Part 3, When the cognitive vehicle of narrative backfires


If anyone remembers the 2D pictures, which were popular in the nineties, that you had to stare at until a 3D image suddenly appeared, that´s how the challenge felt when trying to make people aware about the narrative. You might also recall how frustrating it was to have people standing over you when staring at the 2D image and hear them saying: “can you see it, can you see it?” and if not seeing “can´t you see it, can´t you see it?” or even worse, “I can´t believe you do not see it!” The only thing the 2D images did was to split people into a “we” and “them” and made them, that didn’t see, frustrated. I know that some thought I should think less and let people believe I was Scheherazade meanwhile handling my algorithms under the table, but to me, it would be cheating by making people believe they saw 3D when just seeing 2D. Even if it might look like narrative constructors cheat and manipulate people the narrative construction I speak for does not persuade people to change beliefs. That is called rhetoric, which requires and separates people into a “we” and “them”.

If looking at how we learn from an evolutionary perspective and knowing about the “anxiety-driven” learning when facing something unknown, the fact that it´s not every day we are exposed to a new media, learning needs to be handled by care. To stress the process of learning by saying “can´t you see it, can´t you see it?” would not make anyone learn better or faster. In worse cases, it might even increase anxiety. Increased anxiety can cause people to reject new information. By forming groups that agree to the rejection of “the new” they create meanings to confirm their beliefs which can even harm others; all assisted by the cognitive vehicle of narrative, but in the reversed direction to my “wheeling”.

In an on-going cognitive distribution of digital tools in formal education, where the interest to implement “game-like” experiences to the educational material was increasing, my sentiments were desired – to a certain degree –as long as I didn’t mention the “real games”. With the antidote in my hand I started to look at the contrasts to understand how education understood “the new” and what they wanted to achieve – their vision (premise) – to the eventual implementation. Since the contrasts (anxiety) were strong, which could be sensed by how people hypothesizing their beliefs, I instinctively lowered the “threat” by emphasizing film, literature, motivation, and learning theories. And when it came to “It-Which-Must-Not-be-Named” (but this time it wasn’t narrative), instead of saying “video games” I referred to digital and interactive media.

One could believe that it was a new generation meeting an old that wanted to see a change, but it wasn’t. It was instead an ideology based on beliefs that could be traced back to the Greeks. By the development of learning and motivation theories at the end of the 19th century accumulated in the context of education, forming the beliefs about how the human could be regulated by stimuli and response and be controlled in its behavior. The ideology was called behaviorism, which had been a target for psychologists since the fifties to be removed and where Bruner commented on the movement towards behaviorism as following:

“It was not a revolution against behaviorism with the aim of transforming behaviorism into a better way of pursuing psychology by adding a little mentalism to it. Edward Tolman had done that, to little avail. It was an altogether more profound revolution than that. Its aims was to discover and to describe formally the meanings that human beings created out of their encounters with the world, and then to propose hypotheses about what meaning-making processes were implicated” (Bruner, 1990, p. 2)

Since I was familiar with how art and entertainment are evaluated by personal taste, the same evaluative judgment could be seen within education. There was one category that evaluated video games as to be bad, and the only thing they saw was blood, killing, and death. The second category of thoughts came from them that could see that kids had fun playing, but they didn’t play themselves as they thought it was silly and looked upon the use of games as rewards for completing schoolwork. Since all rewards have a backside, the children who hadn’t completed the schoolwork didn’t get to play. A third category had found a concept called “gamification”. The concept is some kind of compromise to the contrasts in how the first and second categories understood “games”. The idea allowed for borrowing simple reward-mechanics from “real games”, making students complete schoolwork by receiving “stars”, “marks” and “bravos”.

As the contrasts in how people understood games were influenced by personal taste and ideology, which also affected the expectations that formed goals and the premise by how the digital media should be used and experienced, I didn’t see how I could do so much unless I weren’t prepared to rhetorically change people´s beliefs by starting with the old Greeks. Basically, the same cognitive mechanism that I had experienced ten years earlier within the academics also permeated the context of education. Peoples´ views on games influenced their expectations of me and where I would need a pretty strong ethos (a rhetoric term which means to convince once credibility) to make them see beyond the context-bound comprehension of video games and playing.

But it wasn’t only me that was judged by preconceptions. They who believed games were bad or a hinder to formal schoolwork did not see what the children that played actually did. From my cognitive perspective on learning, I could see how the children that played were involved in highly advanced cognitive activities by setting up strategies, reasoning, making decisions, making choices, and collaborating. But in the eyes of them thinking that games were bad the beliefs were that the children had learning disabilities or that they were badly brought up, and through regulation of their behavior as not to play the children could focus on what was considered as “real learning”.

Within narrative construction, there is a term called “red herring” which is when meaningless information is planted to mislead and distract the “receivers”. As the children went to school with the expectations to learn and they who should meet the expectations had low expectations on the children’s capacity (disability) to learn, whereby the goal to learn wasn’t reciprocally shared, made the school turning into a meaningless “red herring” for the children. By knowing how learning works and how we like to avoid anxiety when not understanding to get in control, many of the children that were met by low expectations could not see any other solutions than to stay home. Those who tried to understand by staying at school fared badly where their behaviors were regulated and disciplined.

This was indeed a moment of challenge for a narrative constructor with the responsibility to be the last man standing when facing the “unconsciousness of the automatic” constructing narratives as well. As if looking at the situation from a narrative constructor´s perspective, the experience turned out to have all elements and techniques a narrative constructor would use to propel and enhance people´s emotions by how the children’s rights to learn were deprived of them, like Bambi´s mother was taken away from Bambi. The feeling of being some kind of Erin Brockovich played by Julia Roberts wasn’t remote. Starting to read up on the law, regulatory documents, curricula, Children´s convention, etc. to understand what caused the inconsistencies in the system, I sent my results (like a diligent tester) to them that had the ethos to make a change. When no one listened (which followed exactly a canonical story structure played by Julia Roberts) I continued my way up in the system to find them that had formulated the vision – the politicians. And the higher and deeper I got, the bigger the problems and difficulties turned out to be. Since what I looked at were not contrasts. It was confrontations. And when it turned out to not be a few children that were affected, but thousands of them (which was like a point of no return), I started to aid parents to legally claim their children´s rights not to be discriminated by providing them information how to basically “take down the bosses” by using the law.

Throughout this time, when fighting for children´s rights, I stayed anonymous. If someone asked how I knew so many things I felt proud to redress the beliefs about children playing games by telling that it was game developers work at the bottom, and what runs a game is the same mechanism that runs society. The contrasts, though, were that games need to be meaningful to everyone involved otherwise no one will or can play them.

Next part 4 The need for retrieval of the consciousness

Back to part 2 The benefit and disadvantage of unconsciousness

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