Consulting, Culture, Cognition, Assessment, Research, and Media Production

MAKING UP OUR MINDS: PTSD and the Role of Memory –the dichotomy of how games help and may be very dangerous ~ We need to talk about this.


This is a very long post.

What do we need to talk about?

  1. Memory is unreliable and we can and do make it up as we go.
  2. Because of this we can help people who have been in great trauma . . . We can also worry about how this might otherwise be used.
  3. When we talk about memory and moral decision making, it is important that we have community that reinforces dialog and other perspectives.
  4. How this relates to schools and education
  5. Community takes time, patience, openness, dedicated space, and a willingness to move beyond the superficial– a willingness to understand before one seeks to be understood.
  6. Popular culture can be easily dismissed, as well as the young people who participate in it, but we are missing out on a chance to broaden and deepen and share our values when we withdraw and demonize.
  7. These all lead to your task to inductively form a view.
  8. You will find mine at the end.

So here we go.

What if games, or even a drug can change your memory of a situation?

With games, or virtual reality in this post, they are used with a qualified physician to treat PTSD, but many kids play games and participate in violent media with no oversight.

But first things first, games can be used for relief of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

According to the DSM IV:

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (DSM-4) is caused by traumatic events that are outside the range of usual human experiences such as military combat, violent personal assault, being kidnapped or taken hostage, terrorist attack, torture, incarceration as a prisoner of war, natural or man-made disasters, automobile accidents, or being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

According to the NIMH (National Institutes on Mental Health), PTSD  is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.  More about PTSD »

Signs & Symptoms

People with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to. They may experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or be easily startled. More about Signs & Symptoms »

Oddly, many, and I might say a lot of,  video games have violent content where you are directly in the fray–that is if you have suspended disbelief,  and really begun to invest cognitive and affective focus into the game and the outcomes.

Maybe it is ironical– yes I did say ironical and spell check said it was a word–that games can be used in this way.


Games have been used for phobias and other psychological treatments like arachnophobia and there are papers on this if you search. Here is one.

Memory is plastic and malleable like silly putty,

and oddly silly putty is the same color as your brain.

The idea that we slowly reacquaint and work through the trauma makes a bit of sense with some of the research that has been going on since Loftus investigated false memories. In a classic 1978 study led by Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist then at the University of Washington, researchers showed college students a series of color photographs depicting an accident in which a red Datsun car knocks down a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The students answered various questions, some of which were intentionally misleading. For instance, even though the photographs had shown the Datsun at a stop sign, the researchers asked some of the students, “Did another car pass the red Datsun while it was stopped at the yield sign?”

Later the researchers asked all the students what they had seen—a stop sign or yield sign? Students who’d been asked a misleading question were more likely to give an incorrect answer than the other students.

One of the scientists who has done the most to illuminate the way memory works on the microscopic scale is Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York City. In five decades of research, Kandel has shown how short-term memories—those lasting a few minutes—involve relatively quick and simple chemical changes to the synapse that make it work more efficiently. Kandel, who won a share of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, found that to build a memory that lasts hours, days or years, neurons must manufacture new proteins and expand the docks, as it were, to make the neurotransmitter traffic run more efficiently. Long-term memories must literally be built into the brain’s synapses. Kandel and other neuroscientists have generally assumed that once a memory is constructed, it is stable and can’t easily be undone. Or, as they put it, the memory is “consolidated.”

According to this view, the brain’s memory system works something like a pen and notebook. For a brief time before the ink dries, it’s possible to smudge what’s written. But after the memory is consolidated, it changes very little. Sure, memories may fade over the years like an old letter (or even go up in flames if Alzheimer’s disease strikes), but under ordinary circumstances the content of the memory stays the same, no matter how many times it’s taken out and read. Nader would challenge this idea.

In what turned out to be a defining moment in his early career, Nader attended a lecture that Kandel gave at New York University about how memories are recorded. Nader got to wondering about what happens when a memory is recalled. Work with rodents dating back to the 1960s didn’t jibe with the consolidation theory. Researchers had found that a memory could be weakened if they gave an animal an electric shock or a drug that interferes with a particular neurotransmitter just after they prompted the animal to recall the memory. This suggested that memories were vulnerable to disruption even after they had been consolidated.

