Monday, November 23, 2009

Control vs Conditioning in Video Games

In considering the ways in which the process of playing video games is different from other forms of entertainment media it seems at first that video games offer the user more freedom and control. Reading or watching TV and movies could be seen as more passive because the reader or viewer must simply watch events unfold without being able to influence them in any way. Video games seem to offer the user at least some input as they are allowed to control the characters and influence the events that occur.

How much control and freedom do video games really offer users though? It seems that at least with a lot of action and platform games the user is being given a series of choices that result in positive and negative stimuli. Certain actions kill the character while others advance them further. As the game progresses the user learns to avoid the negative stimuli and eventually is able to play the game the correct way and advance the character through the entire game. In this way rather than offering users freedom to influence the outcome of the game it is really conditioning them to play the game the right way. To me it seems debatable whether the act of being conditioned could be considered a more active process than watching the events of a plot unfold in a book, TV show, or movie.

I will say that I think some video games do offer the user more choices and freedom and are more difficult to see as simply a conditioning process. Process oriented games like the Sims allow users to make various choices with no real predetermined goals in order to just see how the choices play out. Similarly games like Fable allow users to really set up and achieve their own goals and decide which directions to take the plot and how to develop the character in terms 0f appearance, actions, and abilities.

It is somewhat difficult for me to make a value judgement on video games. While it seems that games which offer the user more freedom rather than conditioning them would be preferable these games also tend to lack concrete goals and objectives to achieve. While a game might just be conditioning you, it does feel good when you finally get it right and overcome increasingly difficult obstacles. You can argue that this process might not be as active as it seems but I do not think that neccessarily makes these types of games any less valuable or enjoyable than other games.

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