Video games: families, education, the risks & rewards transcript
Daniel Ridge: Videogames have a bad rap when it comes to the question of their influence on children and the role in education, but the discussion is much more complex than simply deciding whether video games are good or bad. In today's episode, I'm speaking with the authors of three different books that look at video games from various angles. In our first interview, I'm speaking with Dr. Michael Saker and Dr. Leighton Evans about their new book, Intergenerational Locative Play: Augmenting Family. Michael is a Senior Lecturer at City University of London, and Leighton is a senior lecturer in Media Theory at Swansea University Wales. Their book examines the social, spatial and physical impact of the hybrid reality game Pokémon Go. On the relationship between parents and their children, we delve into the research to discuss the impact this game can have on family relationships, as well as players’ understanding of surveillance capitalism.
I began by asking Michael Saker to define locative video games.
Michal Saker: Locative games are games that use kind of the functionality of smartphones. So, you're moving through real world environments, as it were, and you're engaging with the digital data that kind of overlays those environments, and that your phone implicates and engages with. So, something like Pokémon Go, it's a game that you don't just play, you know, sat at home, looking at a television set on the wall, you actually play it outside in physical environment. So, as you move through and ambulate through space, you ambulate through the game space as well. So, it's a much more physical kind of experience.
DR: Well I find the socialization really interesting. In your book, you write about families, can you tell us what you found in your research about how these work on family bonds?
MS: One of the reasons we were kind of interested with families was this was a different group than we kind of engaged with previously with research and other locative games. And this wasn't just people playing on their own, it was families that were playing together with their children. On the one hand, in the tradition of locative media, it kind of impacted their mobilities, we found for families, they found that they were being more active, which they deemed as being a good thing, certainly within the context of video games. So, they would do things like take longer routes, for instance, while they were playing the game. And it also mirrored the rhythms of family life. So, so during the weekdays, they might play it while they were going to school with their kids. And they might do more active things on the weekends. But in terms of bonds, for many of the families, they found that it might be quite difficult to speak to their children, if they were sat, say just at home, or if they were just playing a video game. Whereas if they were doing something like Pokémon Go, much of the game involves them moving through environments, it has a lot more of those in between spaces that you might have, say, if you were playing Fortnite at home, and those in between spaces parents could then utilize to actually speak and engage with their children. And I think from the children's point of view, as well, it felt kind of non-confrontational. When they were walking between sites of play, the parents could ask them about their day. And equally, they had this shared activity that they could actually bond over. And that became something that trickled over into other aspects of their life. So, for their parents, even though they might not have been specifically interested in Pokémon or playing Pokémon Go, they found that that deepening of their connection with the children was something that was really meaningful.
Leighton Evans: Yeah, obviously, those are the conclusions that we drew. And it points towards being able to extend the family in terms of its spatial boundaries. You know, if you have an entirely new game space, in which family activity can take place, which, as Mike says, if you're comparing it to what we could call static video gaming experiences in the home, they're not just narrowly recast in terms of being in that one space. But they're also, although something like Fortnite is quite collaborative, and how children play it, it's very difficult to actually play it with another person, while you're sitting there in a room playing, whereas Pokemon Go, it takes the family outside of the home into that generalized third space, extending the spatial dimensions of the family itself, while engaging in something which is mutually beneficial in terms of exercise, interest, you know, excitement, the progress through the game, and that being an aim of people, and allows for families dynamics to unfold within different spaces as well.
MS: Daniel, if I just follow on from Leighton’s point there that one of the things that we found with our participants as well, that they were acutely aware of how identities become tethered to certain environments. So, when you're at home, you are the parent and your children then relate to you accordingly. And there's something about that role that can kind of impact the kind of communication that goes on and one of our participants said, I think we get stuck in our own roles when we're in certain places. And they found that being in different environments with their kids, they weren't only stepping outside of that, that home that that boundary, but they also got got to step outside of those roles. And they could kind of collaborate and engage with the children differently and that was conducive to a different climate. Have sociality for families that allowed them to deepen or extend their sense of connection.
