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Adrian Hon’s You’ve Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All does something I like books doing. It makes me ask questions not addressed in the text. I like it when I can go off on mental tangents; thinking about things and making connections I might not otherwise make.
I grew up right around the time that people like lawyer Jack Thompson were in the news, railing against video games. Thompson and his contemporaries argued that video games made gamers violent and blamed school shootings on video games.
Thompson himself, not yet disbarred, earned his early notoriety with a lawsuit on behalf of the parents of three victims of the Heath High School shooting. At the time he didn’t just blame video games; he also hated violent music, movies and porn.
But over the following decade Thompson seemed to focus more on video games. The guy specifically seemed to have it in for Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series, in particular.
By the end of things, after Thompson was disbarred. Over the years Thompson was active, it always felt like his actions and rhetoric did the opposite of what he intended. He claimed video games made people violent, and that they trained gamers to handle and use weapons.
What he wanted doesn’t really matter, because the industry rallied against him. More than that, actual studies disproved his claims. The guy wasn’t wrong, he was demonstrably wrong. And in his wrongness we all accepted that video games don’t make people violent.
But I wonder if we didn’t convince ourselves of something past that; that video games don’t have any impact on players at all. I wonder if our own hubris got us to where we are.
Adrian Hon’s You’ve Been Played
Adrian Hon is many things. He’s the founder and CEO of Six to Start. He’s a game developer, who worked on Zombies, Run!, a mobile exercise game. He studied neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and University of California.
He’s also an author. Hon’s latest work is You’ve Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All. And, at least by my read, he’s at least somewhat anti-capitalist and pro-union.
“The gamification of video games can make them more fun, but more often than not, it introduces unwelcome grind and compulsive behavior,” writes Hon. “The games industry posts record revenues every year, but the manipulation continues because it can never have enough money. Should we be surprised? That’s capitalism, after all.”
Those sentiments are only a minor part of the whole. You’ve Been Played wanders through the history of gamification; how the earliest practices became what we have today. How it started as a way to better ourselves and the world around us, but mutated into something more grotesque.
You’ve Been Played is simply a fascinating look into the gamification of the world. It shows, in detail, that we aren’t as immune to the effects of video games as we might believe. Sure, it’s true that video games don’t turn us into violent sociopaths. But it’s clear we aren’t immune to other effects.
It doesn’t just focus on the games industry side of things, but showcases how even modern politically motivated movements are impacted by gamification. The book offers both scathing indictments of current practices and potential solutions to make things friendlier and more palatable.
You’ve Been Played reads like an interesting lecture from a favorite professor. A few pages in and Hon hooks you in by making it personal and keeps those hooks the whole way through. It isn’t just bullet points on a research paper, it’s a perspective — his perspective. It isn’t just about the games industry, but the industry features prominently in his musings. How could it not?
He warns the reader of the real, tangible dangers of where we’re at right now. About what he sees happening and what could happen in the future. He talks about how we could change things.
I just hope he isn’t our industry’s Cassandra.
You’ve Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All is available now on Amazon and other retailers. Basic Books provided a copy of the book for the purpose of this review.