games are for children! you're an adult now!") as well as other geeky pursuits (e.g., Star Wars) but the world of men who immerse themselves into spectator sports (come on, do we really need this obsessive coverage about the NFL draft?) we leave untouched.

Maybe spectator sports-obsessing is more social? (But a commenter tells me that Star Wars is a very social hobby, with the convensions and such.) Maybe it's less immersive and draws the fans into a different reality to a lesser degree? Or is this all just reproducing the social pecking order of high school?

http://janetheactuary.blogspot.com/2014/05/is-star-wars-waste-of-time-what-about.html

Bob Boyd said...

"And yet where are all these young male heroes, deeply imprinted with a grandiose sense of mission and an urgent call to go on a quest for survival or salvation?"

Maybe they join the military.

Falacrine said...

Women have caused men to take refuge in the fake world of video games.

gerry said...

Videogame morality that forms consciences.

What can possibly go wrong?

but I'm predicting comments that go off on the subject of how women have caused men to take refuge in the fake world of video games.

This taints the prophecy.

Jim Gust said...

That description of the "moral structure" of video games applies to a small subset of the games I've played--and I am not a serious gamer. Sounds just like the Legend of Zelda. Does not sound like Pac-man or Asteroids. Does not sound like Mario Cart, or the many driving games. Does not sound like Tetris, or the many puzzle games. I don't know what the moral structure of Grand Theft Auto is, as I've never played it, but I thought that its point was anarchy and the absence of moral values. Ditto for Moral Kombat and similar fighting games.

Smilin' Jack said...

And yet where are all these young male heroes, deeply imprinted with a grandiose sense of mission and an urgent call to go on a quest for survival or salvation? I'm guessing mostly they're trapped within their games, clamped into virtual reality, and never coming out. That's something else I'm afraid of!

I'm all for future Hitlers, Stalins, Maos, etc. getting trapped in video games.

Nonapod said...

I've been an avid gamer since the days of the Atari 2600. It's certainly true that story driven games (from about the NES era on at least) usually follow the Joeseph Campbell monomyth heros tale. This is certainly true of many Japanese RPGs such as the Final Fantasy series. They pit some young hero against a hugely powerful evil who is bent on corrupting, destroying, and/or controlling the world. They often have themes of environmental catastrophe and tropes like the power of love. The story's aren't generally very sophisticated or nuanced but they do have an underlying morality I guess.

Recently there have been more and more games that have slighly more ambitious narratives, like the Bioshock games, Heavy Rain, and Last of Us.

mccullough said...

The military is filled with them. Who do you think signs up for special forces, the gender studies majors?

Leif said...

Snowden is a malignant narcissist and a spy. Greenwald is just obfuscating.

Video game morality is generally that of any archetypal heroic story. They've actually restored the traditional art of story-telling. Indeed, that is why the industry is now bigger than Hollywood.

David said...

When I was a kid, we ran around in the woods playing "war." That was a main form of play. The Korean War was on, WW II just over. We were always grandiose, heroic, victorious. We got wounded but it never hurt. We got killed but came back to life.

That's pretty much my sense of what goes on in most video games. And we made it up in our own heads.

vicari valdez said...

didn't people have the same kind of fears about comic books in the 1950's?

Jane the Actuary said...

The steam tunnels! You mean this story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Dallas_Egbert_III

which was passed down to me as a denizen of the same dorm floor many years later, though only with the advent of the internet was it possible to confirm it.

RecChief said...

If the had a grandiose sense of mission, why aren't more joining the Army?

RecChief said...

Video Games?

That fits with <a href="http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304536104579556063385347826>this analysis</a>

Falacrine said...

"You mention in your book that Snowden's moral universe was first informed by video games"

"First" informed. My moral universe was "first" informed by Bullwinkle's experiences with Boris and Natasha, but there's been one or two influences since. You'd have to be a literal-minded knucklehead to read too much into this.

traditionalguy said...

That is interesting insight into mentally ill men who have been trapped within their games, clamped into a virtual reality and never coming out. Marxist game player Obama, the destroyer of nations, is the first one to come to mind.

SGT Ted said...

Eberts ignorance about video gaming as an art form stands out.

The best video games immerse the player into a story, just like movies, TV shows and books do. They have cinematic cut scenes, as well as game scenes the player participates in that are all cinematically based.

ALL video games are participatory story telling and some are very rich and complex.

In some cases, they are even better than a movie; instead of just watching the hero, you get to BE the hero.

Ebert was very blind and biased in his assessment. If he never played one, his assessment was garbage.

It's why video games are more popular with the young, who have turned away from the "sit on your ass being spoon fed the story" model of TV and cinema.

SGT Ted said...

As to Snowdens being influenced by them, well, he is someone who couldn't separate reality from fiction. He's a moral idiot.

SGT Ted said...

Snowden moral foundation is that of a very shallow person.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

The Googles answered my question.

Yes, there is a video game based on Don Quixote.

My guess is it kind of sucks.

madAsHell said...

women have caused men to take refuge in the fake world of video games.