DR: Clearly, there are a lot of benefits to these games. But are you seeing any concerns from parents about these types of games as well?
MS: There were all concerns with the parents. And those concerns are kind of classic concerns. You know, parenting concerns, it was about being out in these spaces, fears around physical safety, fears about strangers, fears about the effects of extended parents of screen time. And the fact that even though Pokémon Go is very different to a kind of computer game. For some parents, they were still aware that this was a computer game that they were doing with their children. But the game actually alleviated many of these fears and concerns the physical safety aspect, many of the families played in parks. And these open spaces where they were able to see their children, their children were often tethered to their mobile internet connection. And that meant that the children couldn't they couldn't go too far, or they would lose connection anyway. So, everyone where they were kind of forced to stay close to each other. And there was something about that, that experience of keeping everyone together, the children wanted to stay close, because they wanted to continue playing the game for the most part, families felt that the benefits of the experience they outweighed any fears or concerns or they could establish rules, for instance, that kind of mitigated some of those fears.
LE: Yeah, I'd agree with all of those points, obviously, Mike, you mentioned surveillance. And what's interesting to me is the lack of concerns, rather than the concerns themselves. So what a lot of our research bore out was that people who play Pokémon Go in general parents in particular, are unaware of a lot of what Pokémon GO actually does in terms of surveilling them and their families and creating data subjects out of its players. During the research picture emerges that says, well, for most people who play Pokémon Go, they don't mind about their data being harvested by Niantic the parent company, because they're just going to use it to share targeted adverts with you know, advertisers, and they're going to push products me I don't really care about that, you know, I'm, I'm too savvy a consumer to be taken in by this. But this isn't Niantic’s aim whatsoever. Niantic's aim and using a location-based game, like Pokémon Go is to nudge people into areas that they would not normally go in order to consume particular products which are sponsored by their advertisers. So instead of walking a particular route through a town or city that you normally would, all of a sudden, in the aim of chasing a particularly rare Pokémon, you might be all of a sudden going past Starbucks, which is advertised on the platform as well and you are being controlled and pushed. So ostensibly, the Video Game analogy I would use is like we're stuck in Pacman's maze; we are being pushed along certain paths and avenues in order to meet the sort of logics of advertising that the game does. People fundamentally misunderstand what that means. There is a discourse prevalent amongst the players that we researched with at least that says, surveillance capitalism is all about collecting information from you, and then pushing products out to you not controlling and nudging you through your life in particular ways in order to make you a more efficient consumer. For the customers of those products, which ostensibly are in this case, advertisers. As gamers, we are not customers of Niantic, we don't pay anything to play Pokémon Go. So, we're not customers in that sense, the people who are paying for Pokémon GO are advertisers on it, and what was kind of disturbing in a way how fundamentally misunderstood that logic of Pokémon Go, the economic logic of the game is. So, a fundamental concern that came out of the research but is not held by people who were part of the research is that the actual logic of the game economically is to make you do a particular set of movements through an environment by pushing you along those environments by use of the game. Instead, people read the situation as this is harmless fun, and I am just getting my data is just going to be used in order to sell me a few products that I'm not interested in, instead of fundamentally changing my everyday motion through an environment. And of course, on top of that, then you have the creation of children as data subjects at a very early age, subject to that same kind of logic as well. And these concerns were never born by participants in the research at all with the exception of one or two people who were savvy to this kind of techniques of surveillance capitalism used.
DR: So I suppose this makes it hard to actually teach kids about surveillance capitalism when the parents aren't even aware of it.
LE:: I think that's absolutely correct. Yeah, it makes it virtually impossible. You know, teaching something you're not aware of, and you don't know anything about, it's usually a disaster. And the message therefore, the goes to children about using digital applications, in terms of that element of safety is completely deficient. This points to a real success, I guess, on behalf of companies like Niantic, who, of course, will once Google before they were spun out by Google, about how the discourse around surveillance capitalism has been framed in wider society, it is not about understanding your every moment in motion and making predictions and control of behavior. It is instead this kind of fuzzy logic around some products will get pushed to me, but if I use this product for free, which is actually a false way of thinking about how this works, and yet parents, by and large, are not enabled to teach their children about this kind of issue, because they don't understand it themselves.
