Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Between The Anvil and The Hammer

There is controversy about Raph Koster's keynote suggesting that virtual worlds and games are irrelevant to a world that has it's Darfurs. Some see this as a trivialization of the game worlds; others, a Panglossian attempt to recruit game devs into social causes.

Yes, media can change people not because it changes the way they think but because it can change what they think about and the act of thinking can change the way they think. D'oh.

A series like The Prisoner can change what we think about and did. It is great art and remains relevant or is possibly more relevant. If one sees games in this view, then games that give more to think about are positive.

Virtual worlds are different. They don't tend to have the same 'god like' Number 2 running the show and defeating every attempt to escape, though it is to be noted that through iron-will and persistence, Number 2 did break the will of his captors.

But these are still just works of art. Reality changes in much more complex and difficult to control ways. Did the Prisoner cause the kids to go to the streets in 1968 to stop the war? Some, likely yes. Did they stop the war? No. That happened when the cost began to bankrupt the economy, there was no political advantage, and it was clear no win possible except for the locals. Like Number Six, iron will and discipline broke absolute power.

So is there some lesson virtual worlds and games should teach with respect to Darfur? Maybe. If you want to create worlds that teach lessons, they can certainly do that.

Or perhaps Darfur will be another example to the West like Vietnam that absolute power simply will not change hearts and minds. It can aid them when they are ready to change but otherwise, human suffering like human evolution is controlled by humans who ARE the emergent controls.

I see the campaigns of the left and well-intentioned as hollow when it comes to acts. It takes incredible experience and planning to create real change. It is not enough to say, "We Can"; we have to say "We Can Do THIS" and this must be doable. Otherwise, as Orwell is quoted, the anvil breaks the hammer, and the follow on is that whatever was between the anvil and the hammer at that point is left undone.

Frustratingly sad but so. I am in sympathy with Raph because we can lose consciousness of what is to be done and what is doable by retreating into fantasy worlds. I agree with Prokofy Neva we can lose it just as easily while shopping for groceries. I disagree that art of any kind is the means, just a reflector. In this is the heart of the problem of our media society: leaders should not be simply reflectors. Hope is a condition, not a goal. Actions without a goal are as dangerous as words without a cause.

If you want to make a change, put $25 into an organization feeding the refugees. This will not solve the problem. It will keep someone alive long enough to make a plan and maybe act on that. Little acts can lead to great victories if they follow the human instead of directing them.

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