Video Game Nation: How Video Games Will Affect Our Lives

Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman is a new half-hour weekly series on ideas and their consequences.
The video game business has grown into a 50 billion dollar industry world-wide. Video games are now being used to teach soldiers how to fight, surgeons how to operate, and children how to read. Colleges and universities have responded to the demand by offering classes, and even graduate-level degrees in video game development. Dr. Peter Raad founded a master's degree program for video games at Southern Methodist University. He and Jim discuss the positive and negative effects the spread of video games will have in our lives.

Transcript

JIM GLASSMAN:

Welcome to Ideas in Action, a television series about ideas and their consequences, I'm Jim Glassman.  This week, video game design.  It's not all fun and games anymore.  If you thought video games were for kids, consider this:  It's a $22-billion industry that's moved from being a pastime into primetime.  


Video games are being used to train soldiers how to fight, surgeons how to perform operations, and kids how to read.  Joining me to explore this topic is Professor Peter Raad, director of the Linda and Mitch Hart E. Center at Southern Methodist University.  The topic this week:  How video games may change the way we live, work, and learn.  This is Ideas in Action

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JIM GLASSMAN:

The video game industry has grown like wildfire.  From its early incarnation over 40 years ago to today's increasingly sophisticated realistic and often violent games.  As the technology progresses, some observers are cautioning that we should consider how this blurring between the virtual and the real could affect the way we live and learn.  Schools of higher learning are now offering advanced degrees in video game design.  Southern Methodist University has one of the largest in the country.  Since 2005, 350 students have received master's degrees, and now work in over 100 game design studios around the world.  No wonder the industry is hot.  But what are the consequences of accepting video games into almost all aspects of our lives?  


Peter Raad, let's begin by just kind of laying out the scope of the video game industry.  It has just boomed over the last ten or 15 years.  How big is it?  

PETER RAAD:

Worldwide, it's over $50 billion.  As a matter of fact, today, the revenues from the video game industry exceed the combined revenues of music and other forms of video.  So video games are exploding and are truly now the preferred form or entertainment of people from the young ages to older ages.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

What-- what about compared to movies? 

PETER RAAD:

It's bigger than movies.  It's-- the video game industry in terms of-- of box office revenues-- the revenues from video games are actually exceeding, and have been since-- about 2000, 2001.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

And-- and how many people play video games? 

PETER RAAD:

Some research came out of-- of the Pew Foundation, and they found out that over 96, 98 percent of-- young people-- play video games.  But what is really-- people do not know is that women constitute a much larger proportion than boys who are under 17 who actually play video games.  So now you have video games as a result of, for example, the introduction of the Wii in retirement homes, even older generations are playing video games.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

All right, now-- you-- you're saying women over 18 or-- older women versus younger men? 

PETER RAAD:

Sure.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

That-- that-- that's really not exactly what people think about when they talk-- when they hear about video games.  Now, the other thing is that-- that video games are very expensive to produce.  I mean, more than a movie, right?  

PETER RAAD:

They are very expensive.  Some can be as expensive as some movies.  Of course some movies today are upward of-- of $100 million to produce, but you can easily spend on average, I would say-- between-- three to five years making a game that will cost-- over $20 million to make, and that's just-- day-in and day-out.  You-- you would-- you would have 50, 100, 200 people involved at any point in time making that video game.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

And games have also become the most popular app on the-- on the iPhone and other-- on other phones and what-- what does that mean for the future?  Is-- is that the way people are going to be playing video games?  

PETER RAAD:

As a matter of fact, the social games are now quite interesting.  There are games now that people play on Facebook-- and these are not games that-- that you would play for hours on end, but you play them a few minutes here, a few minutes there.  Other folks are finding that playing a video game on their phone in the evening while they're waiting for something or standing in line at the grocery store is a-- is a way to pass time.  


And to make it even more interesting, now that we've got interact-- interactivity and network interactivity everywhere, you can now play games with other folks.  For example, one of the local companies here started Words with Friends.  So instead of playing words, a game by yourself, now you're playing with everybody else, which brings the community aspect into video games, and that's a very strong aspect.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

So I didn't realize that was a Dallas company. 