To think of it another way, the work suggested that filing an old memory away for long-term storage after it had been recalled was surprisingly similar to creating it the first time. Both building a new memory and tucking away an old one presumably involved building proteins at the synapse. The researchers had named that process “reconsolidation.” But others, including some prominent memory experts, had trouble replicating those findings in their own laboratories, so the idea wasn’t pursued.

So how about talk therapy, and how about exposure in multimodal settings that call up these memories? How about this idea of Virtual Reality for PSTD?

In a way it scares me what technology like this can do now that we may be getting a sense of how memory, even long-term memory, may be more plastic than we want –Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, or Bladerunner anybody?

I know, Nader is talking about traumatic situations, but what happens when we water-board confessions and use institutional pressures on kids and families?


Then again, according to the liberally quoted Smithsonian article here, editing might be another way to learn from experience. If fond memories of an early love weren’t tempered by the knowledge of a disastrous breakup, or if recollections of difficult times weren’t offset by knowledge that things worked out in the end, we might not reap the benefits of these hard-earned life lessons. Perhaps it’s better if we can rewrite our memories every time we recall them. Nader suggests that reconsolidation may be the brain’s mechanism for recasting old memories in the light of everything that has happened since. In other words, it just might be what keeps us from living in the past– a survival mechanism.

But what if we can reshape memory and reduce trauma that has symptoms like:

  • persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal
  • feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to.
  • They may experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or be easily startled.

The idea seems appealing, but it scares me to think what may be coming out of Pandora’s X Box here.

I am all for relieving people of PTSD, but I am fascinated,  and maybe a bit disturbed,  by the potential other uses of this technology and science.

The research on memory just described begins to explain to some degree how a virtual environment can be used to MAKE UP SOMEONES MIND.

The following bit of text describes a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder using a virtual environment.

Developed by Virtually Better, with funding from the Naval Research Office, “Virtual Iraq” VR environment suitable for therapy of anxiety disorders resulting from the high-stress environment. The treatment involves exposing the patient to a virtual environment containing the feared situation rather than taking the patient into the actual environment or having the patient imagine the stimulus. The virtual environment is controlled by the therapist through a computer keyboard ensuring full control of the exposure to the programmed situations.

The system designed to treat military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Using components from the popular game Full Spectrum Warrior, psychologist Skip Rizzo and his colleagues introduce the patient to a virtual world simulating the sources of combat stress. The treatment objective is to help veterans come to terms with what they’ve experienced in places like Iraq and Afghanistan by immersing vets in the sights and sounds of those theaters of battle, including visual and sound effects of of gunshots. Virtual reality exposure treatment allows the therapist to manipulate situations to best suit the individual patient during a standard therapy hour (usually 45-50 minutes) and within the confines of the therapist’s office. By gradually re-introducing the patients to the experiences that triggered the trauma, the memory becomes tolerable. Early results from trials suggest virtual reality therapy is uniquely suited to a generation raised on video games.

According to Veterans Today:

During testimony on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other personality disorders affecting U.S. military veterans before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs way back on July 25, 2007, Dr. Sally Satel of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) noted that VA disability determinations for PTSD needed to be tightened up to a take the emphasis off monetary compensation, in the same breath, she promoted ‘virtual reality war simulations’ mentioning Virtual Iraq, as state of the art treatment for PTSD. That was 2007 during the Bush administration, and in just three years during the Obama administration the Pentagon is now promoting it as state of the art treatment for PTSD!

Her intent was commendable, for she promotes catching PTSD in its early stages while still on active duty could prevent Veterans from a lifetime of dependency on VA compensation for PTSD. She also noted that, “A point worth raising here is the importance of qualified staffing at VA mental health facilities. Anecdotal reports suggest that many [VA] facilities do not have adequate numbers of clinicians who can perform cognitive-behavioral therapies. This is a deficit that must be addressed.”


