Has the world of media ever changed!
While producing both educational and corporate media projects, I often helped my clients determine the right media for the job they wished to do. Motion pictures and video tapes were decidedly bad at delivering raw facts and figures. But if you needed to grab people's emotions, these forms of media couldn't be beat.
Studies show that people remember very little of the information delivered by audio tapes. Information delivered by slide shows and filmstrips, using both ears and eyes, is remembered better. Motion pictures, which engage viewers on a deeper level through ears, eyes and, to some extent, emotions, move the "retention rate" much higher.
I always longed for some form of communication that would totally absorb the person--something that would use sound and moving pictures and more, something that would involve a viewer at a much deeper level. Then, using the logic that the more involved people are in the media experience, the more they will remember, I could shape an environment whereby my client's messages would be more fully remembered by viewers.
Now computers have done just that. They have made possible something called "interactivity"--a form of communication in which the viewer immediately responds to the information being presented, by pressing a key on the keyboard. To formulate a response, the viewer must pay close attention. When he is paying close attention, he will remember more.
Currently, computer games make the most creative use of interactivity. Games such as Simm City allow the player to create a complex living environment in fictitious cities. One critic calls this genre of computer games, "god" games.
I have observed teenagers building imaginary cities for days at a time, taking only forced breaks for eating and sleeping. So great is the engagement that time simply stands still for the player.
This ability to hold the attention of the participant gives media certain power. But there is another, more subtle, thing going on. To play these games, the player must accept the assumptions and presuppositions of the game's creator. In Simm City, for example, the player must determine what kind of housing people should live in, how much of the tax base to spend on police protection, how much green space to include, how much fire protection the area needs, and so on. As the player reduces police protection, crime increases, property values drop, and people begin moving out. Finally, the area becomes uninhabitable. Too much police protection, on the other hand, provides safety, but fire protection suffers, taxes become exorbitantly high, and people begin to complain. Come next election, you, the mayor, will be thrown out.
You can see that the creators of the game had to make some very value-laden decisions about how to assemble this complex and engaging piece of video education. If the game was created by Preston Manning, would it play differently than if Pierre Trudeau created it? What if a Christian with a heavy evangelical emphasis on the role of churches in society created the game? Would it play differently than if created by someone who saw no role for religion in society?
You get the point. To play the game, you must accept the agenda of the game's creator. No alternatives are allowed.
What potential to communicate ideas! Should the church begin creating some of these forms of media entertainment? Would our message get through to our children more effectively than it does now?
In the meantime, it may be well to watch over our children's shoulders now and then, to discover the real agendas of the games they play.
Burton Buller is executive director of MB Communications, a Manitoba MB Conference radio and television ministry.
Return to the M.B.Herald Vol. 36, No. 10 Home Page