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NYT: Immersion

November 26, 2008

Several friends have forwarded me Immersion from NYT photographer Robbie Cooper. The 3.5 minute video shows children playing video games. We only see their faces as if we were looking out through the screen of the very video game they are staring at.


The children look alternately drugged, determine and engrossed. Indeed, we are witness to the state of flow that video games so aptly create.

Still, the piece isn’t a fair one. Underlying the images is a musical narrative of shotguns and explosions, many of which are taken from M-rated video games I’ve played and recognize. In a classic journalistic move to make audiences think, “Oh no!”, a couple young kids say things like, “Come back and let me stab you!” In the image above, there are no shotgun blasts, but the girl is playing GTA, riding around and listening to reggae. What type of message was the photographer was trying to get across showing this girl? Is it that reggae = drugged out? We can’t say for sure, but the implications of that potential are bothersome to me.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Michel permalink
    November 26, 2008 7:02 pm

    I wonder what the equivalent video of kids in a 10th grade classroom would look like. Probably a hell of a lot fewer engaged faces, and maybe a couple more tired/drugged out ones.

  2. November 26, 2008 7:23 pm

    Just the stills after the video got passed around at work (38 Studios), and I was really surprised. Normally, the NYT takes an approach of meaningful education to gaming culture in general. They usually avoid the loaded stories from *both* sides.

    Now that I’ve seen the video, my surprise has turned into disgust. I mean, I saw from the stills that they had these kids playing GTA IV, and that made me think a little. But goodness, talk about loaded! They sit *definitely* <17 kids in front of Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty 4, etc.? Granted – these kids could very well be playing these games in their spare time. That’s not the point. The point is that’s all they showed, and they did so *on purpose!* Some part of me really doesn’t like that.

  3. November 26, 2008 8:00 pm

    It’s a pretty bad little movie clip for several reasons, one of which is that some of the kids are obviously playing to the camera rather than playing like they would at home.

    Another is the editing, which is obviously cut to show the kids when they look at their worst. You can often see at the beginning or ending of a segment when it seems to be turning into something less severe. For example, the “druggy” girl you reference starts to bob her head to the music and, at that moment, the editor decides to cut away.

    In general, I’m not a big fan of kids playing a lot of video games of any sort, especially not of the sort here. I think extensive video game playing is as harmful as extensive TV watching.

    However, this video is so slanted and crude it makes me want to argue against it even though I agree with the underlying commentary. Ugh.

  4. November 26, 2008 8:41 pm

    A single meaningful moment: At 1:58 a single tear runs down the cheek of the black kid. I wonder what is going on in that shot?

  5. November 26, 2008 9:11 pm

    I notice that Robbie Cooper (the artist) has a blog on the Immersion project at:

  6. November 26, 2008 11:06 pm

    I wondered about the girl crying, too. I was immediately reminded of the crying my daughter has done at a game, mostly when she’s unable to solve puzzles after repeated attempts.

    If you find out what it was, I’d be interested to know.

  7. November 27, 2008 1:03 am

    I asked the artist on his blog about the ratings issue. I repeat his response in full:

    That’s true, and they are almost all too young to be playing, from a ratings point-of-view. However, they all already play the games they are depicted playing and their parents gave their consent and signed model release forms.

    The fact is that kids do play these games. I’m interested to see how different kids respond to violence, not just in video games, but in the media generally. See how they respond to it in different types of media. Specifically I’m going to look at war, because it’s outside of most kid’s experience.

    I remember, at their age, being fascinated by war. It was a big part of a lot of games that my friends and I used to play. But we’d play them in the fields or woods and make camps or whatever. A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a story;

    This is an interesting point of view, since it comes from someone working on the ground. He is pretty harsh about parents, since they are also just trying to cope with modern life- in most families both parents work nowadays and life is a balancing act. But I’m interested in his insight into why some kids are more vulnerable than others. Infact I think I’d like to talk to him. What I’m doing is a process, and what you saw, wherever you saw it, was not the end product…

  8. November 27, 2008 9:04 pm

    On the crying boy, Robbie said:

    Drew was tearing up because he wasn’t blinking. He stops blinking when he plays video games. So, its not emotion, it’s an unusual level of concentration or immersion.

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