New Behaviour: Observed before Trained

I was reading in a handy/cheap book called “50 Psychology Ideas You Really Need To Know” about theories of how we learn. What struck me was Albert  Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, particularly observational learning (aka modelling), which states that our first stage of learning new behaviour is through observation. We watch someone else perform a task, we see their success, and then we go into the next stage- we attempt to mimic, or practice. Now, a lot of people get all uppity about how video games are a bad influence. They teach us to be bad people: violent, aggressive, with no regard for other people. Well, if they didn’t already have a belief that this was a good idea, why would they even be drawn to play such games? We seem to have no problem with violent, aggressive behaviour in film (Actually, the book says this: “Hence the power of television and films to encourage behaviour change through the use of attractive, trustworthy actors doing particular things for specific rewards” p175). The argument seems to be, “Well, that’s just watching another person. In video games, you’re actually encouraged to BE that person!”

Hm, okay. Well, earlier, I talked about the Magic Circle concept, and how it’s based on pre-conceived assumptions and ideas about the world, and then these ideas are “played out” in order to satisfy some desire for them (and remember, kids: desire isn’t the bad part. Inappropriate action is the bad part!). So, essentially, I could argue using proven psychology, that watching Looney Toons or Power Rangers or even Superman made us more selfish and violent (I should note, just for fun, that Superman was based on Nietzche’s concept of the “Ubermensch,” who was the man completely free of the constraints of life around him, emotionally free to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, utterly selfish). All of these examples reinforced the belief that violence, aggression, picking on others, and disregarding the feelings of others have no consequence. I’m probably going to now have someone vehermently defend Power Rangers in the comments… Guys that’s not what this is about. Hold your horses; I’m trying to defend video games by choosing innocuous childhood favourites!

Evolutionarily, we probably need to have violence imprinted in our psyche to survive. I’m not saying “ban all things that have a snippet of violence!” Even if you’re a creationist or otherwise don’t believe in evolution, merely to survive, we probably need to know something about violence (at least to win those Holy Wars … uhoh, I’m going to get RAGED)! Violence itself isn’t the problem, the inappropriate expression or direction of violent behaviour is the problem. Punch your pillow, that’s not hurting anyone. Punch someone in the pub… PROBABLY uncalled for.

But back to watching Looney Toons. So, as a child, you watched these cute, funny cartoons about slapstick violence. No one gets hurt, right? They all bounce back! And then, you go outside with your sibling or friend, and you play “Looney Toons.” You have mock-arguments. You have mock-violence. Parents think you’re cute for setting up imaginary ACME traps. But then you get older, and you watch the news, and you watch violent films and tv shows where everyone is horrible to each other. It’s funny, and they say all the things you want to but can’t (or at least shouldn’t). So you sit at your gaming device of choice, load up some FPS or Fighting Game with lots of blood and graphic depictions of violence… and somehow you’re suddenly an outcast with antisocial, pathological violent tendencies.

But it was so CUTE when I was a kid!

What I’m trying to say is that games aren’t the problem. I’m not going to say that films aren’t the problem, either, even though a more passive viewing position allows more information to be impressed , unquestioned, on the viewer than the “ergodic” (texts that you need to “work” at to move forward) viewer, who is focusing on winning more than the idea that, “Being a psychopath is totally fun, yo.” The problem is that we aren’t viewing play as what it is- we’re viewing it as training and an influence, rather than a mimicry of something we’ve ALREADY seen, and a way of feeling the same forms of power, victory, success, and value as that guy in the movie that we liked. And I think those studies about violent behaviour and violent video games are dumb. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that maybe post-gaming they feel more aggression because their fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system response is already pumped up to deal with the perceived threat in a high-risk imagined situation. Or maybe they’re pissed off that they had to quit the game without saving. All that work for nothing? I’ve given up on games because I had to repeat a sequence of events because the save game didn’t work!

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