New media technologies are growing every day with each one soliciting considerable research and debate on its effects. A revolution is developing as a result of new media platforms. The paper shall examine how video games as a new type of technology are altering society.
Technology determinists believe that technology is a strong driving force in society and that it has the potential to change the cultural and social structures within society. This is largely because human beings often embrace technology and hence begin reorganizing their activities in response to new technology. In fact, one can argue that technology is the means by which human progress occurs because it alters people’s way of interacting with one another, how they reason and how they carry out their day-to-day tasks (Potts & Murphie, 2003). The latter school of thought also adheres to the notion that it can be possible to trace a path of technological development as this often follows a set pattern. Consequently, one cannot assume that these changes are limited to social and cultural forces present within the society that uses that technology. As such, it becomes clear that even the function that a type of technology possesses is usually determined by the structure of that technology and not the kind of culture that society prescribes to. In fact, the consequences emanating from such technologies are outside the control of a given society. However, it should be clear that technology is not immune to change. Even though it drives a society, it can also be developed by that society as is the case with the development of the printing press. This technology was developed in a manner that allowed for books to be bound through glue rather than sawing thus enabling mass production and enjoyment of the technology by a series of readers around the world.
Perhaps the most relevant theory on media technology with regard to video games is technological determinism because plenty of research has been done on how video games shape and drive society. When one combines all the empirical studies on the effects of video games, it has been shown that video games tend to: increase the level of aggression in society, increase the level of physiological arousal and decrease the level of pro-social behavior such as helping others. These findings have been supported by a series of laboratory experiments, field experiments and correlational studies. Usually, teens or children playing such games often engage in delinquency behavior such as fighting, rape or even assault (Anderson, 2006). Perhaps more alarming is the fact that these effects are not just present amongst a small proportion of video game players; research shows that adults, teenagers and young children alike are all affected by these games. It can therefore be said that society is forced to bear the brunt of more crimes owing to the continuous exposure of its members to video games. Researchers have also asserted that although other individuals may not be prompted to engage in violence, most of them have become increasingly desensitized to antisocial behavior such as rape, killings and the like (Bushman & Anderson, 2002). One disturbing impact of these video games has also been witnessed within the education sector where teenagers are recording lower grades and less interest in classroom activities owing to their interest in video games (Huage & Gentile, 2003). This is actually breeding a group of adults who do not prioritize issues or who get easily carried away by momentary pleasures (Bhuiyan, 2006). Other experts affirm that video games are perpetuating vices such as racism and gender insensitivity owing to the stereotypes depicted in some games. Individuals are thus becoming less and less sensitive to inequalities in society.
Technology as neutral
Technology has been considered by a series of individuals as being a mere tool for which human beings can use as a means to an end. In other words, if some kind of harm emanates from a type of technology, then the party at fault is either the designer of the technology or its user who did not utilize it for the right reasons. In the instrumental theory of technology as neutral, adherents claim that technology cannot be classified as either a bad thing or a good thing because it can gain application in a series of contexts as prescribed by the groups under control (Carey, 1992). Additionally, any society that chooses to embrace technology should always do so knowing that it will improve the efficiency of production at a price. This price often manifests itself in the form of religious, ethical or environmental obligations. Conversely, the substantive theory of technology as neutral holds that technology needs not to be regarded as something separate from life; it is but a mere machine but the status that one gain from using it or the advantages that one reaps from embracing it make it an influential part in society’s life.
Many individuals have considered video games as a pastime activity that is actually harmless. They claim that any effects (both positive and negative) that emanate from the game are actually a reflection of society rather than a fault of the video game as a media platform. As stated earlier in ‘the technology as neutral’ theory, every society must make a choice between the efficiency brought on by some form of media and the negatives that emanate from it. In this light, video games have brought with them both positive and negative attributes that are a natural consequence of their employment. For instance, some users assert that their level of tenacity has drastically improved after playing video games as one must fail several times before finally exhaling in a certain game. Others have claimed that their reactivity and response rates have also increased because of this technology. Also, other players claim that through video games, they have come to accept other foreign cultures especially because the games contain a series of them. Computer skills have also increased. The technology as a neutral school of thought would therefore hold that as much as there have been some negative effects of video games (violence, laziness, social isolation and obesity (Gentile & Saleem, 2007)), this is the price that must be paid for enjoying the benefits of such a form of technology.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the social constructivist school of thought which holds that it is a society that determines and shapes technology and not vice versa (Bijker & Pinch, 1987). In other words, one can never fully analyze or understand the way a certain piece of technology functions unless one first understands the social context of that society. Human beings are the ones with the ability to choose between various technologies and to set standards on which technologies will be most useful to them and which ones need to be abandoned. Social constructivists often argue that one ought to consider both sides of the argument when analyzing why a piece of technology went through the changes that it did (principle of symmetry). Also, these same adherents assert that their interpretive flexibility should be given to technology as various social groups value various attributes of the technology. Also, a type of technology can present varying problems to users. It can also undergo closure when its design flexibility has collapsed due to problem-solving or due to the development of a different problem (Klein & Kleinman, 2002).
This school of thought can gain wide application in understanding and analyzing the impact of video games in society. Video games represent a type of media that indicates an age of participation. To this end, people are not just seen as consumers of a certain piece of technology but as active participants in the development and creation of these technologies. Through social networking sites or through video game fun websites, it has now become possible for enthusiasts to interact with one another and discuss the pros and cons of a certain game. Manufacturers can no longer design their products with a mass and passive audience in mind. They have to think of what their consumers want in their innovations and they often access this information through the latter mentioned websites or other media platforms. To this end, it becomes clear that most video gamers actually take control of the content and the products they receive. In other words, the dividing line between technology designers and consumers is fast getting blurred in the video game industry. This is indicative of the fact that human beings have the potential to alter how technology is applied hence confirming assertions made by social constructivists.
Another aspect about video games that supports the social constructivist framework lies in their history. From time immemorial, human beings have often engaged in games and most of them were unique to the culture and time that the game was being played. In prehistoric times, games at that point were centered on the development of strengths and skills which are essential in the survival of man at that time. Fast forward to present times, humans now have different needs; sharpness and cognitive reflexivity are more useful than strength and agility (Watkins & Everret, 2008). Consequently, man has developed games that develop such skills as video games. It can therefore be said that man has shaped the development of technology to suit his needs as is the case with video games. On top of the latter, video games epitomize the human role in the design of technology because they contain rules, tokens, symbols and manipulations that are distinct to each game. This process of enforcing and developing such rules denotes an important principle in social constructivism i.e. the role of humans in setting standards and deciding how a certain type of technology will be used.
Social determinists would hold that technology has altered society’s morality by causing less sensitivity to violence and antisocial behavior and by promoting social isolation, laziness and disrespect. Conversely, social constructivists would assert that human beings set the rules in video games and their role is what determines the function of this technology. They would also argue that video games have been created to sharpen relevant skills to this present age. Lastly, technology as neutral adherents holds that much like any other tool, video games have improved certain skills at the expense of moral concerns like aggression.
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