PETER RAAD:

Yes.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

That-- that has become a hugely popular game.  

PETER RAAD:

It is.  It's a very popular game.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

And what you were saying, I think, about-- about-- video games as a pastime, I find myself at-- at the gym, for example, playing Scrabble-- 

PETER RAAD:

Right.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

--Because it really does, you know, the minutes tick off very quickly when that happens.  

PETER RAAD:

Exactly.  And it's challenging to the brain.  I think we're finding that there is a difference between reading a book-- watching television, watching a movie, and playing video games.  All of those are very important activities, human activities.  But what's really interesting about video games in juxtaposition to watching, let's say, a-- a TV series or even a movie, your involvement is as an actor.  You're-- you're not a passive-- viewer anymore, you're actually participating in the design of-- of the-- the people that made the video game.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

How are video games driving technology in other sectors of the economy?  

PETER RAAD:

It's a very-- important question for us.  I-- you know, one of the things that, you know, I-- I personally think we shouldn't be called-- homo sapiens, we're not that wise.  We should be called homo technologicus, those who use technology.  Technology has-- has a way of actually changing us profoundly.  As we make technology, we leave a piece of ourselves in it, and then in return, we become very different people than we were before technology that we've invented.  One of the things that video games have done for us, for young people that we see, for example, is that young people are much more adept at managing resources now because in a video game world, you really have to manage your resources as you're going on a campaign, if you will.  


That's very, very different than-- than the normal young person who basically gets things in chunks.  I do this, then I do this, I learn this, and then I-- I learn this.  The other thing that's fascinating to me is this-- there's no fear of failing in video games.  Matter of fact, as a matter of fact, video games teach you that you can learn through failure as long as you know that you're going to win at the end.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

And that same kind of process can be translated into, for example, simulations for-- for pilots or for-- for people in other walks of life.  

PETER RAAD:

And we've had that.  You know, we've had the War College, we've had-- war games, we've had simulations for pilots, commercial pilots.  You learn how to land a plane on water without engines by practicing it many, many, many times in the-- safe confines of a simulation, of a video game in some sense.  


A video game, if you really want to take it down to its basic level, is an environment that makes it easy for you to make decisions that have consequences, but you do so in a safe and controllable environment so that if you do fail, it's not the end of the world, you can go back and do better the next time.  


Even at SMU at the Guild Hall, we've worked with the Simmons School of Education at SMU to teach-- teachers how to recognize-- young children between kindergarten and third grade that cannot read and what sort of behavior-- goes along with that and how they can work actually with children to-- to remediate or to get them basically to start reading before the age of three, which is a critical age for children to be reading by that age.  So you can use video games for the better.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

And at the Bush Institute, we have a program to help improve the quality of school principals.  And one of the things that we're thinking about is using simulations to train principals.  

PETER RAAD:

Absolutely.  Anything.  I think our future, if you-- if you think-- if I think about what is our future, what is the 21st century and how it's different and what is the impact of video games on education, I think it is the ability to exercise decisions in a simulation-- in-- in a simulated world, in a virtual world and see what the effects are, understand the connections between the cause and the effect, and learn how to do things better in a visceral way, not reading about it, but actually living through it and actually seeing with our own two eyes and eventually sensing with our other senses what the implications are, both intended and-- unintended consequences.  I think video games are the 21st century's form of human expression.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

But how-- how about the transition from the-- the virtual world to the real world?  I mean, it-- does-- is that a kind of a-- a-- a smooth elision, or do people have a hard time making that translation? 

PETER RAAD:

Human beings actually-- have the ability to suspend disbelief.  Any one of us who's lost-- six, eight hours reading a book-- any one of us who shed tears-- in a movie-- we believe that we were there.  We em-- we empathize-- with-- with-- with the action that is taking place.  That is a normal function of human beings.  


At the same time, even young people know that when Coyote falls off the cliff and-- and falls to the bottom and comes back, that that's not real.  We have the ability to live both in the real world and in the imagined world.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

But some-- some people say, psychologists for example, that-- that too many young people especially kind of get caught up in these virtual worlds.  And we, you know, we hear stories about what can happen.  Is that something that you see, or is that sort of an aberration?  

