© Written by Rob Ager July 2014




The fact that movies and video games are designed by human beings inevitably means that their complexity will always fall far short of reality. Human perception is based upon the principle of pattern recognition. The assumptions we make about reality, based on those perceived patterns, form the basis of how we make decisions. Essentially, we interact with the complex real world based on the distorted and simplified versions of it that we’ve stored in our minds.

A great deal of human learning consists not of direct pattern recognition resulting from interactions with reality, but rather other human beings provide us with perceptual patterns to follow. They do this through verbal description, written text, non verbal communication such as body language and voice tones, drawings and photographs, and of course through the audio / visual medium of films, be they documentary or fiction.

Films, by their multisensory and linear sequential nature, allow perceived patterns in reality to be communicated both verbally and non-verbally. As was mentioned in chapter seven of this article, films “filter out the mundane”. If done particularly well, a movie can strip away aspects of reality in a way that results in absolutely discernible perceptual patterns that then become useful to the audience in the real world.

This power of movies and television programmes to influence the mind, and hence behaviour, of its audience is highly recognized by governments and corporations. They hence spend great sums of money creating film content to sell their products or disseminate their ideas. Corporations call it “product placement” and the political version could equally be called “ideology placement”. Film makers themselves also disseminate through their movies, whether by conscious intention or not, their own ideas about all facets of life. These three forces of perceptual placement in films by corporations, political groups and individuals often come into conflict with each other, resulting in idea placement wars across a wide range of film media.

A single movie can bring mass awareness of a factoid such as McDonalds in France serving glasses of Beer. How many people in the US knew that before seeing Pulp Fiction? Hardly anyone would object to the dissemination of such a factoid, but when it comes to factoids that have the potential to significantly affect a person’s world view (and thus their political behaviours such as how they vote or what campaigns they support or object to) it’s a different story. A good historical drama can have the intellectual effect of a documentary if it contains enough accurate historical factoids.

The influence of movies on public opinion and mass behaviour are evident in many ways. Jaws instigated mass fear of sharks, Pretty Woman persuaded hordes of women to head for Hollywood in the hope of marrying a rich executive, Top Gun did wonders for Airforce recruitment, and movies like Silence of the Lambs and Psycho have contributed to mass general paranoia of supposed psycho killers lurking in each and every neighbourhood. So the perceptual patterns presented in films can be positive or negative, truthful or misrepresentative.

With video games the learning paradigm is somewhat different. While a movie can imbue its audience with belief or awareness, a video game can actually develop cognitive skills. The first time I realized how strong this effect can be was in the mid-1990’s when my, then, girlfriend started playing the shooter game Doom and the adventure game Tombraider on my Playstation. We’d been together for a couple of years and I’d always been struck by how poor her sense of geography was. She would get lost on her way to job interviews and even if she attempted to take a short cut along a route she was familiar with it virtually always resulted in her getting lost. But having a sense of geography and orientation is essential in Doom and Tombraider being that the player must find their way through mazes. As could be expected, she had a lot of trouble finding her way around the early levels of these games, but gradually she got better at it and ended up completing both games. And as this happened she also stopped getting lost in the streets of the real world. If she took a wrong turn or two she was able to maintain a sense of orientation and quickly get back on track. As far as I know that’s a cognitive development of hers which came from playing a couple of computer games and has stayed with her since.

So what other cognitive skills are likely to develop through the playing of computer games? Hand-eye co-ordination is a well known one. And role playing games which involve the player organising and using many different resources such as money, weapons, armour and raw crafting materials might help players develop certain organisational skills that are transferrable to the real world.

But it’s also argued by some that excessively playing video games weakens social interaction skills, being that certain elements and subtleties of human communication are absent from such games. A person can also limit their own perceptions by selectively watching large numbers of movies from one particular genre, while ignoring others. Too many testosterone fuelled action movies won’t enhance a viewer’s ability to empathize with the feelings of other human beings, and too many soppy love stories won’t psychologically toughen a person up.

So being that movies and video games can be sources of positive and negative learning that are then transferable to the viewer’s experience of everyday life, it makes sense to engage a wide variety of game and movie genres so as to maintain a healthy balance of influences.