Sunday, July 25, 2010

Drop the Invisible Sword, and Back Away Slowly!

I know you have them in your classes: video game addicts.

When I was eight, my father got us our first (and only) video game console. Still a new phenomenon back 1978, it was so mind-altering and fascinating in its novelty that a game like Pong, with ¼-inch pixels, was considered the apex of excitement and technology, and would transfix me for hours. Now video games are a whole different story. The video games are so technical, so entrancing, so deep in their narratives, so highly produced, that a massive wave of our youth is getting swept away to la la land, addicted to a wholly pathetic fantasy world of escapism just like a bunch of greasy Heroin junkies.

It seems like a certain set of young people are predisposed to video game addiction, and I see a cross section of them in my classes. More often than not, they live with their parents, probably in the basement, even though they’re over 18. They dress like crap, apparently dragging themselves out of their dark, fetid lairs just long enough to make an appearance in class. They think they’re incredibly brilliant. They have whiny geek voices. They all have an absurd fantasy of starting their own “gaming companies.” They have no jobs, no friends, no social skills, virtually no real-life experience, yet they have invested huge amounts of time and effort to learn immense amounts of esoteric video game trivia—all of it nearly 100% inapplicable to real life.

They are, frankly, complete and utter losers.

One student of mine even wrote a narrative essay about his addiction, and let me tell you, it was damn serious. I could tell that he was coping without his stupid games, but barely, as he’d sit in my class, zombie-like, with his greasy dyed hair and ragged clothes. Another of my students, last semester, had virtually no friends, no social life, and was also a game addict. Creepy. This semester, I have two more. One, a plump female who also likes horseback riding (God, please, please just go ride your fucking horse and get out of the house!) and the other, an impossibly nerdy and pathetic game addict, who contradicts and challenges me in front of my entire Basic Comp class nearly every opportunity he gets, in all of his pseudo-intellectual, freshman-in-community-college wisdom.

Nerds. All of them. Inveterate, pathetic, disturbingly nerdy nerds.

These games are a substitute for social contact, but a substitute that can never satisfy human instincts. And every second, every miserable hour, that they spend looking at these fucking flickering lights on a screen, they will never get back. They are gone forever, and were spent in a completely unproductive pursuit that yielded nothing but an intensification of their pathetic solitude and a reinforcement of their shockingly dysfunctional social skills. What a fucking waste.

The other day, as I sat in my car, relaxing between classes, I peered over the gap in the sun shade on my windshield and spied the pseudo-intellectual wretch who challenges me constantly in class. Apparently, he was waiting for the bus home to his mommy’s and daddy’s house. Recently, when I mentioned during a class discussion that not everything that’s natural, like cyanide, is good, he felt the need to demonstrate his ignorance, with conviction, and told the whole class that “Actually, cyanide is not natural.”

Well, too bad for him, but he was wrong, as he has been every time he challenged me this semester. Fuck him. I was and am furious with him for being such a goddamn pest. But what I saw him doing out in the parking lot actually made me feel some compassion for him (along with a dominant dose of repulsion): he was walking along a median in the parking lot, skillfully practicing a variety of sword techniques with nothing in his hands, muttering to himself (or his invisible foe?) and expressing a variety of emotions on his pathetic, nerdy face, all in broad daylight.

He’s lost. Where the hell are these fucking people going to end up, when they have no social skills and no marketable technical skills and when they just can’t or won’t integrate into our society?

How many of these losers are on your class roster? Just look for the oily hair, the rumpled clothing, and the sickly, pale skin. Do they need professional help? Should video game addiction be in the DSM? Should we give a fuck whatsoever? Or should we just let them self-destruct? Personally, any sympathy I have for them is razed flat by their awful personalities. So here’s what I say…

No cookies for them. No cookies for ANY of them…

29 comments:

  1. Ok, so you can't connect with a segment of your class. Granted, I cannot fathom the depths of the typical student who joins a sorority or fraternity. That strikes me as a particular level of hell. And you're teaching at a community college, so the chances are some of these students are not over the age of 18, and may be a fraction as smart as they think they are (always an infuriating proposition). They don't have social graces, but few 18 year olds do -- of any variety.