Several years ago, I had a cohort of students deeply interested in computer science, and video games. It was my impression that they entered the virtual world around 8 to 10 years of age, and didn't really wake up to women until about 20 years of age.....and even then they had trouble putting down the.....ummmm....joystick, and picking up the...well...joystick.

I would tell them..."Video games are masturbation with little gratification."

damikesc said...

CWJ, in the case of GTA, you are usually somebody trying to get out of a bad situation but keep making horrible decisions. As far as FPS, depends on what you're playing. For the military ones, you normally have to rescue missing squad members, find out what happened in a catastrophe, discover the truth in your identity, etc. The story telling isn't stellar, but 90% of Hollywood is crap.

David said...

"Ann Althouse said...
I haven't looked at any comments yet, but I'm predicting comments that go off on the subject of how women have caused men to take refuge in the fake world of video games."

Ouch!

The point of my earlier comment is that boys innately gravitate to heroic fantasies. It does not take a video game to make it happen. The role of women in this is less clear, but if women have a role, it's not a recent development.

Next up: the princess and damsel fantasies.

Civilis said...

And yet where are all these young male heroes, deeply imprinted with a grandiose sense of mission and an urgent call to go on a quest for survival or salvation? I'm guessing mostly they're trapped within their games, clamped into virtual reality, and never coming out. That's something else I'm afraid of!

If it wasn't video games, it would be TV, if not TV, then radio or books or sports. There's always an escape.

I haven't played the games so maybe someone else can answer this. What moral structure do you learn playing any of the wildly popular grand theft auto series, or any of the first person shooter games?

I'm not a big fan of GTA and its imitators, but the impression I've got is that they reinforce a tribal sort of honor and loyalty, and tend to feature as at least part of their overarching story a massive and incredibly corrupt government/corporate structure that the characters can do a "we're not good people, but we aren't that bad" against. First person shooters are widely varied in terms of setting and story. The WW2 entries and the well-known Halo series tend to have a very distinct Good and Bad sides to present an unquestionably heroic tale, while many of the modern military ones have the player as a mere pawn in a larger conflict that isn't so cut and dried.

Lyssa said...

And it's all about figuring out ways to empower yourself as an ordinary person, to take on powerful forces . . .

In how many video games is the protagonist anything like an "ordinary person?" Don't most of them have some sort of superpowers, or specialized weaponry, or at least the ability to pick up magical "health" packets at various intervals along their way?

SGT Ted said...

Actually, most video game players aren't taking refuge in them from women, they just are enjoying them more than a relationship with one.

If women are less desirable than video games, what are women doing to make themselves less desirable than a video game to always horny, young, heterosexual men?

What can they do to make themselves more desirable than a video game to young men?

If the women cannot compete with a video game, maybe the women should take a look at themselves, instead of using blaming and shaming language to avoid any sort of self reflection by putting it back on the men.

SGT Ted said...

And as far as "good art" goes, modern art galleries are filled with all sort of crap that is portrayed as "good art".

Lyssa said...

AA said: m guessing mostly they're trapped within their games, clamped into virtual reality, and never coming out.

This is sort of an aside, but I took a space law class with Glenn Reynolds a few years back, and he mentioned this several times as a possible explanation for why we have not made any contact with other planets yet - that possibly, as societies evolve and become more technologically advanced, they turn that technology inward, to earthly (well, own-planetary) pursuits, rather than seeking to move onward and outward - so perhaps there are other, technologically advanced, aliens out there, but they haven't bothered to reach out to us because they're ultimately putting more resources into their planet's equivalent of playing games and surfing the web. It definitely made me think.

Matthew Sablan said...

Some video games give interesting moral lessons; others don't. Just like "real" art.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

You fools.

Video games are created by Leftists ergo evil.

Next subject, same answer.

Ralph Hyatt said...

If you play a lot of Grand Theft Auto are you learning nihilism or do you play it because you are a nihilist and it appeals to you?

Art may help shape us, but art is created to appeal to humans, especially commercial art such as video games.

Joseph Campbell would say that the desire of a young man to go on a quest and save someone (usually a woman) is universal and that the games simply feed that hunger.

My guess is that the games also have some sort of mentor who provides the hero with knowledge or a object of power required to successfully complete the quest and that he has to face a series of trials.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth

Civilis said...

That description of the "moral structure" of video games applies to a small subset of the games I've played--and I am not a serious gamer. Sounds just like the Legend of Zelda. Does not sound like Pac-man or Asteroids. Does not sound like Mario Cart, or the many driving games. Does not sound like Tetris, or the many puzzle games. I don't know what the moral structure of Grand Theft Auto is, as I've never played it, but I thought that its point was anarchy and the absence of moral values. Ditto for Moral Kombat and similar fighting games.

Any video game with a story, even one with a story that allows for a degree of moral freedom on behalf of the player, will have some moral values. It's part of the story, of any story regardless of medium. Part of any storytelling is crafting a set of circumstances to act out that moral framework. Personally, I find tribal honor and robin hood style fighting of injustice with injustice to be moral values that have little place in the world today, but they are moral values, and there are times and places where they can be applicable.

