Friday, February 21, 2014

Virtual Ascendance: Video Games and the Remaking of Reality

By Devin C. Griffiths
Rowman & Littlefield   2013
215 pages     Non-Fiction

Devin Griffiths has written a comprehensive view of the state of video gaming from its beginnings to its many manifestations today and its Virtual Ascendance. Certainly gaming has moved from its Pong beginnings to its ubiquitous presence in most homes, but Griffiths also shows us the many ways that gaming has changed and will continue to change society. He says, “Gaming is fundamental to our experience as human beings, to our biology. Like the need for food, shelter, clothing, and love, the need to play is coded in our genes. Who’s a gamer? We all are. Whether our game is played with dice, cards, tiles, pencil and paper, on a board, or on the latest touchscreen tablet, we all have one, we’re all linked by the common thread of play.” 

As Griffiths explores the past, present, and the future of gaming, he expands our knowledge of what we think we know to what we think is possible—or maybe impossible. In 2012 there were four hundred million people around the world playing some type of massively multiplayer online role-playing game or MMO. Wow! At the same time that he explores the kinds of games that people do for fun, he is also exploring the potential of role playing games for education, for health, and for military training. This, I would think, is the future of gaming. Just as there are people tremendously engrossed in MMO role playing, there are developers seeking new uses for gaming to the benefit of society. Griffith even devotes an entire chapter to the music that goes with the games, and how symphony orchestras are enticing an entire new generation to love classical music. 

One thing I didn’t know was that I could be considered a gamer. I am part of the demographic that Griffiths devotes an entire chapter to—casual gaming. I am a casual gamer because I play two games—Candy Crush Saga on my cell phone and Words with Friends on my tablet. Every time I have just a few minutes, I pick up my phone and play a level. It only takes a minute, and I have a minute to waste. Actually, I have to say I am addicted to Candy Crush. Can anyone help me get beyond level 100? I play Words with Friends totally anonymously and usually have 4 or 5 games going at one time. Actually I am pretty good at Words with Friends. Comes from years and years of playing Scrabble with my mother and my sister.

 I am on vacation this week and I have sworn off my games as part of my vacation. It is sort of like swearing off coffee—you know you can do it for a while—but forever???

Griffiths devotes a chapter of Virtual Ascendance to what he sees as the future of gaming for education. This type of simulation gaming was just coming into fashion when I retired, but lately I have been helping some graduate students in science education. They are very interested in simulations as part of cooperative learning, one of the new educational trends. There is much more to gaming than killing people. In one of his examples, he discusses the game Whyville and how a teacher used it to teach her students about infectious diseases. 

He speaks about the misconception that violent games create violent children. His discussion is relevant but in the end he has no answers other than to say that violent video games are not bad in themselves, but they reflect “those aspects of human nature of which we’re least proud. Right now, we live in a society that accepts violence as the norm, even celebrates it.” He feels that blaming video games is ignoring the ills that plague our society because we, as humans, are prone to finding scapegoats. In another chapter, he discusses how gaming is being used to treat severely mentally ill people—the other side of the same coin.

My son-in-law is a gamer. I asked him about it as I was reading the book. He says that he likes role playing games with a good story line. He is not so much interested in shooting things as he is in figuring things out. Because of that he says that his all-time favorite game is Blade of Darkness, an older game that most people don’t play. He says he likes it because the story line is so complex. He says that the graphics aren’t as good as the newer games, but the plot is wonderful. This is the same son-in-law that loved the Game of Thrones books, so his gaming choices seem logical.

Virtual Ascendance expanded my understanding of gaming and gave me some encouragement for its future uses. Things are moving so fast that Griffiths will have to come out with a companion book in a year or two. It was also a fairly breezy read. Griffiths writes well and the book is well researched. There are extensive notes and a comprehensive index. A friend introduced me to him via email and I agreed to read and blog about his book. Glad I did. I really learned a lot. 

I have on my shelf a book called The App Generation by famous educator Howard Gardner. I am anxious to read it to see how he feels about gaming and social media. 

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1 comment:

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