Footnote 12 in her testimony to Congress on the treatment of PTSD was that “A specific form of exposure-desensitization therapy under development is called “Virtual Iraq.” Studies are in progress. The therapy was developed with funding from the Naval Research Office and is considered promising. The veteran [really active duty Soldier or Marine] wears a virtual-reality helmet and goggles and headphones. A therapist manipulates virtual situations via a keyboard to best suit the individual patient during 45-50 minute sessions. By gradually re-introducing the patients to the experiences that triggered the trauma, the memory becomes tolerable and feelings of panic no longer accompany once-feared situations (such a driving on city streets, being in crowds)., accessed July 21, 2007.

Veterans Today expressed concern about this method because of the implied cost savings that might be inherent in having soldiers participate in a virtual world rather than have a qualified, interested person to help. Having the new tool should not replace human interaction, but rather provide a medium that extends and facilitates. For those for whom talk therapy is not as effective because they have difficulty visualizing or using imagination, this virtual environment can be tremendously useful and alleviate suffering.

But the technology should not be a prescription without human community. It is evidently very effective.

Veterans Today Editorial Revision: Of note I have spoken to a young Air Force Mental Health Clinician who has told me that at least for him the treatment has had a positive impact. He was a ground troop in the Army in Iraq prior to getting his commission as a Psychologist in the Air Force. We have discussed his situation as being traumatized when he returned by feelings of panic as he drove the streets back home fearing IEDs. He once avoided being in a crowd for fear of suicide bombers. His experience with Virtual Iraq took away some of his feelings of anxiety and panic. Thus, we are not totally ignoring the positive effect virtual reality may be for a few of our troops coming forth to admit PTSD. This approach does have the positive aspect of trying to break down the stigma associated with going to the Mental Health clinics on Army and Marine base.

According to  USC’s Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo, the founder of ‘Virtual Iraq’ presented his study on psychotherapy and stroke rehabilitation using video games and related technologies, such as virtual reality (VR). Dr. Rizzo presented three therapeutic areas he was working in at the time as part of the Games For Health day held at the University of Southern California [USC] on May 9th,  Serious Games promoting an entertainment video game convention called Games For Health 2006: Addressing PTSD, Psychotherapy & Stroke Rehabilitation with Games & Game Technologies.

Expose, Distract, and Motivate

The three main strategies Dr. Rizzo was using, he abbreviated as Expose, Distract and Motivate. To develop the therapeutic Virtual Reality (VR) systems he talked about, Dr. Rizzo worked with a host of other collaborators from different departments at USC, including among others Computer Science, Neuroscience, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, Department of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, Department of Occupational Sciences, USC Keck School of Medicine, Department of Psychology, School of Gerontology & Neurology, Department of Cell and Neurobiology and also the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

According to Veteran’s Today;

The therapeutic approach Dr. Rizzo’s project took used gradual exposure to trauma in a manageable way, which eventually led to habituation and extinction of the PTSD syndrome. Does this mean that Dr. Rizzo has stumbled upon a cure for PTSD?

Normally, about 75% of soldiers will begin to display PTSD symptoms within about six months. With traditional [VIETNAM ERA] therapy, this is reduced to about 67%. But with exposure therapy, this can be reduced to only 27%.

“We normally rely on a patient’s imagination – what is called ‘imaginal therapy’, but we know we can provide the exposure to them through game environments,” said Rizzo. Problems with imaginal therapy include patients being unwilling or unable to visualize effectively or avoidance of the reminders of the trauma. When a patient can’t emotionally engage through imagination, it is unlikely that imaginal therapy will be effective.

Dr. Rizzo then mentioned several virtual tools, such as Virtual Vietnam from Emory University, as well as several others including a World Trade Center simulation from Cornell. Showing images from the Virtual Vietnam simulation, which depicts realistic scenes typical of that conflict; Dr. Rizzo cited a 1998 study that found, even 20 years after the events, that symptoms of sufferers of PTSD were reduced by 34 percent, while patients engaged in self-assessment though their symptoms saw reductions of 45 percent.

These are powerful outcomes, and also speak to concerns that I have as a parent, educator, and cognitive researcher — with the huge numbers of people playing games and having this gradual and in-depth exposure, who is there to model, guide, and share the experience with young people as they play games that are not meant for them. This does provide some leverage to those who say that games can lead to desensitization. There are groups, and have been, like the defunct Media and the Family, who believe that violent games need to be banned.

