Category Archives: 02 – 10.30am


The reading on Games discussed the rewards of reading books. These rewards fall into two categories, the actual information acquired through reading the book and the mental work and process one uses to read the book. These rewards specifically apply to printed novels, which led me to think, “what about audiobooks?” Audiobooks have become increasingly popular in recent times, and it is not surprising as to why. Listening to audiobooks does not require the same attention or work as reading a book and allows for multi-tasking. With an audiobook, you can work, clean, exercise, drive, or follow along. If you read an actual book, the most multi-tasking you can do is listening to music.

However, listening to audiobooks doesn’t have the same rewards as reading books.  While the information is still conveyed listening to an audiobook, it doesn’t provide the same reward for mental exercise as reading a book does. I think the real difference lies in the difference between active and passive involvement. Reading a book is active and requires full attention. Listening to an audiobook is passive, and doesn’t require the same attention as reading does. I think the same active/passive concept applies to videogames in that playing videogames requires active participation. 

The Game

Johnson made some great points in this reading but, like others, I felt he could have expanded upon his final points about gaming. I did find it quite interesting his exercise on if games were to have come first rather than books. We have spoken about cultural lag and I think that applies nicely to this situation and how the most avid critics of gaming are normally the ones who have never experienced it or grew up with books.

Needless to say I agree with him on multiple levels. First, I agree that reading is a key skill to have, especially in todays society. The ability to read, comprehend, and apply written word is something that is invaluable and, to me at least, it seems that the emphasis on this skill is fading. I love to read but I also love to game, which is what I also agree with in his article.

I believe that gaming is also something that one should experience and is extremely useful to people, more now than ever. Yes, certain games can seem completely useless except to create mindless zombie children for hours (CoD) but like Johnson pointed out, there is that gap between observing the games and actually experiencing them. Games foster creativity in how you react to situations, how we see different worlds, and even how we view our own.


p.s. if you read the title, you just lost the game

The Value of Video Games

Before I offer my thoughts on this reading, I want to offer up a small anecdote that contextualizes my own experience with games. When I was 11, I traveled with my father to the UK to look at boarding schools for the remainder of my secondary education. During our visits to a number of schools, we had conversations with headmasters of each school. At one particular schools, the headmaster started our meeting with a comment about one of the school’s recent projects. He said, “This week, we’ve had the boys hard at work building trebuchets.” He then turned to me and asked (reminder: I’m 11), “Do you know what a trebuchet is?” I perked up and said, “Absolutely, it’s a medieval siege weapon used to launch things a great distance.” The headmaster, looking surprised, asked, “Very good. How do you know that?” I responded, “Oh, I learnt it through Age of Empires II…a video game.” The headmaster looked shocked for a moment, then steered the conversation back into safer waters.

I use that anecdote not to underscore my own knowledge of historical weaponry, but to emphasize the capability of video games to be so much more than mindless play. I found Johnson’s argument to be thoroughly compelling, not least due to my own experiences with games. I felt that Johnson spent the majority of the article defending reading, rather than reinforcing the value of video games. Yet, I question his wholehearted endorsement of video games as a useful teaching tool on the ground that it desensitizes violence and teaches negative social lessons.

Although Johnson does mention that video games typically contain violence, he focuses on the positive capabilities of video games, which I agree with. Yet, he fails to mention the incredible levels of violence within today’s video games. Most individuals who have played a version of Grand Theft Auto would probably agree that it contains an inordinate amount of violence, especially graphic violence. One of the serious problems in our society is the relatively lax attitude of families towards these video games. I am definitely not proposing that families attempt to totally isolate children from video games, but I do think a better understanding is needed of the relationship between video games and violence, with an emphasis on how it affects our minds. From a purely lay position, I think that the desensistivity of violence has generated negative social effects in our communities. I wonder if it has decreased our ability to emphathize with victims of violent crime.

Furthermore, there are several significant social lessons generated through video games. Johnson does choose to highlight most of the positive lessons, but falls short of analyzing the negative lessons–of which there are many. For example, video games encourage people to remain stationary for long periods of time. Granted, technology like Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect has encouraged gamers to get up and move as part of the game interaction. Yet, the vast majority of gaming requires little movement on behalf of the gamers. For children, I think there is a huge danger present in video games. As a child, one forms habits that last a lifetime. Speaking from experience, video games do not encourage kids to move and exercise. While exercising is not that important when you’re 10 (I envy kids’ amazing metabolisms), it becomes increasingly important as children grow older. Michelle Obama’s major campaign, “Let’s Move,” is directly aimed at stopping the growing number of children who choose to spend their spare time on the couch. Admittedly, video games are not solely to blame for the lack of physical activity amongst young Americans. Certainly, the television industry has also probably played a larger role. Yet, it would be hard to deny that video games have not played a role. Johnson should consider these concerns in his arguments about the virtues of video games. While I agree with him to a certain extent, I also recognize that video games have serious drawbacks that need to be addressed to ensure that video games remain a positive influence on our society.

