“Six or seven years ago people didn’t use search engines. Just three or four years ago, people didn’t use blogs or podcasts. The world is changing very dramatically very quickly, but videogames might give us a hint of what’s to come” (Kurzweil, 2008).
Last week I saw the documentary Transcendant Man about the ideas of future theorist Ray Kurzweil. While he’s easy to dismiss as a bit of a nut, his ideas are definitely provocative. His principle theory is that computer technology is going to advance to a point where every aspect of human life will be profoundly affected by computers. A lot of his theories discuss artificial intelligence and virtual realities – and the impact they will have on human life. Instead of carrying around smart phones, he believes we will have nanocomputers inside us which will connect us to information, much like the internet does, and which will be able to modify our bodies and our experiences. I’m probably not doing a very good job describing his ideas. But I can see how these ideas relate to gaming technology… Undoubtedly the competition to create more and more realistic virtual game worlds is helping to push forward the development of computer technology.
Kurzweil’s ideas have been fresh in my mind while I’ve been looking at the week’s lesson. I have to say that I am pretty shocked by the realism of some of the virtual worlds in video games today – the violent ones anyway. And it worries me to imagine the effects of playing these violent games for long periods of time. I know that some people talk about the benefits of gaming – hand/eye coordination? – but I have to say I have doubts about the value of gaming. Video games do seem to be preparing people to accept increasingly artificial environments, but I wonder – are they actually good for us?
A friend of mine recently told me about a book called Last Child in the Woods. In the book, author Richard Louv links the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression to the lack of exposure to nature in today’s wired lifestyle. His ideas are based on a growing body of research indicating that exposure to natural environments is essential for healthy childhood development, and emotional and physical well-being in both adults and children. While I haven’t actually read the book yet, what I do know about Louv’s ideas rings true to me. In my own experience, I can say that I feel much more relaxed and healthy after going for a walk in the woods than I do after sitting in front of a monitor for a few hours.
So I’m thinking that maybe libraries should do something to support healthy childhood development. It’s quite likely that public libraries are going to lend games and develop online gaming programs – we all know how popular video games are. But recognizing that children are already spending too much sedentary time inside in front of screens, I think we should encourage them to get outside. If libraries provide video games, perhaps they should also develop some outdoor projects or programs – maybe a community garden or a summer outdoor reading space. Wouldn’t that be great?
Anyway, this week I tried an online game. I would have tried Second Life, but my computer is on its last legs so it wasn’t really an option… Instead, I went with a new Facebook game, America 2049. The game was created by Breakthrough, a human rights organization – it is supposed to raise awareness about human rights issues and social change using popular culture and social media. I was surprised at the sophistication of the game (it’s probably not sophisticated at all, but I don’t play video games so I’m not a good judge). The game is set in the future (2049!), and my character was a spy who was supposed to track down a Ugandan terrorist. I really wasn’t sure what to do; I gathered a few clues and actually broke a (very easy) code, and then I ran out of fuel. While I was waiting for my character to refuel, I checked out the Agent Exchange, where players can communicate with each other. Honestly, I just played because we were asked to try out a game for class; I couldn’t wait to be done. The game seemed to require a significant time commitment, and I just wasn’t up for it. Perhaps the game really will be a “transformative” educational experience for some; I have to say that it was not for me.