According to, Anti-violent-video-game activists believe the Virginia Tech massacre is proof that we need to ban violent video games.

In the article they say,

But let’s not forget that most of the horrific events in world history were committed before there ever were video games. Millions of kids play violent video games every day, but random school shootings are extremely rare. If anything, Cho killed not because he played fantasy video games, but because he was inspired by the real-life Columbine shooting. Real life events are far more influential motivators of human behavior than imaginary ones. Cho obviously knew an awful lot about Columbine and felt justified committing a similar action. He probably planned the attack for the Columbine anniversary, April 20, but for whatever reasons, couldn’t wait another few days. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebald, the Columbine killers, killed because they knew about Hitler, whose birthday – April 20 – was the day they staged their massacre. Similarly, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bombers, killed because they knew about the actions of Hitler. Their bombing took place one day shy of Hitler’s birthday. If we are to get rid of violent video games as a way of reducing violence, we should get rid of all violent news and history as well. Or perhaps we should delete the month of April from the calendar.

I agree with this take, but I am not so free and breezy.

With media and life experience, people need fellowship to talk about and make sense of their experience, and maybe even bounce ideas off of each other. That is part of the virtual reality intervention.

Where is the community and fellowship?

The folks involved in many violent actions against unsuspecting victims have often saturated their experience with inundations of bad behavior and justification for the violent act they are about to commit. The young men who directed the attack on the World Trade Center had evidently immersed themselves in the kind of lifestyles, pornography etc., that might have made their actions seem justified; as a moral act ridding the world of degenerative  American liberties.  The MYTH of  America as Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim.  These cities names have become synonymous with impenitent sin, and their fall with a proverbial manifestation of God’s wrath. Cf.Jude 1:7, Qur’an(S15)Al-Hijr:72-73.  were destroyed by “brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.”[Gen 19:24-25]. With the available choice for immorality, we allow for immorality, but hope that no one get’s hurt even if we don’t approve. That is the paradox of liberty–maybe?

But also, these terrorists, let’s not call them misunderstood, were also told that their acts would forgive them for their debauchery and actions–but again, was there any community to question these, their acts of debauchery leading up to their demise? Did their act lead to ascension and the fulfillment of receiving 72 virgins–although, nothing in the Koran specifically states that the faithful are allotted 72 virgins apiece. For this elaboration we turn to the hadith, traditional sayings traced with varying degrees of credibility to Muhammad. Hadith number 2,562 in the collection known as the Sunan al-Tirmidhi says, “The least [reward] for the people of Heaven is 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome of pearls, aquamarine and ruby.”

Now more than ever, community is important.

In a recent post by blogger, the Shifted Librarian, Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gad­get was reviewed and a few key issues about how technology is locking us down. One of Lanier’s con­cerns is how deci­sions made in the design of our dig­i­tal tools lock us in to behav­iors that reduce — and even remove — our human­ity.

The context of the blog post I am drawing from was not meant to support the argument that floats as a sub-text in this post–that we may be getting closer to understanding the way we make moral decisions and judgment from prior experience, memory, and my own concern:

that somehow science and technology are going to somehow fill the gap for parenting, friendship, guidance in human relations, health care, business management decisions,  and education.

Isn’t this kind of the same promise Hadith number 2,562 makes to the terrorist?

When we remove ourselves from humanity, it makes it easier to generate stereotype, assign blame, and be less troubled with really understanding that there might be a real problem we could address and solve.

It seems the further away the decision maker is from the point of implementation, the less likely they are to understand the real implications of the reduction of one-to-one, or one-to-many, face-to-face, interactions that are not locked down by the constraints of the medium through which those people are attempting to experience.

I am an advocate for games, and I am also an advocate for spending more time with your children and friends who play them –that is spending time away from the game system to talk about the values they hold, the experiences they had in the game, and the realities and importance of life in community where people gather in public spaces.

To do that, the adults in our community must be willing to spend that time with children and neighbors and talk about the experience.

TIME folks, shared time.

In one example, I was speaking in front of group of over 300 people (at a university) on how games would make the University Obsolete (provocative on purpose).

