Guest Blog: Press Play to Grow! Designing Video Games as “Trojan Horses” to Catalyze Human Development through the Conveyor Belt of Growth (by Moses Silbiger)
July 11, 2008 15:52

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Press Play to Grow!
Designing Video Games as “Trojan Horses” to Catalyze Human Development through the Conveyor Belt of Growth
by Moses Silbiger

click here to download full document.
click here to download accompanying poster image.

Learning is at its best when it is goal-oriented, contextual, interesting, challenging, and interactive. These same winning characteristics also define the best computer games … Learning can and should be hard fun!
- Clark N. Quinn, E-learning & video game designer, and author.

We are already the most overinformed, underreflective people in the history of civilization. Is it possible the twenty-first century needs a new kind of learning and a new kind of leader to help us …? Perhaps [we can] begin building not simply an information highway but a transformation highway.
- Robert Kegan, developmental psychologist, professor, and author, Harvard University.


As odd or paradoxical as it may seem, I envision video games being increasingly designed to facilitate human development, as virtual reality technologies continue to evolve and integrate with leading edge developmental practices.

Most of us have played a video game at least once in our lives, or at least watched somebody else play, often a close one. Can you remember what you felt when you played a video game for the first time, or watched another player deeply engaged in one? I invite you now to engage in a brief Phenomenological exploration. Try to access how you were feeling, what were your emotions about it? … Who were you at that moment? Can you identify what “self” was playing, or observing somebody else deeply immersed in the game? What were your thoughts about it? Was there something “magical” or “different” about that? Just pause a little moment and close your eyes to really access and embody that memory…

So, how was your experience? I could access my memory quite clearly, as if it was happening right at this moment… It is 1981, and I am playing Pong for the first time… “I am feeling a deep sense of excitement, curiosity and awe. I am kind of dazzled, can’t almost contain myself in my skin. My whole being is bubbling as I engage in this dynamic, alive but basic “virtual reality” unfolding in front of my eyes and TV. My fingers are frantically rolling the control, in utmost focus and attention. Moving the bar up and down, the epitome of virtual action! Ping… pong…ping…pong… Yes! A little bit there… Damn!!! I almost got it!” As I reflect through my experience now, I can see myself going through some kind of altered state of flow, close to a brief “pre-trans” mystical experience. The 11-year old boy is amazed. He stares at the screen. Thoughts arise in his awareness: “Wow… what a cool experience! This is really fun! How strange… How “they” can make that? How they can do something like that in my TV? Hey, it is my turn now, I want to play more!”

Video games as a Storytelling Media of the 21st Century

Now being a 38 year-“young” man researching video games at the dawn of the 21st century, I still feel quite amazed and dazzled with what is now being called “a new generation of interactive entertainment”. Recent technological and artistic developments have made some of these games to be so realistic, meaningful and potentially engaging that the line between “virtual” and “real” reality are really starting to fade away... Transported through time from Pong to now, I see myself enthusiastically engaging in a 40 hour (15 days) “action-research” marathon playing Bioshock, a video game set in a beautiful but “fallen” utopia futuristic city called Rapture, located at the bottom of the ocean. The creative storyline is based on Ayn Rand’s constructivist insights from the book The Fountainhead (1943), which unfolds in an exquisite aesthetics of a post civil war art deco decayed environment, providing the adequate atmosphere that invites me to subtly experience with full engagement a series of existential insights.

Suddenly, the quest for the victory is also the quest for my own path and identity as a player. Am I really in control of my choices in the game? Groundbreaking surprises await me throughout the path as I start knowing more about myself, my past history, and why I am really there. Boundaries between my player self and “real self” sometimes seem to disappear… Chosen by many standards as the “game of the year in 2007”, Bioshock is part of an emergent generation of “First Person” role playing video games (RPG) that bring an exquisite mix of high level of aesthetics, technological power, and a fairly amount of subjective depth (if you have the right “eyes” to see it), including “grey” moral choices that go beyond the “black and white” of good and evil. However, as expected from a contemporary best selling action and role-play game (RPG) title such as Bioshock, many aspects of the current paradigm of video game design are still at play, including violence, shootings, weapons, and blood, lots and lots of blood…

But, would that really spoil the other deeper and more positive aspects of the experience? Would that be really only a video game problem, independent of the reactions and interpretations of the player? Are video games, especially from the First Person RPG genre, “doomed” to be a just a mirror of our contemporary mainstream culture, society and entertainment? Well… yes and no, if seen from the lens of the Integral Psychology created by the contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber (2000), which can take into a more balanced account both the “dignity and disasters” of the evolution of video games and virtual reality technologies in a broader and deeper context; a perspective that accounts for many developmental variables and aspects of AQAL.

But before I continue, it is important to note that due to issues of space and scope, I did not investigate in depth the potentially harmful and negative aspects of video games, since my primary concern was to focus on the main topic of exploring their healthy, positive and proactive potentials for catalyzing human development. However, as a side note, I suggest that further developmental research about the combination of a low Self-Center of Gravity (Wilber, 2007, 2000) with critical levels of disintegration, unbalances, shadows, and/or repressions in the five main aspects of a player’s AQAL constellation, could add significant data to complement most of the existing academic research on video games - which is mostly concerned with the negative influences of video games as related to cognitive-behavioral and other objective and empirical factors (e.g.: games’ intrinsic mechanics, dynamics, genres, themes and contents).

In general, many people think that some video games nowadays can bring more negative than positive influences to players, or at best a neutral contribution. Actually, you (or somebody close to you) may be even one of them. Also, people from all ages today are fairly used to the idea of most video games as being “kids” or “adolescent” things, or being mostly superficial entertainment. But even if there is some true to that, this has not been always the case in the short but exponentially intense “30-yearish” history of video games…  As I came to realize, the potentials for video games to promote positive and proactive influences can be especially significant at this moment in time and in the future yet to come, with a myriad of educational and developmental possibilities already being explored (see page 16), and many more still waiting to be “discovered” and “downloaded” into concrete video game manifestations.

In the next section II, I will provide a general presentation of my academic research on video games and human development, exploring their connections and potentials through various methodologies and zones by using a Quadrivia analysis. In the last section III, I will continue this exploration focusing on specific educational categories and proposing the application of various integral frameworks to facilitate human development through skilful and timely developmental education and practices. It is from here that I want to invite you to walk with me through a brief journey into the new world of 21st century video games, so we can start co-envisioning and co-creating together the emergent world of integral developmental video games!

click here to download full document.
click here to download accompanying poster image.


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