The Young and the Digital: The Allure of Social Games, Synthetic Worlds, and Second lives.

"Can I have my phone just in case I spot any Pokemon on the way down?"
“Can I have my phone just in case I spot any Pokemon on the way down?”

In this chapter of his book ‘The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future’, Watkins discusses online gaming in regards to young men, and how it can be used positively as a source of socialising and lesson-learning.

Watkins mentions how less and less young men are watching television daily. This initially confused TV experts but soon people realised that this demographic’s technological use was migrating to online gaming. Watkins goes through a list  of the positive aspects of gaming – such as ‘doing things’ rather than passively watching a plot unfold, being able to master other synthetic worlds when in real life you may be timid and shy. Craig fends of critics of gaming who mention its dangers in isolating individuals from the real world by showing how the gaming experience helps bring people together, such as the release of the Nintendo Wii which seeks to integrate collaboration, group work, and face-to-face competitions, or the World of Warcraft – a game in which players endeavour to overcome obstacles together in ‘guilds’.

Watkins mentions second lives and how the gaming experience allows people to recreate themselves or create personas that express particular parts of themselves. He draws upon his research showing how men often portray themselves as women and vice versa on the online world in order to experience other things or explore their own interests. In this light I agree that gaming can be liberating in allowing people to do and explore things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

However I disagree with Watkins’ general enthusiasm for the online gaming world. I believe that although it is possible for people to be brought together and meaningful connections to be made through gaming, the real experience is always better. When I see my brother and his friends with their eyes glued to the Playstation on television, I can’t help but feel sad, even if they are laughing and seem to be having a good time. When we master online worlds we lose our mastery of the real one, the latter diminishing in beauty and detail as the other increases. I also believe that Watkins doesn’t delve deep enough into the gaming experience for women, as he refers only to men in his study. It is indeed possible for women to play online and I’m sure that a growing number of them do so. In order to fully represent the migration of the youth to games Watkins has to include women as they constitute half of young people. It would be interesting to see a discussion on how gaming platforms are creating synthetic worlds that appeal more to the interests of women.

I recently read this article in the Guardian mentioning how 2017 may be the year virtual reality takes off. This scares me as I think that it is already too easy for people to get stuck or addicted to online worlds which has an inevitable impact of the day-to-day life of the real one. If people can fully immerse themselves in a world, to the point where things appear not in front of them on a screen but around them (and in ever-increasing quality), then people may choose this more engaging version of virtual living over life itself. I believe that open and frank discussions need to be held about gaming with technology experts, psychologists the youth and indeed perhaps even in mainstream politics. We need to tackle these problems before they’re already upon us. Facebook crept into the lives of everybody seemingly overnight, we cannot allow the same thing to happen with virtual reality.

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My recent addiction to Marvel series

The first time I gave a more ‘fictional’ series ago was with Jessica Jones, a woman with special abilities; super strength, limited invulnerability, and flight. She roams through the streets of New York righting wrongs where she can and following shadows of her amnesia swept past. Despite this dark romantic story however, she remains herself and it surprised me how much her character didn’t act like a traditional superhero. Jessica is moody, distant and often makes bad decisions, but at the end of the day looks out for people and intends to do good. I think that this is a good example of female role model as Jessica isn’t your typically girly, flashy superwoman, she’s down to earth and simply has demons of her own. Marvel have been clever with this series as the character is highly relatable and has enough action and drama to capture a large audience.

p12738283_b_v8_abI’ve also watched Marvel’s Luke Cage, a man whose superpowers are strength, and impenetrable skin, he is literally invincible. His real name is Carl Lucas, he’s on the run form the law for a crime he didn’t commit and is looking for a quiet life. So when Carl realises he has to help rid Harlem from those who seek to rule and corrupt the place, he obviously does so grudgingly. As the season develops however he takes it more in his stride, showing a cool, smooth, always humble self.

Another Marvel series I’ve seen is Daredevil, involving a young blind lawyer (real name Matt Murdock), who’s ‘disability’ opened up his other senses in an unprecedented manner. He works out of a dingy office with his friends ‘Foggy Nelson’ and Karen Page, giving defence to those usually too poor to afford it. Matt leads a double life unlike the other two, one as himself, Matt Murdoch, a blind lawyer, all those who know his face believe this story, and another as Daredevil, a fearsome fighter with super quick reactions meaning he can take on any opponent. As the show develops you see him begin to question which self is his real self as he fights to keep both parts of his life afloat. As Daredevil, he seeks to rid the city from political corruption and crime, at high levels of society.

The three characters share similar features, they make a rule never to kill despite having advanced powers, and each has a amicable, kind and open-minded personality, even if they have their flaws. I think that Marvel have made good relatable role models for teenagers and adults alike through these series’ showing that respect and looking out for others goes a long way. Although there are elements of stereotyping at times, I feel like series’ such as these show that through the confusion of media today, there are still forms of it which can be constructive and entertaining. All three Marvel series’ interlink, and often refer to interweaving characters within all series’. I’m hoping one day soon they will bring out a series involving all three characters, each story coming perfectly together.