I last played a Grand Theft Auto game more than a decade ago and it didn't suit me, partly because of the flimsy or transparently cliché levels gone through to justify some of the protagonist's behavior. However, it has more to it than just being a murder and mayhem simulator, which it has become to many people. I understand people can't be expected to know everything about a hobby which doesn't interest them, but this debate requires that it not be about a caricature of what games in general and specific games in particular are.

The Hubby said...

This reminds me of a mil-sci-fi short story "Death in Real Time". Video game nut joins navy, becomes an operator of one of his ship's anti-missle systems.

Ann Althouse said...

"This taints the prophecy."

Averts the detour.

Ann Althouse said...

"That's pretty much my sense of what goes on in most video games. And we made it up in our own heads."

You really think children playing imaginative games outside, running around, with other children is the same thing as a child sitting inside working controls on an electronic device programmed by adults and designed to keep him sitting there staring and twiddling?

Texas Annie said...

My husband, our two boys - both Marines, and myself are all serious gamers. Massive Multiplayer Online - MMOs. World of Warcraft, Aeion, Everquest, others, and now Elder Scrolls Online. Mostly fantasy and sci-fi, violent yes, but not real/pretend humans high-jacking real/pretend cars. We kill, or choose not to kill, mythical creatures for the most part, in lands unknown.

Yes, the quests have you save damsels, right injustices and help the fallen, but I don't see much patriarchy. Heroes are male, female, Orc, Elf, Vampire and Werewolf, Goblin and Lizard. Evil can be any of those as well. One thing I have noticed are very few shades of grey. In recent years, many games have adopted a less linear, "your decision changes the outcome", rather than your swordplay, but the grey is slow coming.

There is a minority that role play and become immersed. Another minority are those who want nothing more than to be the best, have the best gear and the highest achievements. The majority are people that go to work every day and play when they can.

We have been in guilds with people from all over the world, all ages and all races. We get on Teamspeak or Vent and talk, stay up nights on weekends to raid together, laugh, and more than a few fall in love.

The sports analogy is quite apropos, minus having seasons. We do this all year. Groups form and fall apart, games are good or bad, but we always look forward.

Mu husband is in a wheelchair. Our finances are limited. We would never get a chance to go to the places where our friends live halfway around the world, but we care for these friends as much as we would a next door neighbor. We talk, we commiserate, we support.

It's kind of like a comment community on a blog, except we can chat with voice or video.

It costs about fifteen dollars a month to play. One movie for two of us would cost more.

Not a bad hobby when you are limited. Not bad, even if you aren't.

Ann Althouse said...

"I would tell them..."Video games are masturbation with little gratification.""

Do they transition to real women or to porn?

chrisnavin.com said...

I had a friend who was abandoned near a landfill and raised by some sanitation workers there.

His primary moral education came from the lurid tales they told, a Gideon's bible, the backs of cereal boxes, and a cache of discarded feminist textbooks.

He turned out great.

tim maguire said...

Video games may all have a similar base-level story that the players are acting out, but how is that different from cartoons? Movies? Books? (Including comic?)

This is just a high-falutin version of "Violent video games make kids violent!"

Snowden probably got his morality from his family, the same way the rest of us did.

LarsPorsena said...

Blogger Ann Althouse said...
"This taints the prophecy."

Averts the detour.

5/13/14, 10:58 AM
----------------

It's really taint this nor taint that.

prairie wind said...

I don't play video games so I won't comment on the morality lessons found there. I will say that problem-solving skills play a huge part in the stuff I've watched my son play.

This generation grew up with Harry Potter! If they remember the lessons learned there, they could be the greatest generation yet.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Ann Althouse said...
I haven't looked at any comments yet, but I'm predicting comments that go off on the subject of how women have caused men to take refuge in the fake world of video games


Well, so what of it? When posing the question "what is 2 plus 2", I'm predicting answers that go off on the subject of "4".

Henry said...

...it seems especially dangerous for young minds to develop within such a pervasive sensation of alternate reality.

Read Northanger Abbey. The gimlet-eyed Regency observers looked askance at exposure of young minds to Gothic thrillers. The novel is a powerful alternate reality.

You could transpose almost any cultural experience onto this construct. Comic books. Opera. Baseball. Bear baiting. I'm sure that some of the rugged old curmudgeons in neolithic Lascaux griped about their young people too: "Where are all these young male heroes, deeply imprinted with a grandiose sense of mission and an urgent call to go on a quest for survival or salvation? I'm guessing mostly they're trapped within their [caves], clamped into virtual reality, and never coming out."

Snowden's take on video games is interesting only because it's so completely banal. It's the basic folk tale. Now with moving pictures.

As for Roger Ebert, there are really only two kinds of video games: addictive or boring (novels are like that too). Apparently Ebert only encountered the boring ones.

SGT Ted said...

What moral structure do you learn playing any of the wildly popular grand theft auto series, or any of the first person shooter games?

Being the Star in a Rambo or Drug Lord type movie.


The online and/or player vs player(pvp) 1st person shooters are more akin to sports culture than any sort of story telling or morality.

Yes, I am an avid gamer. I have been since pinball machines. I especially like pvp gaming. It very challenging in its way.

Gaming is a safe alternative from mixing with amoral women who see you as an opportunity and a meal ticket.

Crimso said...

