Thursday, June 28, 2007

virtual agency

The average budget spent on game development internationally is ten million dollars per game. 80 percent of them fail in the first 12 months. The best professional gamers can earn up to a quarter of a million US dollars per year on the competition circuit.

Since 2001, almost all new recruits to the American army have been gamers. The major means of enlistment in the United States is a computer game called America’s Army, available free online with a direct link to the Army recruitment page. It’s a first person shooter game, produced predominantly by young (16-24 year old) male animators. Each year the design team are taken on a three-day boot camp by the American Army to “test” the new weaponry for accurate incorporation into the virtual world. The pentagon funds the game and its operation. The virtual world is the primary training ground for war. EMPOWER YOURSELF. FREE THE OPPRESSED. FIGHT FOR FREEDOM. These are the game slogos of America’s Army.

The enemy targets in American Army are unfailingly Arabs. The illegal import of American games into middle-eastern countries has now motivated Palestinian game designers to develop their own counter-product called Under Seige. In this first-person shooter, the Palestininan protagonist is required to shoot and kill Israelis. The Israeli army is portrayed as a force of extreme brutality. The demographic of the players is the same demographic required for military recruitment.

In the ten fatal shootings in American high schools during recent years, all shooters were gamers. One fourteen year-old boy walked into a classroom, fired eight rounds, and killed eight people. He had only ever picked up a real gun once before, but he had the aim of a highly trained professional. Most of his victims were shot in the head. Weapons analysts have long indicated that there is something about the human face that usually deters direct facial shootings. In games like Doom or Manhunter or Postal, head shootings are rewarded with bonus points.

It used to be a myth that playing first-person shooter games stimulates aggressive “effects” and hostile emotions in the cerebral cortex, but now they’ve tracked the brain waves of the gamers and the theories are confirmed: it is possible to virtually simulate the brain activity of a real experience. To the brain, the virtual and the real “feel” the same. The problem being that games are powerfully affective educational tools that groom minds to behave and react in specific ways and are as such the perfect vehicle for propaganda. They are often devoid of consequences, encourage instant gratification, and promote extreme hostility. The sense of agency proferred by a game is an illusion – much like the illusion of choice in a “democratic” society. It’s a blindfold that covers inadequacy and masks deficits in actual inter-personal activity. The feeling of achievement is one of the most marketable and most lucrative elements of the contemporary game industry: games that don’t “reward” the viewer, don’t sell. If you can receive accolade and victory in the virtual world, perhaps you don’t need it in the real world? Or, if you can receive accolade and victory in the virtual world, perhaps this is transferable onto real life situations: American Army desensitises shooter responses to victims, encourages competition, and demands aggression in order to survive. No coincidence that these qualities are also the necessary components of survival within capitalist societies.

The minutia of detail and speed and rapid decision making required in games like Star Quest are highly desirable skills in working the stock market. In South Korea and America, retired gamers (the average gamer career lasts only six years, and gamers are often “too old” to play by their mid 20s), are officially recognised as prime contenders for stock market trading. The “best” retirees are headhunted by multi-billion dollar corporate finance industry.

from: Gamer Revolution 28/6/07 ABC 9:30, Red Apple Media

No comments: