Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The first-person shooter revisited

I was looking the other day at an old article by science writer Sandra Blakeslee. It came out in 2003, during her earlier stint at the NYT. The title says it all: “Video-Game Killing Builds Visual Skills, Researchers Report.” 

The blurb at the NYT web site complements this heading nicely: “Researchers report that first-person-shooter video games – those that require players to kill or maim enemies or monsters that pop out of nowhere – sharply improve visual attention skills; find experienced players of these games are 30 percent to 50 percent better than nonplayers at taking in everything that happens around them; find they identify objects in their peripheral vision, perceive numerous objects without having to count them, switch attention rapidly and track many items at once.”

As I was reading, I kept returning to the thought I once had that Anders Breivik’s submersion in virtual reality helped turn him into a mass killer. Maybe that was an overreaction on my part. But he did practice for his deadly mission by playing the first-person-shooter games used in that study. So it provids empirical evidence that obsessive gaming did make Breivik a superior killer; and helped him gun down a higher number of Norwegian kids than he would otherwise have done. This sort of training must also have given him confidence that he was up to the task he had set for himself.

But, as the NRA and most technological enthusiasts would readily point out, a gun, a game console, a computer, or a smart phone is just a tool; and it all depends on how individuals use them. Which means all the Heideggerian nonsense about technology somehow “enframing” and imposing its own logic upon us is just that (and Hedegger, by the way, was a Nazi).

Come to think if it, too bad Breivik did not use those challenging video games to practice the skills he would need to become, say, a better brain surgeon - or drone “pilot.”