Does gaming and social media technology help to reveal the darker side of humans?

By Craig Weightman,

During my lectures in Games Programming I have used the game Grand Theft Auto as a wonderful example to get my students thinking about how games can reveal aspects of human psychology. The exchange usually goes as follows:

Q: Who, here, has played Grand Theft Auto?

Most people in the audience put their hands up.

Q: Who has stolen a car?

Most people put their hands up.

Q: …And who has stolen a car in Grand Theft Auto?

Yes, this one always catches them out, with some laughter.

Q: Ok, who has stolen a car, then mounted the pavement in the game and mowed pedestrians down with this vehicle?

Again, quite a few put their hands up.

Q: …And who enjoyed it when they did this?

Perhaps worryingly, most people put their hands up (including myself)

Q: Would you do this in real life?

Usually, audibly, everyone says no (thankfully).

Q: Why wouldn’t you do this?

More often than not, someone pipes up and says: “Because it’s a game, it’s not real.”

Having concluded on this valid point, I then spend a bit of time discussing this.

Why, then, do we do things in games that we wouldn’t do in real life and enjoy them? As the students so rightly conclude, it’s because we feel that we can express ourselves in a consequence free environment.

However, this does imply that the desire to do these things is already within us, and it is the rule of law, social norms, and a sense of conscience that keeps us in check. Indeed, it has been found that, during times when the rule of law isn’t as apparent, during times of conflict, terrible crimes take place that are not even related to the usually understood atrocities of war.

Is there a part of us, then, that secretly wishes to indulge in these activities, which games allow for the safe expression of in their pre-designed, artificial, and consequence free environments?

The psychologist Carl Jung spoke of this phenomenon. He suggested that we all have an archetypal shadowy part of our psychologies that we would need to come to terms with if we are to maintain a healthy mind.

The example he gave was that if you were to come across an injured bird lying on the ground, you couldn’t have the thought of saving it without also having the thought of destroying it occurring at the back of your mind.

One key to keeping a healthy psychology, he suggested, was to admit to ourselves that we do have these thoughts even though we would rather not indulge them.

This idea has important implications when it comes to the old argument of whether playing games increases violence in people. It could be considered that having people commit violent acts in games keeps them from indulging these instincts on the streets. This might also have the effect of helping psychologies become healthier. After all, one has to acknowledge a tendency on some level in order to express it.

The darker impulse within us can also be seen on social media.

We may all have had the experience of seeing a discussion spin out of control and become unpleasant when people disagree. Those involved often resort to quite hurtful or, at the very least, disrespectful comments. This was seen recently during the Brexit issue; a discussion that is still ongoing, with no reduction in volatile discussion in sight.

The question I have to ask, here, is: Would this exchange have happened in this way if it took place with all participants in the same room?

I have even heard reports of comments on YouTube that suggest that a person uploading a video of themselves singing should go and buy “A bottle of Bleach” with a shockingly sinister implication. Again, I wonder if this exchange would take place in a face to face scenario.

This observed behaviour could suggest that the knowledge of the existence of a time and space gap between those throwing the insults and those receiving them is acting as an enabler. That is, social media, by its very nature, could be encouraging the expression of instincts that are present there already.

It would seem, then, that as our environment becomes more and more technological, we are seeing new aspects of humanity being revealed. Acknowledging this is important because, when we do this, we can start to put systems into place that help us come to terms with the darker side ourselves, without necessarily venting them on platforms like social media.

Indeed, within this context, perhaps the study of ethics through computer gaming within the curriculum might help to train the moral codes of, as well as help bolster the psychological health of, future generations.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s article. Next week we will be looking at whether we can make a machine conscious, if we could whether we should, and, if we did, how this might help us to understand our own minds.

By Craig Weightman
Lecturer in Computer Games Programming

Trump, Wider Contexts and Lessons in History

By Laura,

Fiona Robertson-Snape

Last Friday I gave a lecture to level 4 history students on the establishment of the post Second World War order.  Until the election of Donald Trump today that order has largely been taken for granted. The order is liberal in design based on an open trading system, collective security and a strong western alliance.  It was never a perfect order and it was one which supported and advanced the interests of the United States and which continues to privilege the most powerful in the system.  There was a trade-off, however, that whilst the interests of the powerful might be advanced by the system they would also be constrained by it.  At times the bargain has been broken, most willfully by the Presidency of George W. Bush, nevertheless the post-war liberal order has provided a structural stability to the international system for the past 71 years.

Aston, PA, USA - September 22, 2016: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump greets the crowd after delivering a speech to a crowd in Aston, Pennsylvania.

Aston, PA, USA – September 22, 2016: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump greets the crowd after delivering a speech to a crowd in Aston, Pennsylvania.