Well, Snowden's sure got awoxing down. (You know you want to Google it)

K in Colorado said...

Jane, yes that's the one I was thinking about when I mentioned steam tunnels. I was just starting as a freshman at the University of Michigan when this happened.

As for D&D, I can still impress my teenage sons friends when I pull out my circa 1980 Advanced D&D book - its like they have discovered a living fossil :).

Again, everyone wants a place to belong and feel connected. That can be church, sports, bars, or taking video games or Star Wars to an extreme. I like to attend cons, and you do see the folks that for them, attending cons and fandom is their life. However, these are really smart people that do not go postal. An aside, I'm attending Comic Con International this year as a volunteer - I get in free every day, I only have to work 3 hours per day.

cubanbob said...

And yet where are all these young male and female heroes, deeply imprinted with a grandiose Marxist-feminist-green do-gooder sense of mission and an urgent call to go on a quest for survival or salvation? I'm guessing mostly they're trapped within their games, clamped into virtual reality, and never coming out. That's something else I'm afraid of!



Ralph Hyatt said...

Professor, I am getting the feeling that you are somewhat disdainful of video games or at least of those that play them.

I agree that kids running around outside using their own imaginations to create play scenarios is preferable to playing video games, and superior to watching TV, or movies, or reading in that it provides exercise for the body and mind. However, there has to be some source material for the kids to work with.

TV, movies, books, and games are story telling mediums and humans pretty much need stories as much as we need food. We seem to be designed to tell stories and to listen to them. Stories are how culture is passed on.

madAsHell said...

Do they transition to real women or to porn?

I can't say. I no longer have a window into their worlds.

Are we not skating on thin ice here? A question that equates real women with porn.

All kidding aside.....I believe that most men take the best from both worlds. Any other solution is just too damn expensive.

Civilis said...

You really think children playing imaginative games outside, running around, with other children is the same thing as a child sitting inside working controls on an electronic device programmed by adults and designed to keep him sitting there staring and twiddling?

In both cases, imagination is being used, perhaps in a different way. Different skills are being used: substitute physical exercise outdoors for mental skills like problem solving and critical thinking in video games. Video games, through interactivity, provide feedback and reward for increased skills, that mindlessly sitting in front of the television can't provide.

There was a shooter game that came out years ago that had players use a cheap plastic gun to shoot zombies that popped up on the screen. Someone modified the game to work as a typing tutor; instead of shooting the zombies with a gun, type the words in front of them to shoot them. Some of the fastest typists I know learned off that game. Provide a reward (dead zombies and high scores) for mastering a skill (typing).

chrisnavin.com said...

And who taught him to read?

The seagulls, and a rat named Charlie.

RecChief said...

The point of my earlier comment is that boys innately gravitate to heroic fantasies. It does not take a video game to make it happen.

Look at how boys are systematically turned away for any boy-like behavior in school. There are darn few opportunities to play at heroic fantasies outside of video games any more.

Unknown said...

Video games are art. Everything now is art except paintings that look like things in the real world.

Rocketeer said...

I have a theory that men force women to take refuge in the fake world of Disney princess movies as children. As they grow older, instead of transitioning to real men they transition to Hugh Grant britflicks.

Matthew Sablan said...

"In how many video games is the protagonist anything like an "ordinary person?""

-- Survival horror, classic adventure games and such are very much about the ordinary nobody saving the day.

traditionalguy said...

Normal young men are compelled to seek their father's approval and will do whatever it takes to be seen as an heroic winner, expecting that gets them Daddy's approval.

Football coaches are masters at re-directing this male weakness. The men age 16 through 20 have always been the targeted recruits for Armies.

But that instinct does not create a moral structure. It attributes a real, or even an imaginary, one to the father figure that the son plans to win over.

Interestingly, the sole reason God gave in scripture for choosing the Jews was that he knew Father Abraham would teach his children a moral structure.

SGT Ted said...

You really think children playing imaginative games outside, running around, with other children is the same thing as a child sitting inside working controls on an electronic device programmed by adults and designed to keep him sitting there staring and twiddling?

This assumes that there's nothing going on in their heads while they are doing so. All you see is the physical. "Oh, he's just twiddling." Yea, as opposed to what? A TV couch potato?

All of my friends when I was a teen dropped TV for gaming. Too much couch potato droning.

I am a man raised before video gaming in the home became universal. I played war games with my friends outside with all the drama of the war movies we grew up watching.

Other than the physicality of being outside and with others, the same feelings and emotional play states are achieved with video games.

In my day, it would have just been a small group of folks from the same town, hanging out and playing pong, or pinball, or asteroids, or pacman, or a role playing game.

Today, with the internet, the most popular videos games are those that allow lots of people to play together without being in the same room. I game with kids from all over world and we now hang in a voice comm. room and play. Lots of interaction and coordination in playing the games together.

People develop cognitive and fine motor physical skills playing video games is what the science shows.

TV is what makes people stupid and fat. Our election results and national BMI demonstrate that.

But, yea, the outside for kids is overall better than being inside all the time. My avid gamer son also spent a great deal of time being outside with his friends. Balance is the best.

oleh said...

