Games Are Fascinating: Red Alert

Posted: October 19, 2011 in Business Books
Tags: , , ,
Red Alert 3 loading screen

There are at least three things in this picture that might cause me alarm

Nancy Grace, CSPI, Fox News, CNN, Tea Partiers, and Occupiers of Wall Street – they all have one thing in common that keeps us talking about them. They raise Alarm. Get someone panicking about something and he will listen to your message. On April 14th dry and boring tax forms become absolutely riveting. When people think their well-being or livelihood is at stake, you have their attention.

We’ve been talking about triggers for fascination that attract us, but not everything holds our attention does so for positive reason. Fascination is not always about what makes us feel good. There’s a reason we describe something horrible we can’t turn away from as a “train wreck.” Alarm isn’t inherently bad, there are people who invoke it as a trigger for fascination quite deliberately (MADD, DARE, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, etc)

There are times when the element of fascination is not something that a company encourages; Cristal does not want their product to have Prestige in the rap music world. And the video game industry does not set about to use Alarm. Yes, there are game storylines and mechanics that try to induce it, but that’s not the Alarm that keeps the population at large talking about video games. At this point I have to begrudgingly invoke the name of Jack Thompson.

I could go on for pages about all the ways in which I dislike Jack Thompson and think he’s wrong, but I will restrain myself for the next time the ambulance-chaser starts making an ass of himself in front of a camera. Suffice it to say, he wields the Alarm trigger with deft expertise. He calls video games “murder simulators” and details the way in which video games are damaging children. It’s an effective message. The industry is a bit impenetrable and frightening to people who haven’t grown up with video games. News channels are all too eager to pick up his message. They make their living selling Alarm after all.

There are three ways to make Alarm effective. First, define the consequences. Jack Thompson uses the old “think about the children” chestnut and for good reason. It’s as effective as it is classic. Frederich Wertham used it to forever change the comic book industry in America. Randolph Hearst used it to push for the outlawing of marijuana. It’s been invoked against Jazz, The Beatles, KISS, and Marilyn Manson. Whatever is causing the panic of the day, it comes down to the same dangerous consequence: it will turn children into violent sociopaths and hapless victims of said sociopaths. If there were no consequence then Alarm would not be as effective in capturing our imaginations. Would you ever get around to filling out your 1042 if the IRS didn’t say you’d be put in jail otherwise?

The next pillar is deadlines. The IRS knows this (And so does everyone who’s ever waited in line for stamps at the post office at 11:00 pm on April 14th). Professional fear mongers don’t generally use hard dates. Generally they stick with “this must end now or the next tragedy is on your head.”  Not quite as effective as having a concrete date, but it is better than a nebulous cloud of Alarm.

Finally, use the distress to cause positive action. Positive in this case doesn’t necessarily mean that the action is good and healthy, but rather that it is some kind of forward motion. (If you find that you use Alarm as a mode of personal fascination, I am certain that you use your powers for good.) Putting people in distress will only hold their interest for so long if you don’t tell them what they can do about it. Jack Thompson is very clear here. He wants the video game industry to censor itself out of business.

Video games are new and they’re popular with the young. Older generations really don’t get it and people are more readily scared by something they don’t really understand. This is not to say that you have to be ignorant of a topic for Alarm to trigger your fascination with it. I will admit to a personal bias here against Alarm. I resent it when someone tries to get me worked up about about a cause. But as with Lust and Rebellion, the method of fascination is neither good nor bad. It’s just tools to get a message across.

  1. TimmyMac says:

    I find that alarm is an effective motivator for a while, but eventually it can breed resentment and lack of credibility. For me, the classic example is the whole global warming thing, which seems to rely entirely upon alarm and not even bother with substance (whether any exists or not), but really it seems like the entire political scene for most of the time I’ve been aware of it – certainly since 9-11 and especially since Obama came into office, but I suspect before – has been completely dominated by alarm. When was the last time you can remember that the world wasn’t in one crisis or another? Bottom line: Alarm may be an effective motivator, but I don’t think you should make hasty decisions based upon it, and that’s exactly what those who use it want you to do.

    • LX says:

      There are significant backdraws to using any of the triggers for fascination as a basis for long-term decision making. Fascination, by definition, shortcuts logical thinking to make option A more appealing over option B when all other things are equal. You definitely hit the downfalls of using Alarm in the long term right on the head.

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