    The level of fury here is kind of impressive, though, isn't it? Maybe I'm biased. Most of the more interesting people I know self identify as nerds. They can quote Princess Bride at length, and several of them are WOW-heads. While I personally stopped playing D&D after highschool, I've been told that by simply admitting I did once, in the right circles, and being a female who is not -- how did you delicately put it? oh, "plump" -- that admission would get me marriage proposals.

    That said, the level of vitriol here would seem a bit excessive for punk kids who simply haven't had the chance to gain much experience. I wonder if you wouldn't be surprized at the level of sociological know-how is necessary to navigate some of the more complex games? Then again, maybe I'm just overly hopeful, and spoiled by knowing gamers who are, in fact, brilliant.

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  2. My roommate in grad school was working towards a PhD in an established social science field. They had to publish an article within 4 semesters of being accepted or they risked being kicked out of the dept. Her topic? That got published?

    "Parallel societies in World of Warcraft"

    She was a gaming junkie. And I mean JUNKIE. Perfect roommate. I'd go days without seeing her emerge from her room (even to go to class). But she managed to complete this usually-difficult requirement because she put in so much goddamn work into her gaming that she was the perfect "scholar" to investigate how real-life culture was recreated online. Or as best as she could measure (she didn't know very much about "real life society).

    nerdz.

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  3. One of the best questions I've learned that I can ask a student is, "What were your favorite childhood books?" I always learn a lot from this, even if the answers can be disturbing. It's not unusual to be told that there were no books in the home, and this isn't always because of poverty: many people just don't like books. Another student, who actually shows potential as a math teacher, didn't tell me any titles, but she did volunteer that she better remembered her childhood video games.

    "What is Your Dangerous Idea," edited by John Brockman, has a chapter by Geoffrey Miller, "Runaway Consumerism Explains the Fermi Paradox." Your post reminds me of it. Many people seem to think, why bother to explore the Universe, if you get everything you can possibly desire in cyberspace?

    The Fermi Paradox was thought of by Enrico Fermi in 1950. During a lunchtime discussion with three other scientists, they observed that the Universe is very old, and that conditions for life seem common, including stars like the Sun, liquid water, and organic chemistry. (We now know that planets are common, too: within five years, NASA's Kepler spacecraft will tell us whether or not Earth-like planets are common.) One might therefore be tempted to think that intelligent life forms might be common, just like in Star Trek. Everyone went back to eating their lunch, and then after a pause, Fermi got a laugh when he asked, "Where are they?"

    You realize that no matter what the solution is for this, the solution is mind boggling? It seems odd, for example, to postulate that interstellar travel is impossible. It seems equally odd to consider that we are the only form of intelligent life in the Universe. Carl Sagan tried to invoke the enormous size of the Universe, but remember, the Universe is very old: there's been more than enough time for intelligent life to propagate throughout the entire Galaxy, many times. One might suppose that extraterrestrials are avoiding us on purpose, for any of a variety of reasons, but isn't it odd how they do this so effectively?

    Back during the Cold War, it was common to suppose that intelligent species don't ever make contact with other intelligent species, because they blow themselves up first. Miller points out the possibility that it's because they get addicted to video games.

    I hope this isn't the correct solution to the Fermi paradox. Even if it were, though, wouldn't you think that intelligent machines, invented by video game addicts (or perhaps invented by other intelligent machines, but which were ultimately invented by video game addicts) would be out there, exploring the Universe?

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  4. I agree that video game addiction should be recognized as a form of mental illness, and that the psychology community should give some thought to how to treat it. Remember the science-fiction concept of the person "with a hole in her head," or in other words, someone who is addicted to direct stimulation of the pleasure centers of the brain? It was supposed to create particularly abject addicts: people who would do literally nothing, including eat, sleep, or wash, as long as they're hooked to their thing.

    It has turned out that applying electricity directly to brain tissue is unnecessary. The inputs can go into the eyes as visual stimuli, perfectly effectively. It's time to admit this has been with us for many years now, in the form of video games, and TV before that.