I am going to guess Snowden played a lot of first person shooters. My hypothesis: there would not have been a leak had he played Civilization, Hearts of Iron, Panzer General, or Sim City.

(Modeling a community or strategic initative, even as an empreror, is a humbling experience)

elkh1 said...

NSA agents need to play more video games to learn that it's wrong to spy on their fellow citizens, it's wrong to do self-serving politicians' biddings.

Congress critters need to play more video games to gain a moral compass.

Obama needs to play more video games to figure it's morally wrong to blame the Benghazi murders on a Youtube video.

Rob said...

More evidence that Roger Ebert was an insufferable snob. How much time did he spend playing video games, exactly? Video games are art, most of it bad art...like Beneath the Valley of the Dolls. However, some video games are brilliant.

Smilin' Jack said...

You really think children playing imaginative games outside, running around, with other children is the same thing as a child sitting inside working controls on an electronic device programmed by adults and designed to keep him sitting there staring and twiddling?

Not at all. The inside kid is learning the skills that will make him a success in Silicon Valley or Wall Street. The outside kid is getting abducted, shot, or melanoma.

Ann Althouse said...

"Professor, I am getting the feeling that you are somewhat disdainful of video games or at least of those that play them."

Only if it's to excess, displacing engagement with real life. I'd say the same about movies and reading and TV and staring at the internet. Basically, you need to develop in relation to other people, and I know some people are introverts or on the autism spectrum, but still, I think you need to interact with people a good part of the time, especially when you are young.

Ellen Guon said...

As a professional videogame developer for twenty years (and female), I'll add that this statement from Snowden doesn't surprise me. Videogames are an entertainment form, but like many others (novels and films), there can be distinct morality lessons within the entertainment. "Rescue the princess" games aside (it's a cheap trope that is less used these days), modern games also provide a range of game experiences suited to different demographics, including (hat tip to Ms. Althouse) smart, professional older women. It is not all "shooter games", and in fact, that part of the market appears to be diminishing.

Ann Althouse said...

And if you are one of those people who develop on their own in an artificial environment, at least have the sense not to make any significant decisions that affect others. If you, within an artificial reality, develop grandiose ideas about being a hero (or a villain), keep your activities within the fake world. Don't transpose them into the world that other people have to live in. It's not fair.

Henry said...

oleh wrote: I am going to guess Snowden played a lot of first person shooters.

Or Super Mario brothers.

David said...

Ann Althouse said...
"That's pretty much my sense of what goes on in most video games. And we made it up in our own heads."

You really think children playing imaginative games outside, running around, with other children is the same thing as a child sitting inside working controls on an electronic device programmed by adults and designed to keep him sitting there staring and twiddling?


No. And I did not say that. My point was limited to the parallel attraction to the heroic. You made up the rest, in your imaginative way.

Joshua Wert said...

One of the more interesting questions is simple : what lessons are individual games and genres teaching? Sports simulators (which team will win) are going to have drastically different stories than MMOs (go forth, and do what random people ask you to do) than MineCraft (?).

Althouse
I'm guessing mostly they're trapped within their games, clamped into virtual reality, and never coming out. That's something else I'm afraid of!
The average gamer spends less than 13 hours a week playing video games, and even MMO players generally play around 21 hours a week, mostly displacing television.

Do they transition to real women or to porn?
Well, at least some transition to men (or, in my case, either). But even among MMO players -- the group most associated with the permanent virgin -- there's still a surprising number of married folk. While some folk are content without real-world or virtual-world relationships, for most humans porn only seems to fulfill a physical desire rather than anything else.

Lyssa
In how many video games is the protagonist anything like an "ordinary person?" Don't most of them have some sort of superpowers, or specialized weaponry, or at least the ability to pick up magical "health" packets at various intervals along their way?
It depends heavily on the genre. Some games have explicitly superpowered characters by the standards of the setting (such as Halo, inFamous). More often, the protagonist has skillsets that other people in the setting can have (even if those skills are fantastic by modern definition), but has the ability or opportunity to grow at greater rates (most MMOs, most but not all JRPGs). There's also a gray in-between, where the protagonist is a vaguely defined Chosen One but otherwise just has more health than the average mook.

Salamandyr said...

This post is silly. It's silly because the morality of video games does not create or define the morality of young men, but rather, video games are designed to tap into , emulate, and celebrate the kinds of moral choices and visions of the themselves that young men already have.

In the heart of each young man beats the soul of a hero; someone who longs to put his life and fortune in the way of that which is precious, and to overcome all obstacles, and then recieve his just reward for his heroism. Video games provide an outlet for that, one even more visceral than just adventure stories.

Roughcoat said...

I don't like Snowden for a number of reasons but mainly I don't like him because of his face. I want to punch it, hard. A pussy beta, from the same planet as Tommy Viator. Around here we called them "North Shore Kids." Argh. Pure beat-down material. Just because of the way he looks. Is that so wrong?

Ralph Hyatt said...

" you need to develop in relation to other people, and I know some people are introverts or on the autism spectrum, but still, I think you need to interact with people a good part of the time, especially when you are young."

