Values in Video Games: Consumerism
There’s always a lot of discussion about violence in video games, but not as much about other values. Lately I’ve been playing Diablo III. The primary activity in the game is killing monsters, but the predominant value expressed and enacted in the game isn’t really violence–it’s consumerism. In D3, you wear several pieces of armor and use a weapon. And your gear is everything. Having trouble with a tough boss monster? Go shopping! You can buy and sell gear in both pretend money (“gold pieces”) or real money (US dollars) auction houses. A better weapon or magic helmet can take something impossible and make it trivial. Your capabilities are your possessions. You are what you own. Shopping solves all problems. It’s the ultimate interactive enactment of consumerism.
I still think a lot about the impact of video games on behavior. Some of the same folks who say “violent games don’t make kids violent!” turn around and say “Look at these educational games we’ve made! Look at how much kids will learn from them!” They can’t have it both ways–as my friend Liz Losh often points out, either video games are mimetic or they’re not. So are they? I find the issue of consumerism in Diablo III an interesting alternative view of the issue. Am I more consumerist because of playing this game? I think I’m a grown up and not that easily swayed. But is being surrounded by consumerism in a wide variety of media, over all, influence the choices I make? Yes, of course it does. It influences who we are as a culture and what kinds of decisions make sense within our cultural logic.
I do not believe that sane people are made any more likely to commit horrible acts after playing violent video games or watching violent movies. The situation for insane people is perhaps more complicated–we don’t yet know to what extent the Batman franchise had anything to do with the Aurora, Colorado massacre. But does being surrounded by violence change us and our culture? What about consumerism? Clifford Geertz wrote that the Balinese cockfight is a story that natives of Bali tell themselves about themselves. What we find compelling is both a reflection of who we are and an act that creates who we are–as individuals and as a culture.