The most important feature of a managed international system is that at its heart is a system of rules and rules constrain raw power.  When power acts against those rules, which it has done, the rules at least enable a strong condemnation from a firm foundation: disapproval is not just a matter of opinion, it is a matter of law.   How though is that law to be upheld in an international system in which there is no world government, no centralized enforcement power? It is sustained by consent, by enlightened self-interest which recognizes that whilst there might be short-term costs to acting within international legal constraints, these are outweighed by the long-term interests of a stable, consensual, rule-based international system.

The election of Donald Trump has the potential to threaten, possibly even destroy the liberal consensus which whilst buffeted and bruised has just above survived into the second decade of the 21st century.   The election of a populist president on a programme of protectionism and even isolationism is not what the world needs right now.  The rising power of non-liberal states has signalled the likely demise of the existing American order for some time. The world is at a pivotal point in its history, a moment potentially with great opportunities for a better future: the world should be more multi-polar, western interests should not always dominate. Whether the transition to whatever is coming next is peaceful and supportive of wider human interests or not, to a large extent depends on the quality of US leadership as the US adapts itself to the new realities of shared power.  The slogan ‘make America great again’ does not augur well.

Level 4 students are almost universally unaware that they are living through a tumultuous moment in history.  They have chosen a good subject to study at university though, one which enables them to develop a greater awareness and more critical understanding of the wider contexts within which their lives will be lived. Democracy, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, is the worst possible system except for all the rest and it certainly throws up some surprises.  Traditional liberal thinkers always stressed that democracy could only work well when it was accompanied by good education – voters should understand what they are doing when they vote.  U.S. voters I’m sure did know what they were doing giving a bloody nose to the establishment, but how many had a wider appreciation of the possible global impact of their decision?  History has some harsh lessons to teach about populist leaders voted into power on platforms of intolerance, division and protectionism. One thing that we can be certain of on this morning of otherwise terrifying uncertainty, is that the world needs more education in history, not less.

How to add media into a blog post

By Kris,

Lift being installed on the Mellor Building

Adding media into a blog post can really help the user understand what you are talking about. This can be videos, pictures or audio clips everything which related to your blog post can help.

So how do I add these onto my blog?

Pictures are the easiest of all three media formats to add into your post.

  1. Make sure you are allowed to use the picture [copyright information link here]
  2. Just above the blog post editing space is a button called Add Media
  3. Here you can either use the file directory to upload your image or drag and drop the photo from a file on your computer (depending on your preference)
  4. When the image is uploaded give it a useful name and alternative text. All images need these two things labelled correctly to help all users who would be reading your blog.
  5. When you have labelled them correctly scroll down the screen – give it a location on the post (Left, Right, Centre, No Allign), change the link to “no link” and amend the size to what you require. From 1000px x 300px for a full post width to 150px x 150px thumbnail size.
  6. Click insert into post – this will bring you back onto the post editing screen where you can move the image around.

Videos and audio clips.

There are two options with video and audio clips for uploading these onto your post. The first is to follow the steps as above for images and insert them into the post.

The second is that you can embed videos from Youtube/Vimeo and audio from soundclould. To do this you need the embed code from either site.
Change the post editer option from Visual to Text and then paste in the code.
Change back from Text to Visual.
On the visual screen you should now see either a grey box for video or a soundclould image – you can move this around the post to its exact location by dragging and dropping it.


Important things to remember

Only upload media that is going to bring value to your post. There is no point adding in pretty pictures/videos because you think they look nice if they have nothing to do with what you are writing/talking about.

Only upload media which you have permission to use! [Copyright information here] If you are ever stuck for an image of university / from around campus then remember to use


If you have any questions then please do ask

What should a blog post look like?

By Kris,

Hard hat on the timber in the music studios

A blog post should start with a full width image, such as above (1000px x 288px). The image needs to relate to what you are talking about – more specifically to what you have put in your title. It will be the first thing anyone will see of your blog post when they have clicked through from social media/other pages. But remember that you can only use images which you are allowed to use. Copyrighted images will cost you (or your department money in the form of a fee – for more information click here)
So you’ve got an image which you are allowed to use what do you do next? We’ll in the same way as this post has been laid out you write your blog post. Although I say write, this is become this post is in the form of written copy (text) your content can be in a number of different formats;  Video, Audio or Pictorial. You also do not have to stick to just one type of content through your post. WordPress allows you to add in different media through your post in a similar way that you would on Microsoft word [Links to other training blogs from here]

Jaz taking a tour around the Cadman building workNo matter what content you decide to use, remember to

a) Keep it relevant but interesting – there’s plenty of other things online or around us that will distract the user if your post doesn’t interest them or it doesn’t make sense.

b) Posts do not have to be massive academic essays – the average blog size is 200 – 600 words, just enough to talk about the subject but not so much that the user thinks you are writing an academic assignment to be graded.

c) Only use media which you are allowed to use – do not break the copyright law. If you are ever in doubt then ask [Link to Copyright information / digitalmarketing email address]