True, but what constitutes interaction? I am not a gamer, but my understanding is that many games are no longer solitary affairs. Groups of people must form teams, self-organize, and work together towards a mutually held goal. If being on a sports team as a youth is preparation for adulthood, then why wouldn't playing cooperative computer games serve the same function? Especially for people who aren't athletically gifted enough to make it on a team.

For that matter TV, books, and movies often provide material for people to interact with each other about. I don't attend fan conventions, but a lot of people do and some exercise a lot creativity creating costumes and play acting.

What makes this activity inferior to say going to a play or participating in the production of a play?

Blue@9 said...

[i]"That's pretty much my sense of what goes on in most video games. And we made it up in our own heads."

You really think children playing imaginative games outside, running around, with other children is the same thing as a child sitting inside working controls on an electronic device programmed by adults and designed to keep him sitting there staring and twiddling?
[/i]

Yes. Playing a video game is not a passive activity like watching television. Quite a lot of thought and decision-making is involved. Many good games are complex stories and require the player to make moral choices.

Someone here mentioned the tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons and the weird hysteria surrounding it--it's a [i]role-playing-game[/i]. The entire game is about one person creating a dangerous world (yes, imagination!) and the players navigating through it. And moral choices are at the core of the game--the characters you create also have moral templates that govern their choices.

In my mind there's very little difference between kids playing war or doctor in real life and playing it on a computer. You might say "but, social interaction!" and I'd reply that video gaming is a social activity for most.

Civilis said...

Only if it's to excess, displacing engagement with real life. I'd say the same about movies and reading and TV and staring at the internet. Basically, you need to develop in relation to other people, and I know some people are introverts or on the autism spectrum, but still, I think you need to interact with people a good part of the time, especially when you are young.

Part of the attraction of modern games is the addition of social interaction.

On one hand, it does allow people to be vicious to each other (the stereotypical foul-mouthed kid swearing into his microphone over the internet), especially with the anonymity of being online, but it takes out the risk of physical violence of good old fashioned bullying. For some people, being a bully is its own reward, and nothing will really change that.

On the other hand, if games reward social skills such as teamwork (as most modern multiplayer games do) then kids will learn teamwork without ham-handed attempts to force them to do so.

Rusty said...

traditionalguy said...
That is interesting insight into mentally ill men who have been trapped within their games, clamped into a virtual reality and never coming out. Marxist game player Obama, the destroyer of nations, is the first one to come to mind.



Obama as Lawn Mower Man.
I like it.

exhelodrvr1 said...

As opposed to an artificial environment like academia?

Henry said...

And if you are one of those people who develop on their own in an artificial environment, at least have the sense not to make any significant decisions that affect others. If you, within an artificial reality, develop grandiose ideas about being a hero (or a villain), keep your activities within the fake world. Don't transpose them into the world that other people have to live in. It's not fair.

First, I'm not sure I would read Snowden's comment to Greenwald in such dramatic terms. We have Greenwald relaying some possibly offhand comments Snowden made about the moral structure of video games. I don't know that this is a Saul on the Road to Damascus moment.

Second, I'm not confident at all that there is some non-artificial reality in which decision-makers operate. Politicians operate in an artificial environment. CEOs operate in an artificial environment. The data feed, the executive dashboard, the mission statement, the marketing plan, the briefing, the brand, the buck that stops here -- these are all abstractions. These artificial environments are far more explicable than whatever it was that made Snowden an alienated cretin.

Blame video games? Maybe. And on what object do we place the blame for Christopher John Boyce? For Aldrich Ames? For Robert Hanssen?

Rusty said...

In the heart of each young man beats the soul of a hero; someone who longs to put his life and fortune in the way of that which is precious, and to overcome all obstacles, and then recieve his just reward for his heroism.

And then you have kids who grow into teenagers and you ask yourself, 'Why did I bother".

prairie wind said...

More evidence that Roger Ebert was an insufferable snob.

My thoughts exactly. Siskel's reviews were gentler, not as snarky, therefore Ebert got the rep as the more hard-nosed reviewer. I always thought Siskel would be more fun to have lunch with.

Weird that both died so young. Avoid the movie theater popcorn, I say.

Mitch H. said...

"Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton." I suppose it depends on the games in question, doesn't it?

Falacrine said...

"NSA agents need to play more video games to learn that it's wrong to spy on their fellow citizens, it's wrong to do self-serving politicians' biddings."

Exactly. When all the squirrels are done playing with their nuts, this is the heart of the matter.

Civilis said...

This post is silly. It's silly because the morality of video games does not create or define the morality of young men, but rather, video games are designed to tap into , emulate, and celebrate the kinds of moral choices and visions of the themselves that young men already have.

Yes, but the kind of heroic stories one grows up with affects the kind of hero people want to emulate. On one level, you had the classic division between Action heroes, Guile heroes, and Science heroes. If a hero to you is supposed to win through might and perseverance (an Action hero), then doing something active to solve the problem (say, punching the bully first) will be the first choice, while a cunning solution (Guile heroics) like tricking the bully won't occur to you as easily.

Good video games can provide players with a choice of options, which can serve to suggest that many problems have multiple solutions.

n.n said...

