To start off, the expertise of Chuck Klosterman, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, must be considered. When Klosterman writes, “Real people are actively trying to live like fake people, so real people are no less fake” (Klosterman 4-5), one can see the correlation between participatory culture and this statement. When people take on characters in a fictional world, they are no longer themselves. Therefore, they may absorb the qualities of fictional characters or settings and apply them to real life. This theory is particularly evident in Klosterman’s experiment with “The Sims.” This is a video game in which a virtual character does everything the average human being does, while trying not to become depressed. Klosterman says, “The Sims is an escapist vehicle for people who want to escape to where they already are” (Klosterman 13). This means that the objective of “The Sims,” is to make a copy of one’s own life, which will be perfect and controllable. In this case, one is able to divert reality, while maintaining a manipulated version of it within the video game. This is the main reason for interacting with participatory culture.
This leads me to further question my own interaction with participatory culture. The perception and experience of a video game is a transaction between the medium and the player. Based on the assumption that perception is also a function of the nervous system, one can also compare the effect of a video game to McLuhan’s theory on extensions. In simply viewing a video game we are connected to it, but when we are physically playing as well, we are completely consumed. If we are participating this fully with media, are we likely to become more or less social creatures?
Another attraction of the video game is its ability to connect us with others. Within the safety of the home, we can meet new people and establish relationships without ever leaving. For some, this idea is very relieving, as entertainment can be had without having to confront one’s fears of reality. Online gaming does allow for human interaction, but when you can embody a character and leave yourself behind, is this interaction true? I think that because you are the one controlling the character, and because your nervous system is participating in the interaction, it is just as legitimate as face-to-face communication.
Additionally, the presence of violence in media and the participation in violence in real life can be compared. We have already established that when one plays a video game, they are engrossed entirely. Therefore, when one participates in violent games, would they be more likely to participate in violence in their everyday lives? The simple answer would be yes, but studies prove otherwise. A study conducted by Hagell and Newborn revealed that young adults who demonstrated violent behaviour watched less television and video than those who did not, which is presented in David Gauntlett’s “Ten Things Wrong with the ‘Media Effects” Model.” With this, one can determine that although it is possible to become obsessed with the entertainment aspect of the game, humans are capable of separating the realities of a video game from the reality of everyday life. Gauntlett also discusses the consequence of becoming antisocial due to participatory culture. He states that the media may not be to blame for antisocial behaviour, and I agree with this theory. Although real human communication becomes less frequent with online gaming, social interaction is still present. Access to the Internet has taken me away from time otherwise spent socializing and being active, but I believe that online gaming encourages individuals to lead a social life that is based around an online reality.
Human participation in culture is a very complex topic, which delves into the question of reality. The definition of reality varies from person to person, and so it is impossible to imagine the extent of participatory culture on the human race. The results of participatory culture are the ability to be entertained within the comfort of one’s own home, to interact anonymously with others, and to escape the real world in exchange for a controllable one.
Gauntlett, David. “Ten Things Wrong with the ‘Media Effects’ Model.”
David Gauntlett Theory. 1998. Web. 9 Oct. 2009. <http://theory.org.uk/david/effects.htm>.
Klosterman, Chuck. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. New York: Scribner, 2003.