    Even worse, video game addiction can be physically dangerous. Remember Michael Carneal, who killed five and wounded three others during a school shooting in 1997? He fired eight shots, and hit five people in the head, and three in the chest. Appalling as this was, it was also an astonishing feat of marksmanship. Good shooting, by military standards, is more like one hit in ten shots, and even fewer kills. Carneal had never even fired a gun before: how was it possible for him to be so lethal? He was a video game addict, and the way he shot reflected this. The usual pattern is to fire repeatedly at an opponent, until the opponent drops. Carneal shot one shot at each victim, as he'd learned is how to get a high score in a video game. I therefore have no doubts whatsoever that video addicts can be more than just objects of pity: they can be outright dangerous!

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  5. Froderick, intelligent life has existed long before us and they have found us, so to speak. We are the avatars in their video game. It's a pretty impressive game, no?

    The face on Mars, near death experiences, etc., are all easter eggs.

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  6. Um...wow.

    Thanks for the evidence that I was, indeed, wrong about you in the comments to your last post.

    You're dangerous, if only because of the fact that you seem to believe the obnoxiously facile psychosociological analyses you're making. And really, in this post you went from description & revulsion to description & revulsion plus analysis with sketchy evidence.

    Note, I see about 2 complaints about students behaving as students in this post; everything else seems to spring from your imagination. Also note, you really only talk about one student, who you claim to have seen making sword movements, which might also be practiced by...uh....martial artists and acting students. Heck, there are even aerobic routines that use them!

    But, we all know he was miming sword moves ala an actual combat, a phenomenon that I have personally witnessed since, oh, the mid-1980s. Same with greasy hair, bad wardrobes, and social ineptitude. (Those poor Brady Kids! They had video game addiction in the pre-gamer
    1970s and didn't know it!)

    Other than that, it's all just a projection of your own frustrations. Maybe you should try playing an elf magician in an online game to blow off some steam instead of watching South Park episodes and generalizing those stereotypes to your students.

    Alas, gaming addiction is an actual disorder, and several of those students might actual have it. But unless you can ACTUALLY connect it to a problem in class, all I see you doing is trying to explain away that you have trouble with an ever-increasing number of your students who don't seem to measure up with your personal moral and behavioral standards.

    So, until you can actually connect the dots in a post that unwed mothers are trying to get out of doing homework, or gamers are getting factual information wrong because they think they can actually toss fireballs, or those ex-cons are trying to strong-arm you into giving them passing grades (or else they'll kill your cat), I'll be skipping your deranged posts.

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  7. So Ben, what are the smelly, annoying video game addicts who are all too common in our classes? Bugs in the program?

    I had one in my Intro Astronomy class who was much like the one with the invisible sword, described by No Cookies. He just had to challenge me on -everything-, even well-understood issues, such as how an observer in Fresno can't see the Magellanic Clouds, because Earth is round (all right, within 1% of being a sphere) and one can't see through it. It quickly become obvious that this was because of his lack of real-world experience: he couldn't visualize a sphere, because he'd spent too much of his life staring at a 2-D screen.

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  8. Froderick,
    Who knows what the point of the game is? Perhaps the winner is the first player to create an avatar capable of developing a video game that is capable of recreating the actual universe, like the original alien gamers did.

    I first read about this theory of the universe on Scott Adam's (Dilbert) blog. So yeah, it must be pretty profound and stuff.

    What are the odds that socially inept kids get attracted to gaming, as do other types of "normal" kids? Gaming provides a comfortable pasttime for them. That seems as likely as any other theory. In the past, these kids had fewer choices. In the '80s, you played D&D. Before that, you read books or some other crazy shit.

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  9. Now I see why RYS never allowed comments.

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  10. In my own experience, there are always certain "types" of snowflakes that proffies get bent about. For some it's the athlete. For some it's the stoner. For this poster I'd guess it's the nerd. We all have our trigger students, the ones that get under our skin. Whether or not some nerds are wonderful is beside the point, I think.