Fantasy is good in moderation. It also offers a dissociation from risk and reality, which engenders progressive consequences for physical and mental health.

Unfortunately, the issue of liberal deviancy is not restricted to virtual reality, and is an inevitable side-effect of civilization. Especially when the basic demands of life (e.g. reproduction, food, shelter) are subsidized. When taken to a logical extreme, it is realized as a so-called "spoiled child syndrome".

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

I haven't looked at any comments yet, but I'm predicting comments that go off on the subject of how women have caused men to take refuge in the fake world of video games.

Check your privilege Althouse!

Mitch H. said...

And if you are one of those people who develop on their own in an artificial environment, at least have the sense not to make any significant decisions that affect others.

This is what we've been saying about academics for decades now, Professor.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

Professor, I am getting the feeling that you are somewhat disdainful of video games or at least of those that play them."

Only if it's to excess, displacing engagement with real life.


Premature worrying. Just think of the potential for disaster when men can have VR sex. We'll be like those cocaine monkeys. Just hitting the bar over and over again until we die.

Actually, when you put it like that, it doesn't sound too bad.

Larry J said...

SGT Ted said...
Actually, most video game players aren't taking refuge in them from women, they just are enjoying them more than a relationship with one.

If women are less desirable than video games, what are women doing to make themselves less desirable than a video game to always horny, young, heterosexual men?

What can they do to make themselves more desirable than a video game to young men?


You can't ask such questions because that might imply that some women are possibly wrong about something. Women can never be wrong. Just ask any feminist.

K in Colorado said...

As for D&D, I can still impress my teenage sons friends when I pull out my circa 1980 Advanced D&D book - its like they have discovered a living fossil :).


You or the book?

Duck and cover!

Smilin' Jack said...

If you, within an artificial reality, develop grandiose ideas about being a hero (or a villain), keep your activities within the fake world. Don't transpose them into the world that other people have to live in. It's not fair.

Bullshit! Kneel before Zod!!

Mary Beth said...

I think it would be more likely for someone to pick games where the storyline fits the moral structure the person already has. Just because it's more likely doesn't mean that good people won't pick to be evil in Fable or that bad people won't want to play games where they're the hero.

They're just games. If games turned you into the person you are in-game I'd be spending my time delivering packages for animals.

Smilin' Jack said...

Do they transition to real women or to porn?

How about transitioning to real women porn stars? Worked for me.

Matthew Sablan said...

I think games are less likely to be moral lesson givers as movies/arts, so much as moral mirrors. When I play games, I choose to play characters closer to my ideal self. I play tanks in MMOs; armored, powerful defenders of their weaker friends who take charge and face dangers for righteous causes.

The sort of person I choose to play in a game tells you a lot more about me than the kind of movie I choose to watch.

Robert Cook said...

Rough Tra--uh,Coat said:

"I don't like Snowden for a number of reasons but mainly I don't like him because of his face. I want to punch it, hard. A pussy beta, from the same planet as Tommy Viator. Around here we called them "North Shore Kids." Argh. Pure beat-down material. Just because of the way he looks. Is that so wrong?

5/13/14, 12:17 PM"


Obviously, you have sexual urges toward Snowden, which you're sublimating into the desire to inflict purgative violence on him, which you hope will provide "release."

OmegaPaladin said...

Video Games are all over the place in terms of story. There's the classic adventure / monomyth stories that are the base of games like Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy. People have already described this. Morality here is usually focused on a lone band of heroes defying a powerful force.

Then you have action hero tales. These are basically an action movie in interactive form. Morality here is either straightforward heroic good vs. evil, or the man making the tough decision that is morally ambigous (shades of Jack Bauer or Michael Westin)

Then you have games very, very detailed worlds, that try and get you to make choices. You make a choice, and it has consequences in the game world. Morality there is often directly tracked - a good vs. evil meter. Their morality is often very interesting, because the right choice might not be clear.

Multi-player games have their own morality. Trust, teamwork, leadership, and dedication are taught, much like in organized sports. If your team does not work together, they will lose far more often. Some games are even purely cooperative, and fighting against each other does not help.

Gahrie said...

I'm guessing mostly they're trapped within their games, clamped into virtual reality, and never coming out

What do you expect? The game universe is largely created for adolescent males, they are entirely comfortable there. The real world however is becoming increasingly unpleasant and indeed hostile to men.

mentilsoup said...

Listening to Boomers discuss video games is rather like listening to chimpanzees discuss Mozart. Only in the latter example, holy shit, Chimpanzees are discussing Mozart!

ALP said...

I am not buying it until I examine his relationship with his parents. I strongly believe our parents make the most profound impact on us in terms of values; I'd be curious to see if his parents indulged or encouraged this line of thinking.

n.n said...

Professor Althouse:

Not all women. There are women who make bad choices. There are men who make bad choices. Obviously, it is advisable to avoid these women and men, if for no other reason than to mitigate risk.

ALP said...

Would not comic books ("Superman", "Captain America" "Spiderman") have the same effect???

n.n said...

The Japanese have followed this path to a logical extreme, where both men and women take refuge in a comfortable, glorious virtual reality. Their fitness numbers are decaying commensurately.

ScottD said...

