Seeing ourselves: Conflict and negotiation in popular culture

Seeing ourselves through depictions of conflict and negotiation Regular readers know of my ongoing fascination with depictions of conflict and negotiation in popular culture or what those depictions reveal to us about ourselves.

For those of you who share my interest, I offer you two radically different items: a controversial video game and an article on the rhetorics of negotiation by a University of Iowa law professor.

First, the video game.

Take Two Interactive Software, Inc., has a new video game in the works,“Bully”, which will be released, date uncertain, under its “Rockstar Games” label. Take Two, as you probably know, previously achieved notoriety for its Grand Theft Auto video game series in which players steal cars, participate in drive-by shootings, and even gain access to sexually explicit scenes hidden within the game.

Although its web site lists no imminent release date, Bully has already come under fire for its reputed glamorization of bullies and its depictions of violence on school grounds. (Bully’s opponents have even generated an online petition urging the company to reconsider Bully’s release.)

This is what the Bully web site has to say about the game:

Bully takes the Rockstar tradition of groundbreaking, innovative, original gameplay and humorous tongue-in-cheek storytelling to an entirely new setting: the schoolyard. As a troublesome schoolboy, you’ll laugh and cringe as you stand up to bullies, get picked on by teachers, play pranks on malicious kids, win or lose the girl, and ultimately learn to navigate the obstacles of the fictitious reform school, Bullworth Academy.

(Bullworth Academy, incidentally, has a coat of arms emblazoned with the motto “Canem canis edit”—“dog eat dog” for those of you who’ve forgotten your high school Latin.)

In all fairness to Rockstar and Take Two, it’s hard to tell from this brief description and the three screenshots the site provides whether the game in fact “glamorizes” bullying, especially when the player in the role of the “troublesome schoolboy” will have to “stand up to bullies” to win. It’s safe to say, however, that there won’t be any peer mediation available to help players score points and advance to higher levels.

While there are organizations (like the Christian Game Developers Foundation, often with a distinctly conservative focus) working to provide parents with video games free of violent and sexually provocative images, currently few games exist designed expressly to teach non-violence and conflict resolution.

Bill Warters’s Campus ADR Tech Blog provides links to several. Enter the phrase “video game” in the blog’s search tool to find links to a number of non-violent games. One of the most ambitious of these, A Force More Powerful, originally scheduled for release this month but now apparently delayed, teaches the use of non-violence to achieve social change and the advancement of civil liberties. (See, however, this blog post by Ian Bogost at Water Cooler Games which raises some challenging questions in a post-Saddam world about a game whose ultimate goal, while rooted in progressive motives, is regime change and revolution.)

There is overall little interest in conflict resolution video games. This is evident in the case of Cool School: Where Peace Rules, a video game resulting from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service’s (FMCS) Youth Initiative, which was intended to be released some time this year. Cool School was designed to teach conflict resolution skills to children ranging in age from kindergarten to second grade. The concept initially seemed to enjoy the support of educators and parents alike, but evidently funding from private foundations, integral to the success of the project, has not materialized. This project may be dead in the water, if the lack of content on the FMCS Cool School web page is any indication.

Now for the negotiation article.

For those of you in search of something more scholarly than video games, download and read the recently published “The Rhetorics of Negotiation” by Gerald B. Wetlaufer, Professor of Law at the University of Iowa College of Law.

Wetlaufer’s article offers a new framework for understanding behaviors in negotiation. He looks beyond the traditional binary categorization of negotiation behaviors—zero sum versus non-zero sum—and instead proposes a new taxonomy of negotiating styles: seven distinct “rhetorics” describing the complexities of negotiating. Wetlaufer analyzes these rhetorics through examples drawn from a mindbending array of sources—film, literature, and history, just to name a few. It’s a fascinating read as Wetlaufer takes you from Shakespeare to Mamet in his exploration of negotiation behavior.

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