[x-posted at Videogames, Learning, & School Design]
Skinner’s behaviorism has generated intense debate for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the role of free will.
In videogames, the game world has been constructed by game designers with a set of game rules, a world within which you (meaning your character) operate. Some games provide a greater amount of latitude with regard to possible actions within the game, others more. For example, there are a very limited number of actions to be performed, levels to be explored, and coins to gather in Super Mario Brothers. By contrast, World of Warcraft offers many more options with regard to the same; more actions, more levels, more coins. Nevertheless, your actions are constrained. Your choices are limited. This is what might be called behavioralism light. Hardcore behavioralists would argue that the game world, scaffolded by game rules, actually compels a certain set of reactions. There are no choices, no other options; there is only the game. There are only stimuli and response. The real world operates this way as well. The world, scaffolded by rules of biology, physics, chemistry, etc., compels a certain set of reactions from us. These actions are not the result of free will or choice but, instead, they spring from reactions to stimuli.
Behaviorists fail to appropriately explain the real world’s “game designers.” In point of fact, though, they have very little interest in such matters. For them, it doesn’t matter if the Big Bang created these conditions or if Vishnu sat on top of giant turtle while Jesus prattled on about talents and wine and such and then the universe coalesced into being as a result of their divine conversation (which, I imagine, would be something like the best Seinfeld episode ever).
“[Free will] is a fiction…By discovering the causes of behavior, we can dispose of the imagined internal cause…Once you have found those causes there is less need to attribute to an internal act of will and, eventually, I think, the need to attribute nothing to it.”
So, for Skinner, there is no free will, and our participation in videogames seems to confirm this suspcion. But, this may be the point at which the utility of videogames as an analogy for life stops because, in the end, I can put down the controller.