Being a stable member of a community and a productive member of society is something that most people seek to do throughout their lives. Most individuals enjoy the company of others and social skills, such as manners, are taught from the time children are little in order to make interactions with other people easier.
There has been much research into the concept of Entertainment-Education, the practice of using entertaining materials to educate people about a subject. Although this is usually in pertinence to academic topics like math and grammar, it can also be used to teach people—especially young people—how to be an active and accepted member of society. Many of these basic lessons can be taught by merely watching a program, without necessarily realizing the message hidden with the program’s content.
If one was to look back into children’s literature, television programs, and even toys and games they will see a steady stream of content relating to society in some way, shape, or form. “The Smurfs” was a beloved series of children’s books that later resulted in a popular cartoon show and merchandise. The Smurf’s were creative and charming characters and that made them interesting and engaging to audiences. Yet the underlying theme in the Smurf franchise was a sense of community, where every Smurf had their place and they worked together to create and maintain a peaceful community. The same theme of “society” can be found in many children’s media including Sesame Street.
Another children’s show that relied heavily on community themes was “My Little Pony” which was extremely popular viewing for young girls throughout the 1980s. In recent years, the “My Little Pony” franchise had made a startling comeback and now the characters are better known in interactive games online and via apps and iPads. These games are well designed and bring the ponies to life via good graphics that create a computerized world that engages the viewer. There are many characters in the “My Little Pony” series, yet each individual character has a distinctive personality that they use to interact with the other characters. This gives the entire franchise—from the television show to the games—a sense that each individual somehow belongs and has their own niche in the social system. This might seem somewhat silly, or even bizarre, to adults but young children (who are the most likely age group to play the game) generally seem quite interested in the unique qualities of each of the characters.
The same sort of complex social and community themes can be seen in other programs geared more toward adults, such as World of Warcraft. These games allow players to create characters and worlds that they can maintain for years. Although this sort of virtual reality is by no means “real life” virtual play and associating with fictional characters can lay foundation in our minds that teaches us how to interact with real people in our everyday lives. This is especially true for youngsters. For example, how many children learned about the damages of bullying through Sesame Street? How many people remember seeing television shows about the importance of manners and decency? Most of us were initially taught these lessons by our parents, but seeing the roles played out by characters that were beloved to us probably helped strengthen the “truth” of the lessons, especially when we were young and impressionable.
Virtual communication is growing more popular every year. We are now able to talk to more people than ever before simply by logging onto websites of subjects that interest us. As technology integrates its more into daily existence, people must be taught—young—how to practice proper online etiquette. We can now control aspects of our real lives virtually and join “communities” online. Although this is far from being the same thing as engaging the fictional communities seen within games, it is interesting to note that media, specifically online (interactive) media, can be used to teach youngsters the basics of interaction, or at least enforce the lessons that attentive parents will have instilled from the start.
Online learning can be composed of much more than academics or tutorials. It can be used to educate all age groups and connect people across the globe to each other. Yet overall the Internet is about communication and via communication we interact and thereby form communities that make up society. As virtual reality becomes more entwined with offline reality, it is good to recognize the potential uses that technological media can have in teaching us how to find our individual niches and interact positively with people along the way. This is the main way to combat issues such as online rudeness and cyber bullying: realize that virtual reality is fast becoming inseparable from what we generally consider to be “real life” and then make strides to make that reality as pleasant and civilized as possible.