This week the Peace Innovation Lab has been looking at video games and how they can affect human behavior. The main discussion evolved out of an article that discussed the potential of positive learned behavior from video games.
The article cites three new studies that suggest that video games cannot only promote violence and aggressive behavior, but also altruistic behavior. The studies looked at how pro-social video games affected the amount that kids helped other people in reality. All three studies presented correlations between the content of the game and the behaviors the study participants exhibited in reality. The full article appears here: http://www.enotalone.com/article/19734.html.
After being introduced to the idea of pro-social video games, we here at the lab decided to further explore the correlations between human behaviors and video games. In looking at this topic we looked at pro-social video games and also violent games to see how they affected human behavior.
One idea that spans out of the pro-social video game studies is the idea of video games as behavioral training devices. This has already been explored on the tactical side by the military. Earlier this year, Foreign Policy magazine looked at military video games (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/02/22/meet_the_sims_and_shoot_them?page=full). As part of a program to improve recruitment and training in the Army, the U.S. Military created America’s Army, a video game that presents the player with many different situations ranging from cultural sensitivity to urban warfare and combat. From these situations in the game, the idea is that the soldiers may have “logged” some hours of experience before actually being deployed – even if they are virtual experiences. Although America’s Army is the official U.S. military game, there are many other games that see to imitate warfare, the most notable of which is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, in which players join a U.S. special operations team that deals with conflict in a variety of areas and must utilize machine pistols and Predator strikes.
Looking at this evidence of behavioral training, we talked to Chris Bennett about the potential for altruistic behavioral training. Can we subconsciously train people to be more cooperative and altruistic without their knowing? He cited two games, MyEmpire and FrontierVille, both of which rely on crowdsourcing for resources and materials, and collaboration with other people in order to succeed in the game.
After looking at all the evidence of behavior with relation to games, the pro-social games provide a strong motivation to shift video game content. It could change the way society interacts. At the same time, we must look at the societal questions of how people played before video games – which was often through games that imitated war and fighting anyways – and how to create positive learning video games without making them, in a favorite kid word, “lame.”