DR: If people like Starbucks are the ones who are actually paying for it, then it turns out that people in their children are the products.
LE: Yes, in a sense. Have those who play the game are the product that has been sold to the advertiser. Yeah, I'd agree with that.
DR: Did it provide any learning opportunities for the families and their children, these types of games?
MS: Yeah, I think in terms of learning experiences, one of the things that was really interesting was the extent to which children kind of developed within these environments. We had parents saying that this is a different kind of gaming space, if you were playing. If we go back to the example of fortnight for instance, you're playing Fortnite you're playing it, you know, within your home, or the private realm you're playing. And this can be quite a solitary experience in terms of the physicality but here, children with their families were also communicating with other families. For many of the parents, they watch their children become more confident, they were more able to say solve certain things or strategically think about how they would play, and then discuss that strategy with their family. But they were also engaging with adults. And this was something that came up there was the opportunity to engage with different people. And suddenly using that game space, it was no longer just about learning to play the game. But it was also learning to actually engage in physical environments with different people, and learning not to necessarily judge people. On the surface, there was a really interesting kind of quote from one of the participants where they're saying they're one of the children was playing Pokémon Go and then I saw someone with a briefcase walk past and they, I think they had a moment where they felt embarrassed, they were playing it. And then they realized that this person was also playing Pokémon Go and then kind of disappeared. And it was the sense that, you know, you can't always judge people just on appearances. And that way, there's diversity. And it's by experiencing and engaging people in that way that you actually get to learn about the world. And you get to learn about yourself as well. So that came up. And I thought that was, I think Leighton and I thought that was interesting.
DR: In the final pages of your book, you start talking about the future of Pokémon Go in a post COVID world. I'm curious about how you see Pokémon developing in the future? And has it been affected by the pandemic, the way people play it or the evolution of the game itself?
LE: It's a really, really big question because Niantic have been largely reactionary to the pandemic. As the world started to lock down, they would have noticed significant amounts of change in terms of activity of people playing the game itself and reacted to that to change the logic of and the parameters of gameplay in order to keep the game viable. It's not going to be as simple I don't think as many people believe that, you know, the pandemic is going to be over and everyone's just going to go back to normal. Actually, this this year will have changed the dynamics from our perspective of family play, but also people's dynamics in terms of their work habits. It will change people's dynamics in terms of their general mobility around urban spaces and rural spaces as well. And Niantic is going to have to react and keep changing the dynamics of the game to fit that. They're in a kind of unique position because at least given the fact that there are a locative game in the first instance, they will have a data set available to them, which will tell them how people are moving around places in the first instance, so they will be in a position to react with it. I fully expect Niantic to be reactive towards how people finally emerge from this nightmare, and the game to change along the lines of how people react and change to the end of COVID-19.
DR: Another book looking at video games and learning is Video Games, Libraries and the Feedback Loop: Learning Beyond the Stacks, it argues that video games provide fantastic learning opportunities. To find out more about their research, I'm speaking with co-authors Sandra Abrams, and Hannah Gerber.
So, when I was a kid, we played the game Oregon Trail in school on floppy disks. That’s what comes to mind when I think libraries and video games. I am not sure how much people associate the two. Can you tell us a little bit about the connection between libraries and video games?