Easter Island

In class, we’ve been discussing the impact of dispositional, situational, and systemic factors on instances of failure or collapse. I think based on the readings and film on Easter Island, situational factors were the most critical in determining the outcome. Dobson’s article pointed out that it may have been the remoteness of the island combined with destructive rats, rather than destructive humans that were really responsible for the collapse.

I think Easter Island is a good example of how failure cannot be attributed to a sole cause. Easter Island didn’t collapse only because of individual causes. It instead collapsed as a result of a web of complex factors.  

The Mystery of Easter Island–Solved?

Our reading and video for this evening focused on various theories for how the native people of Easter Island suffered their societal demise. A number of theories, most prominently amongst them the “rat theory,” suggest that the collapse of native culture was due to a combination of environmental factors. Certainly, the assertion that the deforestation of Easter Island started the decline of Easter Island is widely accepted. Beyond that, however, accounts differ.

I find it strange that so many scientists have zeroed in on the deforestation of Easter Island as the central theory for the demise of society. In the documentary, the two archeologists noted that the native peoples may have adapted to the lack of trees through their use of “rock gardens.” Although there are problems with this theory, it still leads to the general suggestion that society did not totally collapse following deforestation.

Even though there is substantial evidence showing that there was strife amongst the constituent populations of Easter Island, there is little to suggest why this strife occurred. Certainly, scientists have speculated that this strife occurred due to a competition for resources after deforestation. Yet, they have little evidence to back this theory up–the only evidence they have tells us that the native peoples fought, but not why.

Finally, if we accept that deforestation and subsequent strife led to the collapse of Easter Island society, the constituent “rat theory” still has problems. Both the documentary and the reading for tonight suggested that stowaway rats might have consumed the majority of reproductive palm nuts on Easter Island. Although this theory is compelling, it is riddled with “what ifs.” The largest amongst these logical holes is Easter Island’s isolation. Supposedly, Easter Island was almost totally isolated from the rest of humanity, otherwise one could logically assume that the islanders would have left following deforestation. Yet, the “rat theory” argues that the rats arrived as stowaways at some point subsequent to human civilization. I don’t have a better theory to offer, but I cannot conclude that the mystery of Easter Island has been solved. There are still too many questions that need to be answered–questions to which we may never have the answer.

The SPE: Excusing Individual Responsibility in a Bad Situation

Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) was designed, in part, to test the extent that humans would go to in order to complete a task. Specifically, it was designed to test how far the guards would go in order to pacify the prisoner body. In his discussion of the experiment’s results, Zimbardo discusses the potential reasons why the outcome of the experiment was so extreme. He argues that it was not the internal immorality of the guards, but rather the situation that created the problematic outcome of the SPE.

I find Zimbardo’s situational argument to be highly compelling. It neatly explains away why good people do bad things. To extend his argument, people in a genocidal environment don’t kill people because they “want” to kill them, they are motivated by situational factors—thus, it is the genocidal environment that is at fault and not the individual. Thus, we can explain away individual responsibility from Abu Gharaib and the Holocaust. Yet, doesn’t this argument ring slightly hollow? Can we really excuse individuals from unethical actions?

In my opinion, the individual remains responsible regardless of the situation. Zimbardo and his volunteer guards are partially at fault for refusing to recognize the situation or remove themselves from it. Granted, such powerful social pressure can be difficult to overcome, but given strong ethical violations, such action is necessary. To allow anything less would be to excuse the actions of Nazi concentration camp guards in this Holocaust. Regardless of the situational pressures facing those guards, they were clearly aware of the atrocities going on around them. Thus, to give them a moral excuse for their actions is simply inexcusable. Although Zimbardo presents a compelling argument for the power of the situation, I cannot fully accept the argument—the individual retains some moral responsibility for their actions in bad situations.

Self-Serving Biases and Milgram

I think Zimbardo’s discussion of self-serving biases and Milgram’s research about obedience to authority was very interesting. I think most people would not think they are capable of administering supposedly deadly shocks to a person just because an authoritative person told them to do so. However, the results of Milgram’s study reveal just the opposite. Only about one third of the participants refused to administer shocks up to the maximum voltage.

