Tag Archives: futility

Real Social Influence: Machinima and tiltfactor


So I’m learning all sorts of things these days. The world, it turns out, is a much bigger and amazing place than I though. (Now, some of you might say “You live in Utah; duh.” I’d like to remind you that I spent over half of my life living in cities of several million: Los Angeles, Paris, and New York. So don’t gimme no flack.)

Anyhow, I’ve learned about (a) Machinima, or movies created with video game software, which allows for real-time animation; and (b) tiltfactor.org, a research/game lab at Dartmouth University (and formerly at Hunter College in NYC, where I taught). And then I learned that the two intersect, as seen above.

This led me to a conclusion recently about social influence. I’ve spent the last 22 years of my life in Psychology (Social Psychology, in particular), where social influence is a big topic of interest and where many people hope to influence people to do good things. (See, for example, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues – better known as SPSSI or “spissy” – which is all about psychological approaches to activism.) My conclusion is this: Psychology – and academic work in general – is probably not a very effective way of influencing people. Almost nobody reads our papers; I remember seeing an unverified factoid on Twitter (here’s the link) claiming that the average number of readers per academic article is five, leading one writer to refer to academic research as “write-only articles.” (A nice play on “read-only memory,” you know.)

No, I think the places where messages get out and possibly make a difference are in the popular media: movies, television, music, and video games. I don’t have any data to back this up at the moment, but I’m willing to bet on it. So, what this means, my dear academic colleagues, is that if we want to actually have an influence on what people think, feel, and do, then we probably would do well to follow tiltfactor’s example and get started on making movies and video games. Better yet, making movies with video games.

As my son, Quinn, would say: “I’m just sayin’….”

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