Sandra Abrams: Absolutely. So, what's interesting is that when we think about video gaming and libraries, it actually goes back to a symposium in 2005. And there was a discussion about the inclusion of video games in libraries. And so, it comes as no surprise that when Hannah and I went to the libraries we did, we saw iterations of tournaments and open play. And so, in terms of tournaments at the Northeast public library I had seen, tournaments gosh, for a number of years, and they had various iterations. One was an after-hours event for several hours, going from five to eight, but students' children would show up or teens would show up at four for the full hour to prep. And there'll be this concurrent gaming, various screens, various gaming. And so, youth can move around among the various games and game sessions and there was food in the back and brackets, it was a lot of fun. Then there were other examples, such as after school, gaming tournaments that took place during library hours. And it's still true interest, yes, but it was way more librarian driven and oriented. And there was only one screen where the youth would play. And so, there wasn't, you didn't have concurrent gaming. It was still very, it was still very exciting. And there and the youth were still engaged. But it was a different way of hosting it. And then there was a third way and I love this way, because there was this librarian at the Northeast Public Library named Oscar. That's his pseudonym. And he arranged for the library to be open after hours. And the youth came in and they had this Minecraft tournament. And oh my gosh, the kids just they spread out across the library. So, it was really exciting to see how they made the space their own and made the gameplay their own. And there were all these layers of competition and collaboration. That was pretty awesome. Now, what's interesting about tournaments is that we don't really see them across all libraries that we've studied. However, one common denominator is open play.
Hannah Gerber: I think that's really unique for us to start to think about the open play. And the particular libraries where I did my research were both open play, that was how they structured. One of the most unique aspects that I've witnessed about open play was in the kid room, which was one of the rooms in the Midsouth library, which was the main site, I collected my data and there was the kid room. In the teen room within the kid room, a lot of times, you would see what we call intergenerational gameplay within the kid room at the Midsouth library. It's really just for younger children, and it must always be accompanied by a parent versus in the teen room, that was for teenagers only. No parents were allowed. So, one of the examples that I'd like to talk about is on different occasions, you could see parents playing Xbox Kinect games with their children. And during the gameplay, which means when they were actually playing, conversation would often occur specifically relating to gameplay such as strategies, parents would ask questions about what they might do to improve, and the kids would share with them some of their strategies that they use. But what was really interesting was that post game, occasionally I would overhear children talking to their parents about things that they wanted to learn more about. So one particular example was it that we talked about in the book was the mom and her daughter playing Wipeout, which is an Xbox Kinect game. After they finished playing the game. The daughter said to the mom, that playing that game made her want to find books about rafting adventures. So, then she and the mom whenever the book stacks and sure enough, they found a book on rafting. So, it was pretty, pretty neat to see how that open play moved into that intergenerational opportunity.
DR: You mentioned strategy and intergenerational play. What other learning advantages do video games offer?
SA: The adaptive learning we see in good video games means that players are learning as they go and they get to reap the benefits of such learning by doing. And so, they encounter meaningful learning because it's relevant, and it has immediate application. And they get to see in real time just how they are progressing. And one of the things that Hannah and I did is that we looked at the ways that video games provide feedback and immediate feedback. And then in our book, we call attention to what we call the feedback loop, which is basically this way that games provide a way to advance through iterative meaning making. We noticed that there are four components, objectives and rules, progress bars in game maps, and leaderboards. And all of these offer related and often simultaneous information to alert players to successes and failures. The information then not only helps to keep players interested in the game, but it also helps promote critical thinking and community engagement.
HG: I think one of the things that's really important for us to talk about that Sandra hit on was the iterative and interest driven learning. And this is a really unique concept that our book focuses on because iterative and interest driven learning really provides youth an opportunity to engage in following their passions, following their interests, to engage in purposeful and continued and continual reflection. We call this I squared. And really what I squared is iterative and interest driven. A great example that I've personally witnessed was in the teen room at the Midsouth library, and it was a teen, he was playing a game that was NBA 2k 14. And what I witnessed was I watched him spending time establishing his team in the game, learning the various roles that the players would have, and then practicing and playing the game and playing it over and over again, attempting to get better. And each session and one particular game session, I actually watched him pause the game between rounds. And he kind of ran over to the stacks of books, and he was browsing from some different resources. And he came back with a manga title Slam Dunk, which is one of the installments in this Shonen Jump series. And I asked him why that book, and he informed me that he hoped that reading a fictionalized account of basketball could also give him that personal insight on the avatars in the game and how they might feel.