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  11. My daughter went to UMBC. In her year, they lost 1/3 of the Honors male students due to playing too much 'World of Warcraft', and thus not studying. I personally know another 5 or more very bright technical students who didn't finish a degree for the same reason. Most are living at home in their mid-20's, with no real job.

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  12. Shorter version of a long post that just gotten eaten by blogger:

    Dear No Cookies,
    Get your heat out of your ass.

    Did you just make fun of a student for living with his parents? REALLY? Did you make fun of a student for play-acting in public? Really? Did you complain that a sophomore was acting sophomoric?

    And did you just make fun of nerds? Because some nerds might be sitting on your tenure review panel someday.

    Finally, this:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/07/sunday_sacrilege_unorthodoxy.php#more

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  13. I think you paint the gamers with too broad a brush. Sure, people get addicted to video games, the same way they get addicted to porn, gambling, the Internet, weed, alcohol, casual sex, sugary snacks... the list goes on. Yet plenty of people play video games, consume porn, wager occassionally, smoke weed, have sex, drink alcohol, and eat sugary snacks without getting addicted. Should you reach out and try to help them? I suppose, if you really think the gaming is causing serious problems - like a noticeable lack of personal hygeine, severe depression, inability to focus on the curriculum, etc. Not sure how you'd differentiate the gaming addicts from the slackers who might suffer from the same symptoms. Merely living at home isn't really a symptom - many college students can't afford their own apartments or even the dorms. Likewise, rumpled clothing, oily hair, pale skin, or plumpness are not terribly unusual among college students. It seems that you have several students who are annoying flakes and happen to play video games - if you could cure them of their addiction, they'd probably be no less annoying. But as long as you are reaching out, don't overlook the potheads and alchoholics and porn addicts who need your help, too. Oh, and having good marksmanship doesn't make a person more likely to shoot up a classroom, Froderick. I happen to be an excellent shot but also a peace-loving hippie, and I know many other expert marksmen who wouldn't hurt a fly.

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  14. Nobody gets "lost to" World of Warcraft, just like nobody gets "lost to" sleeping in rather than going to class or not studying because they'd rather party.

    Many, many students will screw off rather than do what they need to do to get through, and fail.

    Some drink.
    Some party.
    Some play video games.

    The individual choices reflect the individual students.

    The original poster's bile toward nerds is just as absurd as some of the commenter's tacit assumption that these video gamers would - were it not for WoW! - certainly finished college!

    Bullshit.

    Some of these kids will wash out - the particular idiom is irrelevant to this fact. As long as there are a full range of diversions available to tempt the full range of human interests, any given student who is pre-disposed to blow off his studies in favor of doing something more fun WILL find that "more fun" thing to do, and do it, whether it's fantasy roleplaying or fantasy football.

    Let's get over blaming Facebook and World of Warcraft and everything else except the students who just didn't do what they needed to do.

    And, oh, hey - No Cookies - you're an asshole.

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  15. The problem is that video and online games are available all of the time, and are very compelling to the compulsive types who will make the best engineers and scientists.

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  16. Maybe so Paddington. However, let's take a paragraph out of No Cookies' original post:

    "These games are a substitute for social contact, but a substitute that can never satisfy human instincts. And every second, every miserable hour, that they spend looking at these fucking flickering lights on a screen, they will never get back. They are gone forever, and were spent in a completely unproductive pursuit that yielded nothing but an intensification of their pathetic solitude and a reinforcement of their shockingly dysfunctional social skills. What a fucking waste."

    and replace a few key words to come up with:

    "These novels are a substitute for social contact, but a substitute that can never satisfy human instincts. And every second, every miserable hour, that they spend looking at them, they will never get back. They are gone forever, and were spent in a completely unproductive pursuit that yielded nothing but an intensification of their pathetic solitude and a reinforcement of their shockingly dysfunctional social skills. What a fucking waste."

    Yeah.

