Today Cat Norris, a colleague of mine, presented her ongoing research on the activation of racial stereotypes in video games to a Dartmouth colloquium. Cat began with a discussion of existing research on the topic of aggression and gender-coded imagery to connect her own research on racial bias to existing research methods. Thus far her experiments have used white male subjects playing Grand Theft Auto and Halo to test the activation of racial stereotypes.
During the talk she revealed that just within one department (our own, Psychological and Brain Sciences) there are over three labs working with video games. That research combined with a recent hire, Mary Flanagan, a researcher and producer of socially aware video games, and an undergraduate English course, English 63.1, taught by Aden Evens, constitutes a pretty large number of people thinking about games for this relatively small campus.
Today?s colloquium intended to be interdisciplinary, although only a few people identified themselves as belonging to a department outside of Psychology. As someone straddling the disciplinary fence I spent most of the talk wondering what we might have to say to each other and how humanists might contribute to Cat?s research. One obvious area that we certainly could be of use is in critiquing the experiments? use of language. The first experiment discussed involved a ?missing word? task that would follow the playing of a video game such as GTA or Halo. The missing word task (actually a missing letter) presents the subject with a word such as ?_ail? and asks them to complete the word. Two possible words, ?Jail? and ?Fail,? are both coded as racially stereotypical language. In presenting ?positive? stereotypes two possible outcomes from the word completion for ?Str_ng? were ?Strong? and ?String.? One critique might be that one of the words identified as stereotypical is directly related to the language of play and in the case of GTA ?Jail? is one of two likely outcomes (the other being death).
From the sketch I heard today of future experiments there appear many possible points for humanists and social scientists to collaborate; from a more nuanced concept of racism to a more complete reading of the game?s narrative. Are there HASTAC people out there studying video games? What do people in the humanities uniquely contribute and how do you 'read' games?