This is where self-serving biases come into play. People tend to think themselves as above average, the result of self-serving biases. Because people think of themselves as better than the “average Joe,” we exclude ourselves from the majority when they are in the wrong. In the case of Milgram’s experiment, most people think they would be included in the 33% of participants who did not administer what would have been deadly electrical shocks. However, if we remove self-serving biases from the equation, I think most people would find themselves very unsure of what their actions would be in such a situation.

No matter how much we want to think that we are not capable of doing something “evil,” but the reality is that for most people, the power of the situation, the influence of authority, and the tendency of people to conform illustrate that the majority of people are not only capable of turning into “bad apples,” despite our self-serving biases telling us otherwise.  


A few of the rules that the guards for the experiment came up with really stuck out to me. A good deal of the rules seem like pretty standard stuff for time in prison, like keeping their cells clean visitors being a privilege, obeying guards’ orders, no defacing or damaging prison property. But a few of the rules are just plain dehumanizing. “Prisoners must address each other by number only” and “Prisoners must always address the guards as “Mr. Correctional Officer” and the Warden as “Mr. Chief Correctional Officer.” I see why they chose these rules, as they do offer some benefits for the guards. People are less likely to build bonds with someone whose name they don’t know, and they might be more likely to snitch on the other person if they’ve done something wrong. The guards don’t know the prisoners’ names, which probably enables them to not think of the prisoners as real people with feelings, thoughts, history, etc. Not knowing the guards’ actual names likely hurts the prisoners’ abilities to connect with and plead with the guards. We often don’t realize it, but taking away a person’s name can have large effects.

Having thoroughly discussed The Stanford Prison Experiment in two previous leadership classes, I knew quite a bit about Philip Zimbardo’s study of the capacity humans have for evil. I was, and continue to be, fascinated by the fact that in just a few short days, the “prison guards” could have such little regard for the “prisoners,” who were technically their peers. Not allowing the prisoners to use the bathroom and making them urinate and defecate in buckets in their cells is so dehumanizing that I’m sure even real prison guards show mercy and allow prisoners to use the restrooms or at least empty their buckets before morning. Even the language of the prison guards toward the inmates was appalling to me: in such a short time span, the guards took their role so seriously.

Reading the beginning of “The Lucifer Effect” was interesting in that I learned about another experiment Zimbardo performed in Palo Alto and the Bronx. Zimbardo left seemingly abandoned cars in Palo Alto and in the Bronx. Having recorded over two dozen instances of vandalism and robbery of the car in the Bronx (in broad daylight, nonetheless), Zimbardo concluded that anonymity leads to a reduction in personal accountability.

This made me think about my actions, and the actions of others. Sometimes, when you think no one is watching, it’s easier to do immoral things you wouldn’t normally do. When you think you can do something without getting caught and without consequences, it is much more justifiable and viable. This reminded me of the case of Matthew Shepard. Although I believe the two young men who murdered Matthew were simply malevolent, indecent humans who had a personal, irrational vendetta against homosexuals, perhaps part of the reason they committed this egregious crime had to do with the fact that they committed their crime in an admittedly abandoned place where they thought no one would see them or even find Matthew. With that much anonymity and seclusion, their plan seemed like the perfect crime (besides the fact that they were seen in a public place with Matthew immediately before the murder). I definitely believe that personal accountability has to do with how anonymous the situation is, and whether or not people have been performing similar actions (for example, people are more likely to litter in an already dirty environment than a pristine park because they believe everyone is doing it and that no one will catch them or know the difference). Though I don’t know how to stop this type of behavior, it’s interesting, yet scary, reading about what drives human nature and human evil.




In the early goings on TLE, Zimbardo describes the abandoned car experiment that he performed. The stark contract between New York City and Palo Alto he describes from his experiment is not only setting up the findings of his prison experiment but in and of itself shows how much of an effect our surroundings have on us.

“Community spirit thrives in a quiet, orderly way in places such as Palo Alto where people care about the physical and social quality of their lives and have the resources to work at improving both. Here there is a sense of fairness and trust that contrasts with the nagging tugs of inequality and cynicism that drag down folks in some other places” (pg. 25). One of the words that really sticks out to me is resources. Having or not having sufficient resources really dictates what you focus on day to day. If I live in a poor community there is no hesitation to strip a car to the bone to make some money for my family, and the community would ultimately feel the same way. If that were an option in a place where I don’t have to worry about my next meal the standards for my actions are much higher. Obviously there really aren’t many places that have no social influences at all, but subconsciously I believe that where we live or grew up has an enormous effect on the reactions we have to things. We want to be affirmed by the community and our actions are a result of that.

Do you think that if you were to grow up in a place different from where you did you would have a different moral code? Good or bad? How do you think this may be related to a mob mentality, even if there is no physical “mob” just one that you associate with being the community?