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  17. There's an important caveat here. Video games don't foster literacy, or imagination. Even the trashiest novels require the ability to read, and exercise reading skills when read. Who knows, maybe every so often one might introduce a new word, from which the reader might learn some vocabulary. Video games have no such benefits. They certainly don't develop other computer skills, such as programming!

    Likewise with educational TV: it turns out not to be so educational, because it moves too fast for most people to comprehend or to retain much. It's also first and foremost a commercial, not an educational, medium. Neil Postman commented extensively on this in "Amusing Ourselves to Death." Many of his complaints are much more troubling for video games.

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  18. Y'know, Wylodmayer is right. If you read 18th century commentary on the novel some of it looks like this. There was even a diagnosis for it: bibliomania. Frequently coupled with excessive masturbation, withering of the body, pale and greasy complexion, and so on.

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  19. Paddington's got a good point about video games being "compelling to the compulsive types who will make the best engineers and scientists." There's not much distance between the single-minded focus on an online video game versus conducting research. I can speak from personal experience, during my student days I could go without sleep for 2-3 days due to gaming. I'm now a tenured prof due in part to being able to apply the same level of attention to research. Then again, if I hadn't gotten married and had kids my evening leisure time may very well still be spent glued to the computer - I definitely got twitchy when I read about the new release of Starcraft 2. I can't think of many of my fellow colleagues who aren't OCD about something to some degree, maybe that's why we got to where we are now in academia...

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  20. Froderick, reading is supreme of course and video games don't deliver that. Having played some of the newer first person shooter video games myself, I can say the one skill they promote is problem solving, albeit in the form of combat strategy. They do make you think. At their best, they encourage team work to accomplish a goal/mission/quest.

    That's not to say that there aren't better hobbies. Some games are a complete waste of time but certainly not all, and especially not the cutting edge games that students get wrapped up in.

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  21. "Video games don't foster literacy, or imagination. Even the trashiest novels require the ability to read, and exercise reading skills when read. Who knows, maybe every so often one might introduce a new word, from which the reader might learn some vocabulary. Video games have no such benefits. They certainly don't develop other computer skills, such as programming!"
    - Froderick Frankenstien from Fresno

    I have to disagree slightly concerning literacy and video games; a lot of the games have "cinematic" sections ("cut scenes") where the characters act to move the plot forward and they "speak" in text bubbles, comic strip-style. Or if the programming firm was Japanese, many tines they subtitle the US/European version instead of hiring multiple voice casts. Also during the game there may be written messages (they found out that spoken messages can be drowned out by the music or the sound effects) on the player's or enemies' status. The games are no longer the crude things Postman spoke of; now they are semi-cinematic "environments." Does this mean that they encourage people to go out and read? Not really; but then, does the pulp novel demand that the reader tackle "War and Peace" next?

    Postscript: Postman wasn't the only person to denounce TV; back in 1978 a former advertising executive named Jerry Mander (don't laugh) wrote a book titled "Four Arguements for the Elimination of Television" in which he laid out why the idiot box was intrinsically antidemocratic.

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  22. Frod, most scholars of communication think Amusing Ourselves to Death is just one big self-indulgent Luddite whine. Not that there aren't relevant points there, but most people who spend a lot of time on the subject do not give Postman much thought nowadays because many of his predictions about TV hadn't happened (ok, some of them are now, but I'd place that blame on the idiot producers, networks, and the "writers" they hire more than the medium of television itself). And, as Wylodmayer and Marcia Brady note, these worries have occurred every time a new medium has been invented and became popular. "It's rotting children's brains!" is an old, old lament. And has been disproved across time.

    You all are actually hitting on a big point though: Most contemporary video games lack anything resembling a compelling story. They have yet to advance to their "true" potential of actually engaging players in something resembling a virtual reconstruction of social engagement. Some games (esp. those online) do provide social interaction of a human sort, as players must communicate with one another in real-time to perform that "team work to accomplish a goal/mission/quest" (as BB notes above). The troublesome part is that it's still too rudimentary.