DR: I want to come back to the notion of the feedback loop that you mentioned earlier. Could you explain this as little bit more and talk about how it relates to youth learning.
SA: Sure, absolutely. So, the feedback loop framework includes objectives and rules together, because they both attend to the purpose and function of most digital non-digital games. So, in games and video games, players have a variety of ways to receive real time information about their performance. In video games progress bars are, I guess, the most obvious, depending on the game that in the moment information provided within the progress bar might include that say something like the player score, task-based accomplishment, time, opportunities, turns remaining. You think about the countdown clock, you only have 30 seconds to make a certain number of moves. That's the type of progress bar or the degree or strength of weakness, the if a player gets hit, and the status starts to drop, right, there's not as much health, the type of powers or weapons people might have. So, if they use up a certain type of power, they might have to complete other tasks to get more power, and of course, the number of lives remaining. And in this way, progress bars provide ongoing data about gameplay and status. And it's not just through numbers, right? It could be numbers could be words, colors, symbols, sounds, and so on. And all of these help players to make real time in game decisions.
HG: I think it's really important, as Sandra stressed that these are all interrelated. So, the third component of the feedback loop is in game maps. And as Sandra stressed, it is connected closely with the objectives and rules and with the progress bar. But in game maps are basically a dynamic representation of the way the player is positioned in the game at any given point in time. One of the unique things about in game maps though is we need to realize it's not just something they look at. It is something that also requires reflection, that requires the complex skills, literacy and reflection to decipher this to understand and also to respond to the image and marketing. On the other hand, we've got the fourth component of the feedback loop, which is the leaderboard. And that really is a tool that provides after game assessment. So, they demonstrate how well a player has succeeded or failed in a game, right. How well one has played a game. So typically, players will assess those post game statistics after a match or specified amount of game time. And it's it is it's somewhat of information that becomes motivational for them to match or beat a high score or to look at a particular other player. Think of the old school arcade games, the Pac Man, you know, I've got to beat this person. So, in other words, players do use those statistics to make future then endgame decisions.
DR: Well, video games and technology are always changing very quickly. How do librarians keep up with this fast pace of change?
SA: Well, that's an excellent question. And the first thing is to remain open, open to the change. And something we note in is that the ideas that we provide in our book are just really intended to generate other ideas. And we're going to provide some ideas here now, too. And they're just really, it's not an exhaustive list. It's just something to think about. The first would be related to remote play. But we also think about it not just related to the pandemic, but also could be weather related or scheduling related, there can be all different reasons why there would be a closure. And youth can still engage with others via video game play through a library hosted remote video game tournament, or through my remote team practice sessions. But in order to do that, we've actually, we have some suggestions, including these, what we call key variables. And the first would be that whatever games that are chosen, they need to be free, right? Not cost anything. The second is that they need to be cross platform. So it should be that it doesn't matter if somebody has an Xbox or Playstation, that they will be able to play the same game. The next would be that there'll be a game. That's good for a wide age group, right? Not just for kids who are 15, to 17, but maybe 11 to 17, wouldn't that be great, or even more expansively to consider intergenerational gaming, where you have people of all ages.
SA: Everything that is happening in this library is, and I love the fact that Hannah called it an ecosystem, because there is an ecology to it. It is this world this could be a new world, an improved world a refined world that they create together.
DR: Turning now to author Craig Kelly, I'd like to direct our attention to one of the more widely discussed debates involving video games, and that involves violence and deviancy. In speaking with Craig, I asked him to discuss how video games, deviancy and criminal behaviour are linked in the new book Video Games, Crime, and Next Gen Deviancy: Reorienting the Debate that he co-edited with Adam Lynes and Kevin Hoffin.
Criag Kelly: Really, I think it's probably best to explain the origins of the book, probably the most British start to a book ever. Me and one of our co-authors Adam Lynes were sat in a pub having a pint after work, TV screen were going and there’d been a shooting at the time, if I remember correctly might have been the Sandy Hook shooting, and straight away within an hour of the shooting occurring, they were discussing video games, violence, this might have been the causation. Myself, Adam and Kevin, that came on the editorial team, we're all avid gamers and it just wound us up. As criminologists, we kind of had a sense, it's not a guess, from our theoretical positions anyway. We find it quite frustrating that there is this long, incoherent narrative that’s run through the mainstream media and with politicians for going on three or four decades now, that video games cause violence. Much of this is attributed to Bandura, the Bobo the Clown experiment, etc, and from our perspective it’s just simply wrong. If we want to understand deviancy, we need to understand this in a different way if we want to look at the harms that video games are creating. So, at the time we were running a module at Birmingham City University called deviant leisure. It's quite a new theoretical paradigm and is pioneered by Thomas Raymen and Oliver Smith. It really looks at flipping the term deviancy on its head so it's not the classical term of deviancy. It pulls from fear of class spectacle to realism, zemiology and cultural criminology. Really, the core sentiments are that we need to look at society and to move forward as a discipline in Criminology nowadays, we need to start assessing harms not crimes. If we look at a lot of what we may have previously seen as deviant, it's in effect re-commodified and sold back towards in late capitalism. So, I think the easiest example is starting to assess how harms and deviancy in general in leisure activities come forward: is it the night-time economy- how often do we finish a night out and there's people fighting? The high risk of sexual assault, especially against women; nightclubs and pubs across obviously UK and America, anywhere there's a night-time economy really. And we don't recognise this. As criminologists or the general public, by and large, we're just happy to have a night out, right? We were thinking about this, we just finished one of the lectures while we were watching this ‘video games causes violence’ narrative running through the media. We got laptops out for some reason (I don't know why chose to do that in a pub) but we sat and typed out a quick block (?)- it were only about 1500 words- just really picking apart, theoretically, what's wrong with all these arguments getting put forth. And then yeah, from there we kind of decided it were perhaps a bigger project we should go for and we wrote the book on it, edited collection. And basically the core sentiment of the book is if you want to look at video games that are linked to deviancy, especially these next gen consoles that are coming out now, then really we need to start looking at other forms, not just violence. So we need to look at children gambling, the harms that that causes. The phenomenon of swatting, where unfortunately people have been shot dead, who aren't even playing video games, or the £2.50 bets on Call of Duty. Within that remit we can find the actuality of violence, but the majority of violence caused in video games is a lot deeper than that. Ben Colliver added to the collection, he discussed LGBTQ representations in video games; Kevin and Geraldine Lee-Treweek wrote about feminism in video games and how women have been portrayed. So, there’s much deeper issues in video games if you want to have that conversation, it needed to be less limited.
DR: Yeah, well I'm really interested in this notion of deviant leisure: why would we be considering video games deviant leisure and what does that really mean?
CK: The deviant leisure perspective as such look at normalised forms of leisure- how do they perpetrate harms, and we split it down to four core harms, subjective harms. So, getting punched in the face outside of a nightclub because we've been drinking too much, for example. But then it even ranges to ecological harms- how damaging are our leisure pursuits? I know, obviously the pandemic is going on at the moment, but I have no doubt as soon as that's lifted, people are going to straight away want to go on holiday right? One of our students in this module, was running down the fantastic fact a few months back: a flight from England to New York was producing more CO2 emissions than an entire African country- I can’t remember which country in Africa that was specifically off the top of my head right now- but, in that sense, what harms are proliferated just for our leisure activities in general?
DR: In terms of video games, we see it all the time where there'll be something like a shooting, and they start to blame things like film or music, things like that, and within maybe the last 20 years they've really turned around and looked at video games as a cause of violence. Can you tell us a little bit about this history of blaming video games- where that comes from or maybe notable moments?
CK: To really conceptualise it, we need to go much further back than video games. We've seen what some people I suppose would call a moral panic. We've seen that within media sources for a long, long time, going back to the Victorian era for worries of women, reading literature and in fact it may turn them deviant. Comic books in the 50s... writes about, and how people thought this would change youth culture and we'd get this new wave of deviant youth culture. I mean obviously you have the mods and rockers, we have music. Most notably, I know in the UK at the moment it’s drill music that’s a causation of violence, and obviously in America, no strangers to that with hip hop music being a driver for violence for a long time. Video games have pretty much had the same thing- any media, any form of media (especially newer media) will get the attention of the classic media, I suppose, to try and push that this could be infringing on society. I think every generation has had a new worry that we need to have that's going to change how we interact, how children act, it could turn them bad, mad or sad, I suppose. And then we have the Sandy Hook shootings, and before that we have the Columbine Massacre: we see a few occasions where mass shootings in America are connected to youth culture, and video games, games such as Doom. Anders Breivik, the shooting in Norway, he was training on a ‘simulator’ as he called it for Call of Duty he says in his manifesto. But at same time as that he was playing World of Warcraft, running around being a magical Pixie, or a wizard- not normally your extreme far right terrorist ideology style trend is it?
CK: And then theoretically, academically, you've also as I mentioned previously, you've got Bandura, the Bobo the Clown experiments, this notion that video game exposure to children will make them more violent. Obviously, something that's been disputed within psychological circles, wider social sciences for a long time and pretty much disproven at this point, quite conclusively. But nonetheless, the narrative has stayed within the media and within politicians. So, I think that's really the core sentiment of it. It’s an easy go to, it’s a way to cast aspersions on something else, something that people will worry about and grip onto, and really move away from the actualities, and real drivers behind violence. If we're talking mass shootings, the mass availability of guns in America means that there's mass shootings than there is anywhere else in the world that doesn’t.
DR: You'd mentioned the LGBT community and its representation of video games, can you tell us a little bit about that?
CK: Ben Colliver wrote this chapter, fantastic chapter in the book. His main argument is, and he uses Grand Theft Auto, the series Grand Theft Auto, really to take us through the narrative and make his point. Quite a lot of the representations of LGBT communities within video games, and Grand Theft Auto specifically, have been quite reductive for being a parody of them particular communities for a long time. And it's really normalised, for especially young people that are accessing these games, the opposite of equality, really. These people are people you can stand, you can laugh at, they can be the butt of the jokes- it starts discourse for phobias and the phobic nature of a lot of video games, especially with trans people. It says that it really demarcates the ins and the outs for people, including citing those that sit on the fringe. That being said, though, he points out some really notable games that have been so incredibly inclusive for quite a long time. Definitely a lot longer than it has been, I suppose, necessary, as it is in our culture nowadays to be inclusive, maybe as a means of boosting sales. So The Sims for example: throughout the entire series since 2003 they've had LGBTQ characters, we've got same sex marriages, same sex adoption, and a lot more control of gender expression including clothing preferences, the ability to be pregnant, for example. Whereas, you've got Grand Theft Auto, that would have a van driving down the road in the normal world with ‘Fudge Packers’ wrote on the side of it.
CK: So, two very different spectrums in the games, as well as a lot of the characters, especially those that have been transgender, have been as he's put it, painted as ‘the psychos’. There's this element of these people are dangerous that's been getting put forth.
DR: Well, I think the key word that you said here is normalised- that we seem to normalise this behaviour, whether it's representations of LGBT community or even violence, that it gets normalised in video games. What is your take on that notion of normalisation?
CK: I think it's dangerous to a point that we need to look at that within the context of consumer culture in general, I think looking exclusively at video games, we fall back into the trap, perhaps, same trap what we've done with video games and violence for all this time- how often do we turn on Netflix and the same content is completely normalised?
CK: The news. Most fiction writing. So it's an issue in media in general in this conversation we need to have about, why is it we as a society are drawn to consuming these forms of media and these discussions, these stories?
DR: There is a market for this so that's why these video game companies are producing it right? Are the video game companies responding to these accusations at all about violence?