PETER RAAD:

Actually, I look at that as-- as a positive.  I look at that as a-- an opportunity.  If we can have a child forget themselves-- in a video game for six to eight hours, I want to know what that is.  I want to be able to capture that in a bottle because if they could be spending six to eight hours understanding Newtonian mechanics, then I really want that.  I want to grab that, and that's a sort of reason that got us at SMU really to start the Guild Hall at SMU is I saw the potential way beyond entertainment.  Entertainment is huge, but the real potential is really in using-- role-playing games and simulations where you get to make decisions to alter the progress of the simulation in learning and in training.  Those are the real opportunities.  


Now, the psychologists, obviously, are correct to saying that this got a tremendous pull on-- on young people.  In my generation, reading comic books had a tremendous-- pull on us as well, and going to the movies.  So it's really not-- not that different.  It's a progression from the pen to radio television, to pixels on a screen.  That's really a natural progression of technology.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

Do you think that-- that kids can get addicted to video games in a-- in a way that's negative?  

PETER RAAD:

We can get addicted to anything.  I think this is where we as parents have to get in and say, okay, that's enough, come inside now, you've been playing outside long enough, come in and do your homework.  Children have a tendency to stay in the moment.  Whatever it is that they're doing, they continue to be doing.  It is our job to regulate how much time they spend studying, eating, watching TV, playing outside, and playing video games.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

What is your-- response to criticisms about the violence in video games?  I mean, I've seen some of these video games; they're pretty-- pretty horrific.  Do you think that, first of all, do they have a-- an-- a negative effect on the people who are-- who are playing them? 

PETER RAAD:

There is no evidence out there that there is a-- an effect of violence in video games on-- on human beings.  I don't believe that, for example, that video games can teach behavior or can alter behavior.  I'm-- I'm a-- I-- there's no evidence of that whatsoever.  If anything, if that were true, then we should have had a 10,000-fold increase in murders around the world as a result of-- of video games, but really the true story, Jim, here, is that maybe 2, 3 percent of video games get 95 percent of the attention of the media.  


Most games are about Mario jumping up and down and-- and doing something, or-- or Lego Wars, or-- you know, these are the games that are being played today-- Madden Football.  Violence is-- is a-- is-- is abhorrent, and violence is a bad thing in our society.  But violence is part of movies, violence is part of books, violence is part of our behavior.  I don't think I can point to video games and say there's any more violence.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

You-- you mentioned Guild Hall a couple of times.  What-- what does that mean?  

PETER RAAD:

The Guild Hall is-- the-- the premier video game graduate education program in the United States, in the world.  It is a master's degree program, it is a two-year program-- in which we take individuals from the art discipline and the design discipline and the programming discipline and we bring them together and put them through a two-year program and they end up with a master's degree learning not just the-- the theory, but also the practice of making video games and how to make them in teams. 

JIM GLASSMAN:

And was that controversial?  I mean, Southern Methodist University, a lot of people would think of it as, you know, pretty conservative, traditional university, and here you have, as you said, the premiere video game master's degree granting institution.  That-- that's kind of unusual, isn't it? 

PETER RAAD:

It is.  Initially, it was controversial.  People didn't understand that-- the unfortunate thing we have is the word "game."  People associate frivolous with-- with-- with game.  And it couldn't be farther from the truth.  As a matter of fact, I would not have engaged in it.  I know the university would not have engaged in it if we didn't see beyond that.  And what we saw, what I saw, is that truly video games are a form of human expression.  


They are a continuation of radio television.  It's our ability to use the intermediation of-- of technology and networks to bring communities together-- and instead of writing with ink, if you will, or writing with words on a piece of paper, we can now communicate via pixels-- on a screen.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

What is there that's-- that's really academic about-- a-- a course of learning-- how to be a video game designer? 

PETER RAAD:

There's a lot of-- theory behind it.  Now, that theory is not just-- in the purview of video games.  You know, things like color theory-- things like using textures and sound in order to create an ambiance that will get you to go left instead of going right.  It's-- animation.  It's-- virtual reality.  It is-- the ability to create artificial agents, artificial intelligence agents that would react to you as if they were real and anticipate what you're going to do, and learning systems.  


