The Uncanny Violence of Video Games, Part IIb, “The META of Video Gaming.”

In Part I of the Uncanny Violence of Video Games, we described the clinical and theoretical models that are the basis for the anti-violent video game position. Moreover, we demonstrated how medical researchers applied the definitions of literal aggression and violence to the virtualized activities in video games. In so doing, researchers sought to re-define all video games with violent depictions, as “violent media.”

In Part IIa, above, we demonstrated that video games, including so-called, “violent” games, use a rewards-based, reinforcement learning model (RL), that, like the General Aggression Model (GAM), results in voluntary behavior change. In contrast to the GAM, the RL for gaming applies natively to all competitive, goal-oriented knowledge structures, and both real and virtualized environments.

Thus, the RL as applied to violent-video games, re-locates them as competitive, goal-oriented events, while deemphasizing their relationship to traditional media. It, therefore, expands upon the definition of aggression to include those actions, which may seem violent but are, in fact, rewards-based. To better capture this notion, we offered the term “competitive-aggression” as encompassing all competitive actions that are aggressive or violent in their expression, but are non-violent in their underlying motivations (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: An example of "competitive-aggression."
Figure 2: An example of “competitive-aggression.”

Finally, in Part IIb, we defined the origin and function of the META of gaming. More than the simple strategy to accomplishing a goal, the META represents the assimilation of all aspects of a game so as to become more proficient and efficient in achieving its Primary Objective. Included in this process is an evaluation, and re-evaluation of the rewards-system, which provides the fundamental reasons for the creation of the META.

It is this process of formulating and maintaining the META that reveals the relationship between video games and passive media, like film and TV, to be mostly, superficial. By this we mean, that the construction of the META rarely depends on aesthetics. For example, in the video game series, GOD of WAR, the main character, Kratos, can use either a variety of swords, and other weapons, to defeat his adversary, or, he can use milk jugs, the Primary Objective for the META is the same (see Video below).

This superficial reliance of video games on their “video” component, as an influence on the behavior that drives participation, makes it an impractical and misleading analogy for traditional media. Comparing the two, therefore, as equals or equivalents, in the assessment of their consumption, is problematic. And yet, that is what medical research has done for the past twenty years.

As we have shown, the mischaracterization of video games with violent depictions, as violent media, ignores their fundamental nature as games, over-emphasizes the importance of their visual aesthetics, confounds the definitions of literal and virtual violence, and, finally, fails to acknowledge the complex behavioral algorithms that are at the heart of all competitive, cognitive-exercises.

It is for these reasons, and others, that we at BOOM Salad believe that the conclusions of these medical professionals as regards this genre of video games, and the behaviors they evoke, are misguided, and likely, misleading. At the very least, it can be said that their results are incomplete, and therefore, inconclusive.

In the final, Part 3 of the Uncanny Violence of Video Games, BOOM Salad will consider the classification of “violent-video games,” as representing an oversimplification of a genre in which violence and aggression, both real and virtual, exist alongside sympathetic, pro-social counterparts. Put simply, games in which the reward structure encourages and includes pro-sympathetic and pro-social behaviors between players, in addition to the violence and mayhem for which they have become associated. Until next month, keep on BOOMING!

[1] See Part I of the Uncanny Violence of Video Games, for more information on the purpose and formulation of behavior scripts;

[2] See, “Reinforcement Learning;”

[3] For a detailed description of the rewards methodologies that underlie games like Battlefield 4, see, “The Panopticon in My Bedroom: Part I and II;”

[4] Dr. Vincent P. Matthews, June 11, 2015, 12:04.

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