    But I don't think the poor quality is the real issue with gamer addiction; it's the fucking quantity of time spent! People (of all ages) find them engaging. And unlike those of us from different eras, children who play them tend to choose them to the exclusion of a variety of media sources. Variety is as necessary in entertainment choices as it is in education. That's why many of us believe all college students should have a "liberal" education with lots of reading, writing, math, and thinking (apologies for forgetting any other buzz words) in a variety of disciplines.

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  23. > And, as Wylodmayer and Marcia Brady note,
    > these worries have occurred every time
    > a new medium has been invented and
    > became popular. "It's rotting children's
    > brains!" is an old, old lament.

    Yes, I know. Sometimes, this complaint has been right. Remember yellow journalism?

    (The refrain, "The Ancient Greeks complained that the next generation was badly educated" cracks me up. The Ancient Greeks became extinct, remember?)


    > Postscript: Postman wasn't the only
    > person to denounce TV; back in 1978
    > a former advertising executive named
    > Jerry Mander (don't laugh) wrote a
    > book titled "Four Arguments for
    > the Elimination of Television" in
    > which he laid out why the idiot box
    > was intrinsically antidemocratic.

    Yes, I -know-. As Postman observed, "Americans will not voluntarily shut down any part of their technological apparatus, and to suggest that they do is to make no suggestion at all." Jerry Mander (and I rather doubt this was his real name) lost me when he ridiculed a TV news show that debunked the Lunar Effect, which he confidently pronounced, "Everyone knows is true." It's not.

    And yes, bibilomania has been with us at least since Don Quixote. All right, so he was a fictional character, but I once actually knew a bona fide biblomaniac: Olin Eggen. (His was a curious case, particularly with regard to the Neptune file.) I haven't known any other bibliomanaics that bad, but I do get 3-4 video game addicts in my physics class (of 60) per semester. It's easy to spot them: they play their games, which make noise, -during- class!

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  24. Hmmm...was there a popular critic of yellow journalism in its time? I cannot recall one... Most of what I recall was that the preponderance of journalism was often framed as a "good thing" (thanks, Martha!) by historians, with the viciousness of Hearst and Pulitzer likewise framed as necessary to help promote mass literacy, craft news-reporting as a public good, etc.

    It wasn't really until after YJ had run its course (and people became sickened by its excesses) that journalism started to become professionalized and taken seriously by its practitioners (note: we've been swinging the other way in the past decade or two). I really wish I had read more social history of media in that time period...

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  25. @ The_Myth

    A good book on one of the side elements of Yellow Journalism, war reportage, is "The First Casualty" by Philip Knightley....he critically looked at how that changed from the Crimean War until Vietnam. The chapter on the Civil War is a good guide on how that model later caught hold because Northern newspaper editors were unwilling to pay their correspondents more than the bare minimum and yet they wanted outstanding stories. So they wrote about any rumor no matter how outlandish, jiggered the facts, and hoped for the best. The Union fielded three hundred reporters during the war, but most of them burnt out after a year or two under the strain; meanwhile in the South one man wrote for thirty papers under a variety of pen names!

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  26. OK then, how about LSD? It may not be a communications medium, but neither are video games: and it its day, it was thought to revolutionize human perception. It drove a lot of people crazy: Syd Barrett was a well-documented case.

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  27. The video game is a mass medium. It is a specific means of storing and transferring information. Some scholars are still debating this definitional stance, but if a book is a mass medium then it seems clear to that so is a video game.

    Like the web-site is also a mass medium. (But "the internet" is not -- discuss!)

    Frod, if you want to discuss addictive substances and behavior in lieu of criticizing media forms, that's cool. But don't change the subject by claiming that video games are more like LSD than they are to books. False analogy.

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  28. @ Froderick Frankenstien

    Syd Barrett was possibly schizophrenic or manic depressive and David Gilmour has gone on record saying that Barrett's breakdown was "inevitable"; however LSD and other psychoactive drugs "might have been a catalyst" but really that success was too much of a strain. Moving away from the "Reefer Madness" territory I would say that I agree with The_Myth that video games are a form of mass media of an interactive type - however I do agree that they are addictive to compulsive personality types. But then so is ham radio contesting.

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