A hand went up and a professor I personally knew told me with disgust,

“I will not expose my son to this shit!” referring to video games.

I asked her, do you tell your son he is not allowed to play video games?

She said yes.

I asked if his friends played games.

She said yes.

I asked if he ever went to their houses.

She said yes.

I asked her, do you want to give up your opportunity to share experience with your son with media he is interested in, and share values?

She sat down.

By making this completely forbidden, she had taken herself out of the conversation about values and the content in the games.

We cannot do that as community members, because as the research is showing, reconsolidating experience as memory changes memory.

Who do you want “making up your kids minds?”

I think this is also what we call parenting and raising young–talking and sharing values through shared experience.

This does not show up on a test score by the way.

I understand the need to protect young people from inappropriate media and content — I did not let M-rated games in my classroom–but I was familiar with many of them and could talk about them with the students.

I want to know what they are doing and who they are–and good teachers, friends, and parents do this.

In the first games project we engaged with in 2004, I had placed 3 young women in a randomized cooperative group in my classroom with a young man who had brought Mortal Combat.

This game, one of the reasons the ESRB was established:

” One of the reasons the ESRB was founded was due to violent content found in video games such as Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Lethal Enforcers, and Doom, as well as other controversial video games portraying overly violent or intense sexual situations at the time.”

The girls were really turned off, even though this was a Teen game for 13+, and I had High School Seniors at the time (seventeen-eighteen).

But what was interesting was the report they gave on how women were portrayed in the game when I encouraged them to do a Feminist analysis:

  • Few women
  • Not dressed for battle, but for the libido of young men
  • smaller weapons
  • could not hit as hard for damage
  • could hit more and had greater dexterity

Great you say? So what. . .

But this led into a constructed controversy activity where we questioned whether representation of women in this form influences the way we see women in society, and the way young women see themselves and come to build perceptions of self-worth.

Half the class believed that media representation of women did actually influence how young women see themselves, and the other half said that it was just a game.

I asked them to prepare 10 talking-points to support their positions for debate, when they were done, I asked them to project and list 10 talking-points for what they thought the opposing side would list as their positions.

Then I flung them a twist, I made them argue for the opposite side.

Kids said that this was one of the best activities that they had been part of during all their years at Roosevelt– I took that as a great compliment because there were some really great teachers there.

We can structure engagement, and young people really do want to talk about these things and they really are interested in education — relevant education and issues.

(you can read this to get principles for designing a classroom to do what I did, and this to understand how I used games for language arts curriculum)

Public Engagement in Digital Spaces

I am not sure that we can have a real public engagement in a digital space. We can try through communities like WoW etc., but what makes that whole argument silly has been my own experience watching groups who have played WoW for extended periods of time make an effort to actually meet other players in their guilds and interact person to person. I make sure to introduce myself to Facebook friends at conferences even though we may have an online history, I find it more satisfying to shake hands and share a moment.

Last year at the Games in Education Conference, a number of WoW players got together who had hours and hours of time shared in digital space, but they still made a trip to New York from Oregon, Pennsylvania, etc.

It was fun to share with them and participate in the interaction knowing this back-story at dinner.

Only Connect —

E. M. Forrester said:

” Only connect! … Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”

I think we do connect online, but not in the same way–at least not until computers can distribute pheromones and people post their real pictures at online dating portals!

No, I do not think the digital games offer the degrees of freedom that actual contact and real play (maybe throwing a Frisbee) does.

Plato discusses public spaces in the Republic as the foundation for democracy and meritocracies–but maybe this is not enough.

I say this because Jim Gee makes a case for this with Affinity Groups and games as the ultimate meritocracy are based upon skills and activity, and this is why people gather, and this is easily achieved in these online environments.

But skills aren’t what it is all about. In the words of Napolean Dynamite,

“You know, like nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills… Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.”

People acquire skills to build connections to other people.

I know that Jim (if you are reading this Jim, feel free to straighten me out here) does not believe that WoW is a replacement for actual interpersonal interaction, and that we cannot always be in competition for merit and entitlement.

That approach is contrary to his position especially as it relates to the overemphasis in schools with the ridiculous focus on assessment.