"If you, within an artificial reality, develop grandiose ideas about being a hero (or a villain), keep your activities within the fake world. Don't transpose them into the world that other people have to live in. It's not fair."

Can we post this on the door of every professor in America?

ScottD said...

I do have to admit that Tetris played a significant role in my moral development.

ALP said...

BTW: I have found gaming a great antidote to the long, tedious, depression-inducing endless gray months that are a feature of living in the Pacific NW. I love TV but its passive. Being more engaged with what is happening on the screen is very satisfying.

The focus required to play Gran Turismo 6 is considerable, as the physics imitate the motion of a high powered race car in a way that is simply astounding, and has to be experienced to be believed. And its made me a better driver to boot!

damikesc said...

Play Brothers if you think games aren't art and cannot tell a solid story. Gives a great moral and the only game I know of where the control scheme helps explain the story. It's as much art as anything.

Alex said...

Try "The Longest Journey" and tell me that games can't be art.

ALP said...

I also challenge anyone to play "Journey" and not shed a tear once its over.

Ann Althouse said...

"I also challenge anyone to play "Journey" and not shed a tear once its over."

I challenge anyone to play Journey and stop believing.

Absolom Humblebug said...

The modern world has a way of taking young men full of dedication and yearning for higher purpose and turning them into broken and jaded misanthropes. There aren't many avenues left for honorable male exertion. I don't think women are responsible for the state of affairs, but inherently female ambition is much less hampered in the contemporary world. It's a woman's world these days, and men are defective women. I think that's even true in the military. There's nowhere left where masculinity and the virtues of masculinity are regarded as valuable.

chrisnavin.com said...

The Wheel In the Sky keeps on turning.

K in Colorado said...

Larry J, Snort, Snort - Both

At least I know if my son is on his Xbox playing a Halo death match with friends, or a Titan Fall melee, then he's not looking at inappropriate things on the internet.

ALP said...

I challenge anyone to play Journey and stop believing.
*****************
LOL - that's a line worthy of Mitch Hedburg (RIP), a comedian I consider the king of profound one-liners. I was never a big fan, so that took me a few seconds to get!

Greg Hlatky said...

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night -
Ten to make and the match to win -
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red,
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

- Sir Henry Newbolt

Michael Peterson said...

There is a difference between the moral ideal and its practice. A sinner and a saint can hold to exactly the same moral ideal, but it's the practice of one's beliefs, not the beliefs that make the saint (or the sinner).

Snowden's moral practice was/is falls far short of the ideals he espouses.

jr565 said...

It depends on what video game he was playing. Grand theft auto? I might be worried.

cyrus83 said...

I think the more important question lurking behind this fact is why the video games were able to form Snowden's moral universe. That suggests a failure on the part of his family, teachers, church, community, etc. to pass on a strong moral structure, so the void was filled by something else that made a strong moral point.

Getting morality from a video game isn't much different from getting it from a novel or film - regardless, something about the storyline is making an impression. Video games may have an advantage because their story lines focus more exclusively on the good vs evil theme, and the player is often the "hero" in a more personal way than happens in a film or a novel.

The article doesn't mention which games influenced Snowden, but it sounds like the typical storyline from a 1990s era RPG - young kids or young adults who suddenly have to save the world (the Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda series spring to mind).

As with so much else, how it affects someone depends on the source material and how adequate the individual's moral foundations are. Few people, regardless of moral development, are likely to come away with a twisted morality by playing something like Super Mario Bros. Something like World of Warcraft I'd have far more reservations about, both for plot and player interaction reasons.

It is possible to integrate video game themes into moral, philosophical, and theological views - there are actually several such books published on the matter, which you could get on Amazon, such as (to name 3 actually on my bookshelf):

- The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy
- The Legend of Zelda and Theology
- Final Fantasy and Philosophy

Other titles are available for other non-video game related major pop culture phenomenons, such as Harry Potter and Breaking Bad.

John Lynch said...

Video games lifted their morality from action movies.

SOJO said...

The two school shooters were also heavily into gaming - as was one of the guys killed in Bhengazi.

The need for heroic action preceded the games, which were made to answer that need.

Snowden's particular moral filter came first.

Stan said...

In the 1950's, we played cowboys and Indians because we were influenced by the movies and TV shows which were morally black and white, black hat, white hat. Video games are just another iteration of the same thing, only capturing adult males as well as children. It is not the game's fault; there are other reasons for the loss of masculinity.

wj lintz said...

"Whether the art we consume is good or bad and whether it comes in the form of novels or films or paintings or comics or video games — or holy scripture! — it displaces life in the concrete world where what we do and say has consequences on human beings whose facial expressions we see and who talk back to us and take actions that can benefit or harm us"--Althouse
I know this is late to the rodeo, but one comment. Your understanding of what art does is off, IMO. Art doesn't displace reality as much as it drapes reality with a recognizable context. Otherwise, reality is only stimuli to be responded to by our survival reflex and instinct. We may know something has happened, but we may not understand the significance. If you are going to include "Holy Scripture" as art, then a world view is both shaped by art and a shaper of art. They are intertwined. And without a world view, what is reality? We souldn't even be able to describe it.