So there I was browsing online dating profiles, as you do. Whilst looking I happened across a statement that computer games were “Childish”. That started me thinking.
Well, writing as someone who’s frequented virtual worlds of various guises before and is engaged exploring the Kerbin Solar System, I definitely disagree. What I would say is that some games have low quality and others high quality. Now, when I speak of quality I mean this vaguely in the sort of sense that Robert M. Pirsig meant. That ungraspable something, not the graphics or the sounds, something else. Some games have it, others most definitely do not. I (perhaps, controversially) group most, if not all, of the so-called “triple A” titles into the “have not” category.
The games I have in mind as “haves” are Minecraft, Second Life and Kerbal Space Program (KSP, hereafter). Why these? In each case there is a freedom that you don’t get with a scripted level design, and with each a chance at creativity. KSP is more creative when it come to crashes, I admit, though rocket design can be a slightly insane artform. The other part of the reason it’s listed here is the amount of awe and wonder. I’ve launched and flown a space capsule to orbit then sat and watched the sun rise from an orbital spacecraft, it’s a great moment and makes one wonder how much wonderful the real view must be. There’s a sense of adventure and wonder, which is also helped by the sense of achievement at actually getting the rocket to fly! It teaches you about orbit, aerodynamics and a number of other things and really does make you stand in admiration of the real world space programs and their achievements. I didn’t know the difference between Apoapsis and Periapsis till I started playing this game! I will leave a small trailer below, which I think captures the spirit of the game very well.
I’ve mentioned Minecraft before, and it will probably need no introduction. It’s a phenomenon which makes creativity very easy indeed and offers a huge amount of freedom to explore. Both KSP and Minecraft are modifiable, so the variety and potential can be increased in both games. Whilst KSP teaches physics, aerodynamics and other things. Minecraft can teach you to plan projects and organise your resources. It can teach teamwork, when working on joint projects on a server; I’ve used to to try to answer ethical questions I’ve had regarding the use of force. It has also been used to teach conservation and a number of other things; there’s a great deal of quality in such a simple seeming game.
Finally, Second Life and I must put on my flameproof suit for describing this as a “game”. For sheer creative scope, Second Life blows both of the previously mention titles out of the water. It has the motto “Your World, Your Imagination” and it lives up to it. This virtual world contains composers, musical performers, artists, authors and much more. I’ve seen meditation centres, lectures, memorials, art galleries and much more (including a great deal of adult content). Indeed, the building of entire landscapes has been raised to the level of an art form! I should also add that Second Life contains a full programming language with APIs for external access, the possibilities are huge. I’ll provide a link to a blog which gives a great overview of the kind of artistic beauty which can be found in this world.
Where am I going with all of this? I feel that computer gaming, done right, has a great deal to offer and not just to children and young adults. I also firmly believe that we’re seeing the ongoing development of an artistic medium that is unparalleled elsewhere; a medium for experimentation, learning and the sharing of experiences. To dismiss all of these possibilities as “childish” is, I firmly believe, to show a huge amount of ignorance and to deny ourselves a huge opportunity.
Wow, another long break. But it’s better to post when you have something to say, rather than just post for the sake of it. A week or so ago, a friend of mine got into a discussion in Secondlife. The other person in the discussion was not having any of her point of view at all. This person was someone she knew, a definite intellectual and geek.
That started the problem, as she rapidly ran into a refusal to accept that any other viewpoint but his might be valid. What could have been a discussion turned into an intellectual exercise in proving that only his viewpoint was right. Now, with geeks these arguments happen and you need only review comment threads on geek news sites to see them. But what I think these exercises in intellectual point scoring miss, is that there is usually greater quality in being open to other view points. I honestly believe that there is far greater quality in accepting that you could be wrong and learning from that experience.
There’s a lot to be said from the notion that we learn more from failure than we do from success. This needs us to have the humility to accept that we’re wrong, then try to learn, even if it hurts. If we have the mentality of always being right, when such an opportunity for growth comes, we’re not able to take it. I have to say that I find that quite tragic, that an obsession with being right can actually cost us the chance to learn and grow.
I’d like to draw on my own experience here to try and give an example of what I mean. When creating in Secondlife, if something you’re making doesn’t turn out right, don’t berate yourself for making a mistake, keep hold of it. Many’s the time that I’ve made a piece of work that I was sure was a mistake. Then, one day, it turned out that the “mistake” was almost what I was looking for in another project, it just needed a little work. The lesson I drew from this is don’t be afraid to make your mistakes, you never know when the things you learn or create from being wrong will turn out to be just what you needed.
It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err. – Mahatma Gandhi.
If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance. – Marcus Aurelius.
I posted last week about nonviolence in Minecraft. Specifically, I talked about why I find it useful to use Minecraft to explore nonviolence and explained what I mean by nonviolence. This week, I’d like to examine of the more problematic aspects of this, passive mobs. A mob is a mobile entity in Minecraft and they can be either passive or actively hostile. Examples of passive mobs are Cows, Chickens, Sheep and Pigs. Examples of hostile mobs are Zombies, Skeletons and Creepers.
So, why do these passive creatures provide such a problem? The issue is twofold. Firstly, the player has a hunger bar which is depleted by activity. The second part is that certain resources are gained by killing passive mobs. So, what do we do about diet? Well, it’s perfectly possible to be a Vegetarian in Minecraft, I’ve been doing it just fine. The Minecraft Wiki has a number of foods that don’t need an animal to die. Unfortunately in the early stages of the game, you may be forced into killing by a simple lack of available vegetarian food. You can speed things up early on by planting and coppicing Oak trees and waiting for Apple drops and using the banks of waterways to plant Wheat. When planting Wheat, place some torches near to it to keep the light level up on the squares at night. This will keep it growing at night. Advantages later in the game are that you can very easily produce large amounts of food by arable farming. Also Sugar Cane, Pumpkin and Melon have their uses elsewhere so an arable farm is a worthwhile investment. Cactii are also worth your time as they can provide another layer of defence and also green dye when cooked in an oven.
This does bring us to the more difficult problem of the other resources these creatures provide. For example, arrows can only be made with a feather. You get a feather by killing a chicken. Books and leather armour need leather, this is obtained from cows. This is quite a bit more serious as anything that uses books will require premeditated killing. But, there are workarounds. Arrows, leather armour and books can be obtained by trading with villagers and other players.
This begins to allow us to form a more concrete position with regards to nonviolence. The first is that all other avenues should be explored before resorting to killing passive mobs. The second is that a longer term view may be beneficial with regards to getting these resources via trade and that it may be the case that tactics would have to be changed if things like leather armour and arrows were unavailable.
What does this allow us to bring out of Minecraft to the real world? At this point I think we can say that “instant gratification” can lead to ethical issues fairly quickly. It also looks as if it can be simpler to follow ethical and nonviolent positions if you can be flexible on how you do things and take the longer term view.