Even Diane Ravitch, who advocated for the emphasis on testing has changed directions based on evidence showing that,

knowing that their students would be tested and that the results would be used to evaluate which schools would be rewarded, educators began teaching to the tests, at the expense of sound curriculum. But educational testing, Ravitch shows, is inexact, roughly the way public opinion polling is. Far from holding schools accountable, testing resulted in massive cynicism. Meanwhile the level of education received by many students remained “disastrously low.” Ravitch points to a 2009 study sponsored by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago showing that the increases in the performance of the city’s eighth graders in math and reading were due mostly to changes in testing procedures, and that in any case such gains evaporated by the time those students reached high school.

Ravitch advocates for a national curriculum — maybe this is a good idea AS LONG AS WE ARE TALKING ABOUT METHODS, and not content — Hello Texas School Board.

To extricate this whole issue of community and MAKING UP OUR MINDS

Hannah Arendtsays that we must move beyond “the state of appearance” we often share in public.

There are three features of the public sphere and of the sphere of politics in general that are central to Arendt’s conception of citizenship. These are, first, its artificial or constructed quality; second, its spatial quality; and, third, the distinction between public and private interests.

The following is excerpted from Plato online:

As regards the first feature, Arendt always stressed the artificiality of public life and of political activities in general, the fact that they are man-made and constructed rather than natural or given. She regarded this artificiality as something to be celebrated rather than deplored. Politics for her was not the result of some natural predisposition, or the realization of the inherent traits of human nature. Rather, it was a cultural achievement of the first order, enabling individuals to transcend the necessities of life and to fashion a world within which free political action and discourse could flourish.

The stress on the artificiality of politics has a number of important consequences. For example, Arendt emphasized that the principle of political equality does not rest on a theory of natural rights or on some natural condition that precedes the constitution of the political realm. Rather, it is an attribute of citizenship which individuals acquire upon entering the public realm and which can secured only by democratic political institutions.

Another consequence of Arendt’s stress on the artificiality of political life is evident in her rejection of all neo-romantic appeals to the volk and to ethnic identity as the basis for political community. She maintained that one’s ethnic, religious, or racial identity was irrelevant to one’s identity as a citizen, and that it should never be made the basis of membership in a political community.

Arendt’s emphasis on the formal qualities of citizenship made her position rather distant from those advocates of participation in the 1960’s who saw it in terms of recapturing a sense of intimacy, of warmth and authenticity. For Arendt political participation was important because it permitted the establishment of relations of civility and solidarity among citizens. She claimed that the ties of intimacy and warmth can never become political since they represent psychological substitutes for the loss of the common world. The only truly political ties are those of civic friendship and solidarity, since they make political demands and preserve reference to the world. For Arendt, therefore, the danger of trying to recapture the sense of intimacy and warmth, of authenticity and communal feelings is that one loses the public values of impartiality, civic friendship, and solidarity.

The second feature stressed by Arendt has to do with the spatial quality of public life, with the fact that political activities are located in a public space where citizens are able to meet one another, exchange their opinions and debate their differences, and search for some collective solution to their problems. Politics, for Arendt, is a matter of people sharing a common world and a common space of appearance so that public concerns can emerge and be articulated from different perspectives. In her view, it is not enough to have a collection of private individuals voting separately and anonymously according to their private opinions. Rather, these individuals must be able to see and talk to one another in public, to meet in a public-political space, so that their differences as well as their commonalities can emerge and become the subject of democratic debate.

This notion of a common public space helps us to understand how political opinions can be formed which are neither reducible to private, idiosyncratic preferences, on the one hand, nor to a unanimous collective opinion, on the other. Arendt herself distrusted the term “public opinion,” since it suggested the mindless unanimity of mass society. In her view representative opinions could arise only when citizens actually confronted one another in a public space, so that they could examine an issue from a number of different perspectives, modify their views, and enlarge their standpoint to incorporate that of others. Political opinions, she claimed, can never be formed in private; rather, they are formed, tested, and enlarged only within a public context of argumentation and debate.

Another implication of Arendt’s stress on the spatial quality of politics has to do with the question of how a collection of distinct individuals can be united to form a political community. For Arendt the unity that may be achieved in a political community is neither the result of religious or ethnic affinity, not the expression of some common value system. Rather, the unity in question can be attained by sharing a public space and a set of political institutions, and engaging in the practices and activities which are characteristic of that space and those institutions.

