Some follow-up thoughts from this post.
It’s true that the military has invested a lot of money into video game research, and also movie special effects. True enough, drone and robotic warfare are the wave of the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised if remote torture is on its way. But the military also invested in the Internet.
As McLuhan argued, media content is like meat for the guard dogs. It’s the medium we need to pay attention to. Rushkoff’s Screenagers does an excellent job of showing how gaming (along with skateboarding and other teen activities) are contributing to the breakdown of Cartesian thought. And that is a tremendous service to the world, and global ecology. If we want to talk about alien technology, then look at the alphabet. Writing has done more to disassociate consciousness from the body than any other human invention. After recently rereading Huxley’s Brave New World and this article by a neuroscientists (I think her conclusions are bit conservative, but there’s some good info there), I think the greatest danger to society is not video games or media, but pharmaceutical drugs. They are are not separate, given that TV is a great propaganda device for Big Pharma (I’m also reminded of graffiti I once saw in Santa Cruz that said,”First they said pot led to acid. Then they said it led to heroin. Now they know it leads to television”). But I believe the inoculation of the mind with mood altering drugs is a bigger societal threat to mindfulness then playing video games. Combine the two, then you have a different situation.
I’m also aware that there are studies that indicate that thoughts about something can be as powerful as their actuality– that brain waves look the same whether thinking about something or seeing it. So I’m being flip when I say fantasy is innocuous. But I think critics are wrong when they state that people don’t distinguish between “reality” and “mediated reality.” It’s the wrong argument. They coexist, especially if you consider McLuhan’s belief that media are extensions of our nerve system. When we drive the car’s tires are an extension of our body, but we also know that the car is a car. When we play games we enter the game’s magic circle and suspend disbelief, but we also navigate away from it. No doubt, there are those who cannot tell the difference. I think we call that schizophrenia.
I believe one of the greatest benefits of film and moving image technology is that they mimic how our brains suture reality. If we want to take it to metaphysical level, I think media are an externalization of our thoughts. We should embrace our nakedness and acknowledge, yes, we do think like this. It’s the opposite of repression. Some could argue, though, that the externalization of our thinking is also a way of not taking responsibility.
Maybe it’s disappointing that I did not make a clear argument for or against video games, but my point is that it’s complicated and not an either/or situation, but one that is more ecological in the sense that certain things thrive depending on their environment, thoughts in particular. GTA is a product of the “creeping cycle of desensitization,” which is the idea that as certain kinds of media become more normal, newer media have to be more “shocking” to distinguish themselves from the old. There are a couple of ways to look at this phenomena. One is to realize that we manage to become immune to media and learn to ignore them. The other is that we become so desensitized we are oblivious to our own conditioning by media. Again, not to be wishy-washy, but I think the reality is that this is a spectrum of experience, and not an either/or situation.
I believe the mind is a garden, not a computer, so if it is full of strong and healthy plants and rich soil, it can coexist with the weeds. Media certainly can facilitate parasitic thoughts, I have no doubt about it, but my feeling is not to take an industrial farming approach and simply throw weed killer at the media we don’t like, but take a permaculture approach and strengthen the mind’s ecosystem (meditation, art, music, education, nutrition, nature, love, community, etc.). According to the conventional belief concerning media’s effects, I should be a violent sociopath because of all the media I have consumed, and from the amount of war games I played as a kid. That is not the case. And it’s also the case of many media critics. If they consider themselves immune to the effects of media, what is every body else’s problem? Why aren’t they brainwashed?
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