Friday, May 31, 2013

No essay this week

Sorry. I don't have an essay this week. I got busy finishing up a project. Though the project did give me an idea for a topic. Maybe I'll get it up by next week.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Games and Violence

               As mentioned before, E3 is coming up. It’s considered one of the biggest events of the year concerning a popular past time called video games. You can read my analysis of the appeal of games here. Today, I mean to cover a topic that has died down, but is bound to come up again.
                Lately, video games are receiving the bad rep of leading to an increase of violence. This idea has been exaggerated to the point of games being blamed for shootings. Yes, these are terrible crimes and we should work to prevent them in the future, but in order to do that, we need to make sure our attention is in the right place.
                Games are only the latest to be blamed for violence. Before that, it was television. Then it was movies and comics. Books and stories have been blamed for a long time for inciting the people. That is why there is a thing called censorship, but that is an argument for a different time. As I was indicating, placing the blame on a single part of society has been around for quite a long time, and it’s always the “latest” thing.
                While some people agree that it cannot be pinned on just video games, they merely extend it to all of media. They are on the right track, but still are missing key information. They are still making broad generalizations in this modern day “witch hunt,” which also is another topic for another day.
                One of the causes for this mob is the lack of understanding. There’s that old saying that “people fear what they do not understand”. They cannot explain it, thus it is illogical and evil. Some people misunderstand it, and combined with the other group, a mob is formed. For the case of “witch” hunts, some people attributed resurrection and healing to black magic and the devil. In a Christian world, this cannot be done because it acts against the nature of their religion, considering the story of their savior healed people and raised them from the dead. Thus people need to first try to understand the issue correctly, hence my essay on the Allure of Video Games.
                In the case of video games and many aspects of the media, there is this tendency to paint everything under the same brush. Since the news generally reports only the bad stuff that happens, most of the public only hears of the bad stuff. They get the impression that video games are only Call of Duty and since they feature guns, they lead to real life shootings. I don’t know of anyone whose skill with a controller means they can handle a real gun.
                Now it is certainly possible that first person shooters can lead to real life shootings, only because we are human and thus stupid. But even then, there are two major prerequisites. First, there needs to be a disregard to the value of life, especially of innocents. Second, the guy needs to be crazy. And of course, people can argue the first implies the second or vice versa.
                Why those two? Because even with the abundance of violence in the media, that should not make it easier to kill people if we value the concept of life. And as long as we are not insane, we can maintain that view. As long as our heroes still show a respect for life, even of the criminals, then I would think that would prove my point. To my knowledge, the nature of Batman and Superman is still to let the law handle it, and the versions that don’t do that are turned into insane villains.
                While I acknowledge the possibility of causation, that's all it is. A possibility. A 1 out of 5 billion chance that someone will go crazy and somehow that is the cause. Do video games lead to increase of aggression? Not as much as just bringing up the idea of politics does. Politics are the cause of many innocent killings and shootings, and they get funding, but we haven't banned that yet. Is it fair for me to paint all political activity under the same brush?
                On that note, most games are not Call of Duty. There is still Mario, Portal, Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Minecraft, etc. In fact, in Nintendo games, the player rarely encounters another human-like foe.  I remember being told, “Don’t go into video games, because those are dens of evil.” Uh, no. Video games are art, the formation of something created in someone’s mind. Just like a movie or a painting, whether requested or not. There may be an abundance of bad art, but that doesn’t mean there are not good ones. Even then, I wouldn't necessarily say Call of Duty is bad art per se.
                Is there an over abundance of violent video games? Probably, but since I don't play them so often, that leads to another thing. I've already mentioned there are alternatives, and they are popular. That means the consumer and gamer has choices in what games they play. Parents have choices in what games they let their children play. If they are buying primarily "Mature" content for a 10-13 year-old, then I would think there are far more fundamental problems going on there than the kid playing a game.
                One last thing I will address. I heard someone say that there is a “study” that playing video games cause people to be more irritated. Everyday life causes people to become irritated. If we were to ban games based off that idea, sports would also be gone (remember that obsessed fans really go crazy). Then again, traffic, politicians, and bullies would also be banned, which could eliminate so many problems, though cause new ones. The thing is, we cannot disprove the idea that games are what kept shooters from acting earlier.
                There’s actually one more thing that came to my mind. I don’t know what are the real motivations of these shooters. Did they just not have any value for life? Was there a specific message they wanted us to see?  With all the attention that is given to shooters, you’d think there would be some focus on what made them snap. Too bad our society decides to focus on debating guns and burning video games instead.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Allure of Video Games