CK: About violence, no. if anything, my perspective on it is it's been a fantastic drive for sales for a long time, especially if you look at companies such as Rockstar: Manhunt was banned in around 1997 off the top of my head, yet again, there’s still rumours around that we're going Manhunt 2. As well we're looking at perhaps getting an updated version their game Bully in which you literally run around a school being a bully, being violent to other people.
CK: Quite acratically I’ve played these games. So, we haven't really seen the pushback against violence as being something that the companies have felt the need to sidestep or even make amends for. If anything, it’s boosted sales. Within wider discussions though, going back to Ben Colliver's chapter, we have seen a massive change recently in representation, especially around gender identity and sexuality. Assassin's Creed, the newest one, Valhalla- from the very beginning we have the option to be a male or female Viking as a main protagonist, and you can swap which gender you are throughout the game. So you're not locked in as such. The Last of Us…
DR: …the character ends up being bisexual, don’t they?
CK: You didn’t need to give me a that spoiler, I haven’t completed it yet, haven’t had time!
DR: Well, I did play Assassin's Creed and that's what ends up what happening- I think the storyline stays the same, no matter what gender you are.
CK: So straight away we’re starting to see this huge change. There has been some backlash on certain parts of the internet with two games doing this, but by and large it's been really accepted and quite positive.
DR: Yeah, that's really interesting. There are other points in the book about gambling and things like that, are there any main points that you think are worth mentioning?
CK: I think one of the main ones, for myself, would be the gambling aspect of it.
DR: Can you tell us about that?
CK: Yeah, so we've seen countless, mainly tabloid newspapers really- stories of children which have gone on to PlayStation or Xbox or Steam, have decided to buy a game, credit cards from the parents have been left logged in. With the way that games are constructed nowadays where it's really pay to win, there's a lot of in game purchases whereas obviously, old school Nintendo 64 or Sega Master system, that where never an issue. There's been instances of children spending two, three, twelve thousand pounds without even realising it, credit cards are not flagging it up and refunds not being given to the parents that are left out of pocket by these kids that haven't even realised they’re buying things because the systems are so simple. And alongside that, especially the last few years have had some major issues around what they call loot boxes. Now, quite famously when they were pulled up on it, they stood in the investigation and said ‘these aren’t gambling mechanics, they’re surprise purchase mechanics’. So you can buy a virtual loot box, and out of this loot box will pop like a reward as such; if we're talking about a football game for example you could get a world class player, or you could get a bloke that works for a division two local town. So, it's very much luck on who you’re going to get. But obviously just like the casino rigged machines, the percentage that they're giving out, you know, it's already pre-programmed, and we're seeing people spend this money really gambling on which players they’re going to get- which, not concerning if it's myself, for example, as a 30 year old man, but when it's 12, 13 year old children which are repeatedly spending money that's perhaps not theirs or the only money they have on a surprise mechanic, we need to start questioning how much this really changes the dynamic of consumer culture for young people and normalise it’s effectively gambling. What will the long-term repercussions be of children sitting in their own bedrooms gambling for when we get to 17,18, we've got mobile phones, using the local betting sites, it's a one or two click thing to gamble again.
DR: Games are becoming more and more realistic, where do you see the future of video games going in terms of responding perhaps to this discussion that we're having?
CK: I think games are going to have to reflect society a lot more in future. Games have become more inclusive, and I think the player base of games has become a lot more inclusive in the last few years. Just thinking back to my own childhood, and I’ve discussed this with Adam and Kevin, not too long ago: you didn't know many girls that played games in school, there may have been one or two. Looking at younger members of my family now, the vast majority of females play video games, and their friends play video games.
DR: Yeah, that is a big change.
CK: Naturally because the consumer base is changing, the companies need to change to move with that.
DR: Thank you for listening to today's episode. You can find a transcript of this show as well as more information about all of our guests and their books in our show notes. I'd like to thank Sallie Gregson and Kimberly Chadwick for their help with the show, and Alex Jungius of This is Distorted.