A further implication of Arendt’s conception of the spatial quality of politics is that since politics is a public activity, one cannot be part of it without in some sense being present in a public space. To be engaged in politics means actively participating in the various public forums where the decisions affecting one’s community are taken. Arendt’s insistence on the importance of direct participation in politics is thus based on the idea that, since politics is something that needs a worldly location and can only happen in a public space, then if one is not present in such a space one is simply not engaged in politics.

This public or world-centered conception of politics lies also at the basis of the third feature stressed by Arendt, the distinction between public and private interests. According to Arendt, political activity is not a means to an end, but an end in itself; one does not engage in political action to promote one’s welfare, but to realize the principles intrinsic to political life, such as freedom, equality, justice, and solidarity. In a late essay entitled “Public Rights and Private Interests” (PRPI) Arendt discusses the difference between one’s life as an individual and one’s life as a citizen, between the life spent on one’s own and the life spent in common with others. She argues that our public interest as citizens is quite distinct from our private interest as individuals. The public interest is not the sum of private interests, nor their highest common denominator, nor even the total of enlightened self-interests. In fact, it has little to do with our private interests, since it concerns the world that lies beyond the self, that was there before our birth and that will be there after our death, a world that finds embodiment in activities and institutions with their own intrinsic purposes which might often be at odds with our short-term and private interests. The public interest refers, therefore, to the interests of a public world which we share as citizens and which we can pursue and enjoy only by going beyond our private self-interest

I taught with games in public schools beginning in 2004, and found that young people gather together to talk about them and it is a form of social capital.

Kids who don’t have experience with games are often outcast, or hopefully have some other activity that they can socialize around.

Games and media are important to kids, just like guys talk sports, or outboard motors, and women talk shopping–sorry to stereotype–kids talk about the activities they value and build identities and social groups around them.

My fear is that adults, educators, and members of the community will, or have  withdrawn from learning and experiencing these games and popular culture dismissing it as lowbrow and simpleton.

But I dare you Dostoevskians to play Bio Shock. These games are not easy, and oddly enough they are in many cases transmedial extensions of classical narratives.

I had a student tell me that Sonic the Hedgehog was like Odysseus, ” He was just trying to get home.”

I loved that one!

Through the act of diminishing the role that these games have in people’s lives, we lose the ability to share and transfer our values.

What right do we have in judging the new media and activities, when we ourselves, have withdrawn with disdain and contempt?

The new groups surrounding  these media do not know you are gone first off, and we are missing out in stretching our own values.

Back to memory

What if evidence of what we thought we saw, believed to be true, and often fight for,  might be a memory that we hoped really happened?

We have always really known this, Lenin once said

A lie told often enough becomes the truth.

What do we keep telling ourselves in isolation?

Perhaps it should be obvious, but the kids who played games with their parents, in my studies, were better at the games, had a greater range of strategy and ability in decision making, had advanced help-seeking behaviors, and had clearly been parented.

They were also what I would call, more grounded. Unflappable, less likely to be set off, and less needy seeming.

These kids also did better in adjusting to conflict, making and keeping friends, and scoring in academics in general.

Those who had game systems, but did not show the characteristics mentioned above tended towards very simple games that were more about aiming, shooting, driving, and timing.

Most did not describe much parental involvement in their lives.

They also had difficulty with reading and decision making, and had been removed from class for disruption, in some cases.

A game system, like a television, radio, or any cultural artifact needs to be talked about and shared–how about a family activity?

Given all of this, the simple message should be ~ we need to talk about this.

What do we need to talk about?

  1. Memory is unreliable and we can make it up as we go
  2. Because of this we can help people who have been in great trauma . . . We can also worry about how this might otherwise be used.
  3. When we talk about memory and moral decision making, it is important that we have community.
  4. Community takes time, dedicated space, and a willingness to move beyond the superficial.
  5. Popular culture can be easily dismissed, as well as the young people who participate in it, but we are missing out on a chance to broaden and deepen and share our values when we withdraw and demonize.

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