           Video Games have been getting attention lately. This attention will probably spike up too since E3 is around the corner. This event is considered one of the biggest video game conferences of the year. Also, details surrounding the successors of two popular consoles are expected to be given. So what makes video games so popular?
           While visiting another country, I asked a female college student how she plays. She told me how she does not spend money on the hobby and plays for maybe three hours a week of Dance Dance Revolution or Mario Kart. However, her motivations were just as important. When I asked her why she played games and the language barrier got in the way, she wrote on my paper the words “Reality Escape.”
            In my own experience, the phrase “escape from reality” addresses many issues. It can deal with boredom, stress, or depression. For example, when I was writing a research paper, I would feel the urge to go and play my Nintendo 3DS instead when I could not think of anything to write. Then after I had relaxed a little, I would return to writing. Similarly, in an interview with a Japanese student, she mentioned video games were something pleasant to do on the train rides. It is not uncommon to see Japanese people of all ages playing some sort of game in their commutes; In Tokyo, I saw a businessman playing Dragon Quest on a Nintendo 3DS.
           In that same discussion, she discussed how the games would be set in various places, from mythological to historical. While this relates to the idea of “Reality escape,” it also links to the idea of experience. Each game provides a certain experience for players to enjoy. Similar to my previous interviewee, she likes Dance Dance Revolution and music games. In contrast, she also enjoys action games like Monster Hunter. When I talked to one of my “hardcore gaming” friends in America, he said, “Maybe the biggest reason they are so much fun is they allow me to experience a lot of different things without as much investment.” This perhaps plays into why gamers look forward to “new games.” Games help fill the desire for new experiences, especially when bored. However, one game can only provide a certain amount of “new experience” before the gamer needs something else.
          What sort of experiences could make games appealing? One explanation would be dreams. Dreams are the aspirations of an individual. They encourage and drive a person to do many things. However, we, as humans, have a variety of desires and passions. Games allow us to tap into each and every one of them, even the ones that are impossible. In a video game, I can be Superman. I can fly through Metropolis. Of course, a video game is therefore a safer way of living that dream for a five-year-old than the top bunk bed and a towel for a cape.
          How do games provide these “experiences”? They borrow techniques from other mediums. Most games have art and strive to make it appealing. They contain music to help substantiate the experience and create a mood. They also have narrative and some have fantastic stories. Looking at these elements, there is nothing different between video games and movies. However, there is one and that is the level of immersion.
          Whether or not people think about this, the aspect of controlling a character as if it was you is very important. My Japanese source from before mentioned in her interview that she “can play video games like I am in the video game.” This helps enforce the escape from reality. Whether are on a train or in the living room with nothing to do, games provide an “alternative you” to control. The player is able to make choices or perform actions as if it was them. Movies allow the audience to see the world created, but they need to work hard in order to have the audience feel involved. By giving the player some control, games are easier to become immersed.
           Of course, all of this is not to take away from games’ initial and source of appeal. Games are made to be enjoyed. All of these qualities and more are taken into account with the purpose of determining how fun is a particular game.  If games were not enjoyable, then there probably would not be any games. However, the popularity of something like the Wii for families help cement the idea that many people will buy and play something that they might consider fun
The term “fun” comes into play more when discussing the two major groups of gamers; Casual and Hardcore. I asked my gaming friend, who served as a president for a “Game Club” in college, about what he considered to be the difference between these two terms. His response was “the reasons people play. Casual people are more interested in experiencing the games and having fun. A hardcore gamer likes to put their skills to the test and wants challenging game play.” This challenge that players seek in their games can be related to how some members of a sports team practice very hard, simply to be the best.
            While there are these two groups of players, it is important to remember that the titles cover mainly the two polar sides. Many players find themselves in the middle. In my interviews with the Japanese student and an American counterpart, both described themselves as not really being a part of either camp. They would talk about how they play a little more than “casual” gamers, but not to the extent of or as competitive as “hardcore.”  
             So why do people play video games? Are they dreamers? Do they desire competition? Or maybe they just want some fun instead of being bored on a train? There is no single answer to those questions. Gamers are part of a global race called “humans,” in which everyone is unique and possess different tastes. As a result, any of the reasons given or not or combination of any could explain the mass appeal of video games. Thus, perhaps the main reason for the love of games is there are many reasons.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Investing Problems

