I’ve always wondered how games can be used to change things, personally and culturally. They are in a unique position compared to other mediums in that they actively enable the participant to project themselves into the position of another. To feel as though ones actions are having an effect but also, how others react to you.
For me they have been a wondrous tool for promoting a greater sense of power, mastery and control over my surroundings. To feel powerful, strong and capable in particular is something that helps me grow and feel more confident even out of game. It is an element of playing games I’m very thankful for as it’s something you often can enact as strongly as you do online.
I’m glad it’s in a position to help many other people as well with their mental states,whether that be through the mechanics and game play, the shared narrative or the social structures that often go with it. But there is more to games than just personal growth and understanding as well. There is the ability to encourage greater change in the way it allows us to empathise, contemplate and possibly understand situations that are contrary to our own.
I find it intriguing seeing experience like papers please, the soon to be released beyond eyes and how they attempt to place the player in a position where they can better understand the experience of another however, it still feels like there is a certain amount of dissociation there between the game and the personal self. We can contemplate what that means but it is not exactly the same as understanding.
One thing I’ve noticed to is that we often don’t go out of their own comfort zones, a random indie game is fine but when there is a certain amount of choice there, our options often reflect an idealised version and one that will usually represent ourselves in a certain way. I will nearly always choose female characters for instance, tall and muscular as well.
What then happens when the choice is taken away is an interesting case study. The devs of rust did this recently with assigning everyone a random look that was locked to their steam I’d and they did an interesting interview over at kotaku about it. There was no changing it after that at all either and many became a little unhappy with it but the stories that came out of it were rather interesting.
At the moment it was only a racial change but they are soon to add female models as well and I’m interested to see what happens then. The in-game results and of course the personal stories that come from it will be extreme. I imagine some horrid things of course but then with the shared storytelling around these events it enables a greater chance to reflect, maybe even encourage greater change.
It’s a situation which I think enables a lot more empathy towards a a group or minority that is contrary to our own. Placed in a different gender or race how do we feel? Then what happens facing some of the discrimination that goes with it. Like we saw with the situation around race from the devs experience it ended up in a community that became more tolerant, more understanding and punishing of those being racist. A bad element still there but a community at large that accepted the new dynamic… possibly more so than a real life.
Of course there was a certain amount of backlash with the change in rust. From those changed to the opposite of the race but then, I think such things would be short-lived. It becomes the new norm after a while.
I wonder how much further such an idea could go as well. Imagine one of our mmo world’s where there was an extensive character creator but these are all assigned at random too you, then locked to the account. How would this then change the dynamics of conversation and in-game community actions that occur? Is there room for more social and cultural understanding if such conditions happened?
Then I wonder about bring virtual reality in the mix as well, and we can see experiments like this already. Experiences like looking at a female avatar in a mirror. The famous by now gender swap video.
Other more recent tests on identity and changes to perception follow things like Racial bias. A simplistic illusion of tricking the mind into thinking a limb is their own was shown to reduce bias to a certain amount. (the actual study if you want to read it… interesting account of empathy response).
What this shows is that through changing the perceptions of our self we can change certain bias and illicit greater empathy towards the other but we can take this further. Identity and social cognition isn’t just constructed by how we envision ourselves but through our interactions with others. Changing this dynamic as well even within non vr situations like that of Rust then would likely have far stronger and long-lasting effects.
Of course it isn’t without issues. New social dynamics and stigma can occur even in a fabricated system and these can have quite negative emotional consequences (for a basic one check out the blue eye, brown eye experiment) but there is something there. Something that might be used to elicit greater cultural and societal change for the better.