Let’s do a full verbal practice passage for this week’s free practice:
The video game is an art form with infinite malleability. The game creator can communicate any artistic message and achieve – or at least try to achieve – any aim. While the images presented on most screens we interact with are intended for passive consumption, video games transform them into objects to be interacted with. By means of the video game, what is originally intended as a love story can turn into sociopathic rampage or a rambling environmental exploration. The modern video game presupposes two things: that violent conflict is the primary source of human drama, and that all game behavior must be tied to progression.
When processed into the virtual environment of a video game, any aspect of life can be constructed into a progressive system. The “life simulation” genre of games, most notably The Sims, allows players to quantize their progression in the most mundane of life activities through a numerical representation of happiness. At the other end of the scale, hyper-violent games such as Bulletstorm or Hitman allow the player to progress through the quantity and quality of murders they carry out. This system creates an entirely functionalist worldview: a love interest matters not because of the emotions and relationship possibilities they represent, but rather for the number of “experience points” a character will gain through interactions with the character. Video games also include an environmental richness that would rival a world-class art museum. They are often filled with landscapes rendered with a beauty and precision not met by even the greatest oil-on-canvas masters.
The functionalist and artistic components of video games create complementary, but far more often, contradictory responses in the player. This disparity is an unavoidable conflict present in any medium created by artists whose societies separate the subjective perception of aesthetic beauty from the utilitarian design of the marketplace. Video games, by their nature, bring out this conflict more sharply than any other medium. While movie makers can use their artistic choices to serve the mechanics of their storytelling, and novelists must weave the beauty of their language into the narrative, video games can (and routinely do) entirely separate the art from the function.
A marketplace whose primary actors are knowledge workers requires a population of people who have been conditioned to sit in front of the screen for hours at a time manipulating the images they see. A video game may require the player to use a certain key to unlock a door leading to treasure, but the fundamental act is a physical passivity and mental alertness that differs little from a worker creating a spreadsheet to “unlock a door” leading to their paycheck. These same workers often then leave the workplace, go home, and immediately sit back down in front of the video game screen. In this respect, video games are both the agent that conditions workers to be ready for a digital workplace and the recreation that lets the workers relax from the digital workplace. This constant screen-mediated life further deteriorates a person’s physical well-being, as well as their ability to focus carefully and thoughtfully, that is, their ability to think deeply rather than quickly.
Eventually, this screen-mediated life comes to replace life itself. When friends meet, they often spend more time looking at their cellphone screens than each other. One television camera man recently remarked, “yeah the studio audience tends to look up at the screens mounted in the walls rather than at the actual people on stage.” The solution, to the extent that one is even possible, is to generate a mindfulness about our interactions, both passive and active, with the screens that surround us. Our mental ecology needs a robust helping of unplugged time during which we may think and live more slowly and thoughtfully, and our minds can purge some portion of the mental virus of superficial thinking and stimulus-response behavior created and reinforced by digital screens.
The author’s point in discussing the functionalist and artistic aspects of video games is to suggest that a solution to the problems created by games must:
A) involve time during which we may interact with people without constantly looking at the screens on our cellphones.
B) solve the divide in society between subjective perception of aesthetic beauty and the utilitarian demands of the workplace.
C) require us to spend more time reading on paper rather than on a screen.
D) cultivate an aesthetic appreciation that is divorced from a quantified sense of linear progression.
The author’s discussion of the artistic and functionalist components of video games assumes that:
A) the aesthetic aspects of a medium must complement its utilitarian value.
B) video games create a cognitive dissonance in the player by divorcing the two key aspects of the art’s expression.
C) the society in which artists live affects the art they create.
D) violence as a problem-solving approach is incompatible with subjective appreciation of artistic beauty.
The existence of which of the following would most weaken the author’s view of video games?
A) A critically acclaimed, but relatively unpopular game in which conflicts may be resolved either nonviolently or violently
B) A video game based around movies or novels that represents how the artists working in those media were able to construct a narrative while still maintaining artistic beauty
C) A game that gets banned because part of playing the game requires the player to engage in real-world vandalism to earn experience points
D) A game in which the aesthetics of background elements in the game serve a central purpose in the game’s narrative
Which of the following statements by the author suggests most clearly that the author is critical of a screen-mediated life?
A) Violence is presupposed as the primary source of human drama.
B) Video games fail to combine art and function in a way that movies do.
C) Workers spend all day staring at a computer and then go home and play video games.
D) Our mental well being requires unplugged time.
The author’s solution as presented in the final paragraph would most likely involve implementing which of the following programs?
A) A media literacy course in high schools that teaches students how advertisers use manipulative stimulus-response behavior to control their audience.
B) Guided meditation practices in which an on-screen yogi instructs students on how to deepen their mental reserves.
C) Increasing the number of video games on the market that emphasize cooperative, non-violent and non-linear approaches to gameplay.
D) A family dinner each evening during which all family members turn off their cellphones so as to avoid interrupting the conversation.
A recent study that showed a higher level of worker productivity in white-collar jobs among those workers who played a large amount of video games as adolescents would:
A) support the author’s assertion about the relationship between video games and working life.
B) weaken the author’s thesis about the use of linear progression in video games.
C) support the author’s opinion that video games emphasize the utilitarian, functionalist aspects of art.
D) weaken the author’s contention that video games are a part of a problem that is hurting our health.
As described in the passage, the functional aspect of a video game could include:
I. a kitchen knife that the player may use as a weapon to attack other characters.
II. the paint job on a car the player may steal, which increases the value of car when the player sells it to a fence.
III. the customization options a player may exercise at the outset of a game to create a unique in-game avatar.
A) I only
B) I and III only
C) I and II only
D) I, II, and III
And here’s the answer key: