Gaming: A Persuasive Industry?

Video games seem to have a reputation of being easy, mindless, and violent. Certainly a lot of them are any combination of those three characteristics, if not all three.

Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM501 – Gaming: A Persuasive Industry?

Cover of Everything Bad is Good for You

But there is more to games and gaming than that. It’s often a complex reward system, with promotions and prizes that are difficult to obtain. As Johnson, S. (2005). Games. In Everything bad is good for you: How today’s pop culture is actually making us smarter (pp. 17–62). New York: Berkley Publishing Group. [Posted to “Course Materials” on Blackboard] says, “The game scholar James Paul Gee breaks probing down into a four-part process, which he calls the ‘probe, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink’ cycle:

  1. The player must probe the virtual world (which involves looking around the current environment clicking on something, or engaging in a certain action).
  2. Based on reflection while probing and afterward, the player must form a hypothesis about what something (a text, object, artifact, event, or action) might mean in a usefully situated way.
  3. The player reprobes the world with that hypothesis in mind, seeing what effect he or she gets.
  4. The player treats this effect as feedback from the world and accepts or rethinks his or her original hypothesis.” (Pages 44 – 45)

The Good Side

Hence games seem to cultivate a measure of curiosity, and perseverance, and determination. Roll one more boulder up a hill; look through one more doorway; or craft one more suit of armor, and you can level up. Rewards come from patience, persistence, and attention to detail. Gamers are rewarded for their time spent, and they might even be learning something along the way. Everyone can participate, and everyone can succeed.

The Not So Good Side

However, the Chinese gold farming economy turns these ideas on their collective heads.

Quinnipiac Assignment 09 – ICM501 – Gaming: A Persuasive Industry?

Star Trek Online (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Dibbell, J. (2007, June 17). The life of a Chinese gold farmerNew York Times Magazine. [Link], the law of supply and demand has given rise to a kind of shadow economy where players pay – with real money – for fake money and treasure that allows them to level up and advance within the game (and, presumably, garner more in-game prestige). This removes at least financial equality and it might remove other forms of equality (e. g. of maturity levels and patience levels) as well. “This development has not been universally welcomed. In the eyes of many gamers, in fact, real-money trading is essentially a scam — a form of cheating only slightly more refined than, say, offering 20 actual dollars for another player’s Boardwalk and Park Place in Monopoly. Some players, and quite a few game designers, see the problem in more systemic terms. Real-money trading harms the game, they argue, because the overheated productivity of gold farms and other profit-seeking operations makes it harder for beginning players to get ahead. Either way, the sense of a certain economic injustice at work breeds resentment. In theory this resentment would be aimed at every link in the R.M.T. chain, from the buyers to the retailers to the gold-farm bosses. And, indeed, late last month American WoW players filed a class-action suit against the dominant virtual-gold retailer, IGE, the first of its kind.”

Pay for Virtual Play

Zynga, on the other hand, has apparently embraced the pay for virtual play culture wholeheartedly. By allowing players to purchase Farmville credits, Words With Friends ad-free versions, and faster healing in NFL Showdown, Zynga takes advantage of players’ competitive instincts, all while raking in the all too real cash. Woe be to those who have time to trade yet not enough cold, hard cash.

It seems that the players lose something, and it’s not just actual money. It’s the learning experience, and the cultivation of patience and curiosity. It’s also the flattening of economic and age levels in a game. As in offline life, it becomes more about who can flash cash versus who can master a game’s intricacies. Adding an element of purchase to bypass perseverance just seems to reinject mindlessness back into the experience, and validates criticisms of video and online games as being intellect-free diversions.