Oct. 18, 2001
Vol. 21 No. 3

current issue
archive / search

    Video games’ value, violence will be debated

    By Seth Sanders
    News Office

    An upcoming conference sponsored by the University’s Cultural Policy Center will address the complex issues raised by video games and their impact on children and culture. Following the Littleton, Colo., shootings and myriad other outbreaks of youth violence, the public debate on this issue has become passionate.

    On Friday, Oct. 26 and Saturday, Oct. 27, a wide range of significant voices in the debate, from psychologists and activists to artists and game designers, will come together for two days of intensive discussion.

    The conference, “Playing by the Rules: Video Games and Cultural Policy,” will air detailed evidence and arguments about video games’ potential and problems, while expanding the perspective on their meaning and their influence. The program will feature such cultural studies experts as Henry Jenkins, director of the comparative media studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Jenkins will explore the way video games pose imaginative possibilities as well as dangers.

    The opposing sides of the issue of video game violence will be illuminated when Craig Anderson, professor and chairman of psychology at Iowa State University, shares a panel with Jonathan Freedman of the department of psychology at the University of Toronto. Anderson is the co-author of a study directly linking violent video game play with violent behavior, while Freedman produced a survey showing that most English-language studies do not demonstrate a link between violent media and violent behavior.

    Additionally, artists will discuss the creative possibilities of video games. Among the speakers will be video game designer Noah Falstein, formerly of DreamWorks and currently of The Inspiracy, and Feng Mengbo, a young artist from Beijing whose work uses the styles and structures of contemporary electronic games. Mengbo’s work will be featured in an upcoming exhibition on campus at The Renaissance Society.

    Public roundtables on Day 1 and closed-door working panels on Day 2 will explore the use of interactive play in education, the ways that video gaming affects families and communities, the future of video games as an art form and the regulatory issues raised by vio-lent games. Conference organizers hope to move the debate forward in all of these areas by creating a forum where critics and game designers, psychologists and public policy experts can air the issues and evidence.

    Public roundtables will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 26, in the first-floor theatre of the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave. Attendance is free, but pre-registration is required because of seating limitations.

    Video on Video, a documentary about video game culture in Chicago, will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, in a public screening at the University’s Biological Sciences Learning Center, 924 E. 57th St.

    Registration may be completed online at http://culturalpolicy .uchicago.edu/conf2001 or by contacting the Cultural Policy Center at (773) 702-4407 or culturalpolicy@listhost.uchicago.edu

    The following public panels will be offered Friday, Oct. 26, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave.:

    • 9:30 to 11 a.m. –– “Video Games and Civil Society,” moderated by Robert Pippin, the Raymond W. and Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the College. Panelists will discuss the impact of video games on society. Do these games promote healthy competitiveness and make new communities possible or are they isolating and damaging to individuals and groups?
    • 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. –– “The Pedagogical Possibilities of Interactive Games,” moderated by Colm O’Muircheartaigh, Vice President of Statistics and Methodology at NORC and Professor in the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, will investigate the modes of thinking and learning that game playing encourages and discourages: Do these games teach skills that can be used in other areas of life?
    • 2 to 4 p.m. –– “Video Game Violence: Research Findings, Policy Options and Constitutional Questions” will introduce evidence on the psychological effects of violent video games, and game makers, activists and legal experts will debate what can and should be done.

    The following panels, open to experts only, will be on Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Biological Sciences Learning Center, 924 E. 57th St.:

    • “Convergences of Creativity and Commerce,” chaired by Thomas Gunning, Professor in Art History and the College, will ask what role video games and the video game industry play in culture and whether this role can and should be subject to some sort of control.
    • “The Violence Debate I: What Does the Evidence Show?,” chaired by John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology, will present the best research on the relation between violent games and violent behavior.
    • “The Violence Debate II: The FTC Report and the First Amendment,” chaired by J. Mark Schuster, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a visiting scholar with the University’s Cultural Policy Center, will explore the question of whether video games are protected by the First Amendment, and more broadly, what history tells us about efforts to regulate popular culture.
    • “Gamers and Gender,” chaired by Lawrence Rothfield, Associate Professor in English Language & Literature and the College and Faculty Director of the Cultural Policy Center, will ask how we can best understand the way computer games affect the gender attitudes and identities of those who play them and what steps could be taken to make video games more open to a variety of subjective experiences.
    • “Playing With Your Brain,” chaired by Howard Margolis, Professor in the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies and the College, will show what the latest research in childhood development, intelligence and learning styles tells us about the effects of video game play on children’s minds.
    • “The Future of Video Games as an Art,” chaired by Kimerly Rorschach, the Dana Feitler Director of the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, will explore the effects of profit-making on the rapidly evolving forms of creativity in video game design and whether the possibility of independent or not-for-profit video game design offers an alternative as in the manner of independent film.

    The final session on Saturday will be a public screening of Video on Video: Documentaries of Video Game Culture, beginning at 7 p.m., in the Biological Sciences Learning Center, 924 E. 57th St. The film, created by Cinema & Media Studies graduate students Kaveh Askari and Michelle Puetz, is a documentary about video game culture in Chicago.

    The filmmakers and some of the video game players featured in the film will take questions following the screening.