I intended to wait until next week to post a new observation, but I have decided to end my hiatus a little early. This might mean that my posts may now go up on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays, but my plan is to just have a new post sometime between the start and end of a week. Now without further adieu, here is my latest observation.

               America is a Capitalist society. As many people know, there are quite a few complaints against capitalism. One that is probably the source for all the others is Investing/Stocks. I will admit that there are benefits to the system, but first I shall address what I hate about it.
                One day, a few friends and I walked to a little bread shop that a woman operated inside her home. The bread there is delicious and at a good price, so it may sound like a fantastic idea when one of my friends says, “I hope she opens a chain.” However, I hate that idea, because that will destroy some of the things that made that place so great.
                When opening a business, you have to worry about costs. If you start a chain, then that means you have to hire people. This means you have to make sure you sell at least a certain amount of goods to pay these people reasonably, or at least what society says is reasonable. However, you also have to pay for another building and the costs for operating it. That alone is quite an expensive feat. From there, owners have a few options. They could get a loan, invest what they have, or have stocks. The last is the trap that causes so many problems.
                Having investors allows a company to kickstart itself or ideas that need funding. However, having investors and good customer service is almost impossible. The reason is that your company loyalty is split at least three ways; yourself, your customers, and your investors. And unless you are able to buy back the stocks (also expensive), you can’t get rid of the investors.
                The big problem with investors is the need to not only having to pay them, but having to pay them more continuously. This comes about due to the greed of people, but also because of the constant change of investors with the stock market.
                 These investors help forge the hatred for banks. It’s enough that companies have to make money for its employees and executives, but then they have to make more than just a profit for their investors. When I read Bank of America’s statement on why they wanted to charge fees for their card usages, I was pissed. The guy said that they had a duty to make more money for their investors. The company makes a huge profit as it is. There should be no real need to milk its customers more than necessary.
Now I have to admit that not all investors have a lot of money and are greedy fools. Some are just trying to make an extra $100 in this legal gambling arena. And as I hinted before, there are benefits. The biggest benefit is the kickstarting. Business owners, especially small ones, can’t afford to fund everything that is needed. This is one reason why I am a fan of the Kickstarter website idea. It provides an alternative and basically a one-time payment for an investment. No need to worry about stocks to affect how you run a business.
Stocks also provide an alternative income that becomes more and more necessary when job security and/or pay are not the highest or at an acceptable rate. This becomes even more so when retirement comes along. When people are no longer capable of working, but can’t afford everything they need, then they need some alternative.
The last chief benefit that I will cover is the possible distribution of wealth. Since the investors are normally the people with money, it provides a reason for them to help small businesses or new ideas get funding.
I wish there was a true good alternative to this system, but anything change will cause victims. There’s nothing around that. The Kickstarter website may be best we have.