The first time you play it, maybe it's not as hard, but then as you progress through it, it becomes harder.  All of these are fields of research.  Even game theory, which is not really video games, but you know, the whole notion of should I cooperate, you know, the prisoner's dilemma.  That's a big part of video games.  


Should I cooperate or should I not cooperate thinking that maybe later you're going to turn against me.  There's quite a bit of theory that goes behind making a-- a really great experience in a video game, but it's more than that.  I think what's unique about video games and why I was excited about bringing it into the university is that it is, for the first time in my life, I've come across a discipline that cannot be serialized.  


It cannot be-- it cannot be chunked in pieces where someone does something and then hands it over to somebody else.  It's a highly creative enterprise that requires a team from disparate disciplines, as far away as art on one side, programming on the other side to actually work together for multiple years on end and communicate with each other to make a video game.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

And that's how you teach it.  You've got groups that are working on a project.  

PETER RAAD:

Correct.  We took actually the constructionist theory of learning, Seymour Papert's-- I love that idea that, you know, it's very different than how you learn in a traditional academic environment.  So if you have this artifact that is personally meaningful to you, it's obviously going to be motivating to you.  So you've got a bunch of people now who are very interested in making a video game.  


They're going to learn all that it takes in order to make that video game, and they're going to get to understand the attitudes that are necessary for them to leverage each other's strengths in order to get that job done.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

You know, this-- this approach, you talk about Seymour Papert's-- theorizing-- with this approach, it seems to me-- that-- can have much broader applications-- both in higher education and even at-- at lower grade levels.  Is there an interest in that kind of an approach, a collaborative approach to learning?  

PETER RAAD:

If you ask me what is the difference between the 21st century and the previous centuries that have brought us academia, that have brought us our model of education that we have today in which we teach an individual to become an expert in a certain discipline.  


I would say that the world is highly complex and that all the single dimensional issues have been asked and answered.  What we really need to learn is how can we work across the disciplines?  And video games give us a wonderful opportunity to understand how to create academic programs such as we've done at SMU in the Guild Hall through the constructionist theory and the use of applied learning, if you will, in which not only do I become an expert in the discipline because I'm working on a video game that I'm interested in-- in seeing-- seeing-- its completion, but also I'm learning how to interact with other experts, either masters, and work with them almost in a conservatory model, if you will, in order to be able to accomplish the task.  That model for us, in my opinion, needs to be the model for education in the 21st century.  And it is in direct conflict with the models of education that we have today.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

And you're an engineer and so what kind of engineer?  

PETER RAAD:

Mechanical engineering, fluid dynamicist.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

So do you think that fluid dynamics can be taught in this way?  

PETER RAAD:

Absolutely.  I've always used simulation-- and visualization, actually, to understand complex phenomenon.  When you're dealing with, you know, I-- I did some tsunami mitigation and interaction of structures-- and-- and water waves, large waves.  How do you comprehend that?  I mean, do you look at reams and reams and reams of data and-- and hope to glean-- some essence, some information, some important knowledge from that?  You cannot.  So I-- I have always resorted to the use of movies and the use of interactive movies to try to comprehend what is happening in that.  And I believe the same thing can be used.  But beyond that, we can teach engineers how to work together through the undergirding of technology and-- and-- and video games, which is not being done today.  

JIM GLASSMAN: 

What about-- civics or-- kind of teaching young people who are the ones who are using these video games, although, as you say, it's becoming more broad, teaching them how to get along in this kind of complex society that you're talking about?  What-- moral responsibilities they have in society.  I mean, do-- do you think video games can actually teach that?  

PETER RAAD:

Absolutely.  I think video games can put a young person in a-- in a situation where they can make a moral decision and see the consequences of that in a-- in a safe and controllable environment-- and actually-- actually viscerally experience that as opposed to pontificate about it in a classroom environment and say, well, I would do that, or I would do this in-- in a case study.  I think bringing case studies to life is an amazing thing.  


Let me-- let me give you even an easier example.  Let's say we've always had this trouble.  We want young people to understand history in context.  Well, let's say you would really like young people to understand the Battle of Gettysburg.  


