When I talked to Eliot Mizrachi, the director of communications at the Entertainment Software Rating Board, about the ESRB’s new ratings system earlier this year, one of the things that confounded me most about the system was the presumption that the more control a player has in a game, the higher the rating ought to be. But some new research is a reminder that, especially as socially responsible — or at least socially-themed games — continue to enter the market, intensity can be about inculcating values and skills as much as it can be about the jolt people get out of shooting marks or beating up hookers. GamePolitics notes this in a piece about video games as useful training ground for crisis management:
“With popular film, you are mentally engaged in understanding the story and keeping in mind different scenes to understand the big picture,” she said. “Even more so with video games, because you have an active role in designing the story, to a certain extent.”
But in studying plot, narrative and metaphor, Furtner found that not all films and video games work well in training. Those with a strong narrative and deep storyline tend to be better than traditional training methods. Furtner says that she plans a new study that she will modify to influence player behaviors. In the long run she hopes that her work will help lead to more integrated ways for agencies, companies and organizations to implement useful crisis management training.
“I want to help people to be able to say, ‘I’m not going to react, I’m going to respond,’” Furtner said. “I think it’s important to make a shift in the way we are teaching our employees so that they are able to remember this a week, a month, a year from now.”
I don’t really see a world of games where players, say, work in a combat hospital and have to make life-and-death choices about how to save their patients are going to eclipse first-person shooters. So I can kind of understand why the ESRB defaults the way it does. But intensity works in a lot of directions and to a lot of different ends. It’s worth keeping that in mind.