Well, we could either read about it or we can go and hang out in a virtual environment as either hovering around it, or actually participating in it, or maybe even conducting interviews with some of the-- the folks that used to be there.  That is-- that is something that can be done.  And imagine what kind of impact that would have on a young person of actually being able to go and interview Lee or Lincoln and say, "What were you thinking there?  Why did you do this?  Why did you go left instead of right?"  And actually do it in that context and-- and be viscerally engaged in it and have suspension of disbelief be on your side.  


Video games can have a profound, profound impact on experiential learning, learning by experience, learning by doing, learning by being there as opposed to, say, learning French by listening to tapes, I can actually be roaming the streets of Paris and interacting with real people in real French.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

Peter, you say-- "can" make a video game like Gettysburg where you can talk to Lee or talk to Pickett or talk to Mead-- 

(OVERTALK) 

JIM GLASSMAN: 

But, actually, these video games, at least to my knowledge, are not being made, and instead, we have video games about, you know, soldiers and dragons and slaying the, you know, the-- the-- the evil-- prince.  But will such games get made?  I mean, they're very expensive to make, and they are educational.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

It's really-- you-- you put your finger on-- on-- on the essence of the question here, and it's all about market economics, obviously.  Today, it's very expensive to make a-- a video game, and then the way you recoup the money is by selling millions of copies.  


Now, there are two things that are going to happen shortly in the next few years that are going to make a difference.  One is we've already seen in action, and that is the introduction of the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's Move.  What it is is that finally we, the technologists, are paying enough attention to put the human being at the center of the whole equation as opposed to expecting human beings to basically serve the machine and-- and-- and learn everything about the machine.  So these interfaces are going to make it a lot easier for us as human beings to interact with the technology, and that is essential if you're going to basically make the technology disappear and make those sorts of experiences that we're talking about very valuable for young students and older students.  


One.  Two, the other thing that has to happen is today when you want to make a video game, it's essentially like inventing the camera to make one movie.  It is still a very, very young industry.  And what's going to happen is that the technologies of actually making a video game are going to become more standardized and more broadly available and they're obviously going to become cheaper, and you're going to have reuse.  You're going to have the ability, essentially, to use things from previous times so that the cost of making one of these video games for learning will come down to the point that it's actually broadly affordable.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

Is there a specific game that you-- reflects-- some of the ideas that you're talking about now, that you could tell people about?  

PETER RAAD:

Muzzy Lane makes a game-- about Second World War in which you can actually go in and take either side, you know, any side you want.  And you can, you know, marshal your forces and worry about the internal politics and the unions and-- you know, how much money you've got and how much-- raw iron you've got.  


And-- and you can begin to understand how complex it was to make decisions.  And as you progress through the game, you can see what the impact is and what-- what the effect is-- based on decisions that you've made.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

Beyond education, beyond history or engineering, are there ways in which video games are going to become integrated into our lives, or the-- the techniques of video games over the next 20 years? 

PETER RAAD:

Yes.  I think we're going to realize as human beings that it's very, very difficult to move human beings from point A to point B.  I'd love to be places where I can't physically be.  I think what's interesting to us is that we can put the brain, we can put the mind, we can put the-- the essence of a human being-- in a-- an-- an avatar, if you will, a physical avatar that can inhabit a different world, but we can be there and we can experience these things, and we can manipulate that container-- if you will.  


And those are going to be experiences that are going to broaden our reach as human beings, and we're going to be able to go to places that we would never have fathomed being able to go, and frankly, we may be biologically not capable of going.  So, yes, I think video games and those technologies that undergird it, the technologies of interactivity and networking I think are going to make some very interesting living and learning and playing for us in the 21st century.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

So it's only the beginning?  

PETER RAAD:

It's only the beginning.  

JIM GLASSMAN:

Thank you, Peter Raad.  

PETER RAAD:

Thank you, Jim, my pleasure. 

JIM GLASSMAN:

And before we go, I want to remind viewers that can you can catch Ideas in Action whenever and wherever you choose.  To watch complete shows, just go to our website, IdeasInActionTV.com, or download a podcast from the iTunes store.  (MUSIC)  That's it for this week's Ideas in Action, I'm Jim Glassman, we'll see you next time.  (MUSIC)

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