I wrote this back in 2008 but feel the need to post it, following this preposterous attempt to show how bad games are for kids. Methinks the problem here is having gun-toting redneck parents.
Edit 22/03/10 – OK this is what I’m talking about. Do not watch if you have high blood pressure.
Is gaming bad for children?
There is considerable opposition to the games industry but I know that there are plenty of healthy people out there (myself included) who enjoy video games a lot. People like to say “games are bad for children” and that “there are negative psychological effects” like implanting desires to go and shoot real people or steal cars. “They should be outside playing instead, not sat indoors!”
What games did (and do) for me
I have been using computer games since the age of 3-5, largely because my older brother bought and kindly let me use the latest gadgets (Commodore 64, Atari, Amiga 500). I also played in the woods, ate at the table and read books. Rather than playing things that mainly involved death and destruction, they tended to be educational games for learning maths, French etc. – brightly coloured with plinky-plonky music (they all had plinky-plonky music then!).
Dull-coloured games supposed to be more realistic just didn’t appeal to me (e.g. Shadow of the Beast on Amiga). Similarly, children prefer to look at toys in shops over the home furnishings. I learned a lot from games; Pythagoras’ theorem from an Earthworm Jim cartoon, Japanese geography from Mystical Ninja (N64), Roman/Greek Gods from Populous and hilarious insults from Monkey Island (You fight like a dairy farmer! Well, you fight like a cow!). I drew my favourite characters & play songs on my keyboard. More exciting than school art/music!
In my second quinquennium I got into Street Fighter, Star Wing, racing titles and Deity-games like Populus. These had some violence and while I desperately wanted spikey wrist bracelets like Chun-Li for a while, I didn’t feel the need to act things out (that’s not a dig at you, cosplayers). How do you reconstruct shooting polygonal alien space ships/beating up electric green monsters anyway? My sense of reality was not blurred by gaming experiences. It’s obvious that the two are separate.
Perceived problems of gaming
Perhaps this is where today’s opposition comes from; games are more realistic. However, I (and others) find that this means graphics are a boring brown-green-grey mixture that is thoroughly uninspiring, I would have thought, to children.
Games like Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto get the Aunties and Uncles crying that we are filling our children’s minds with the desire to maim and kill. Do they take their little nieces and nephews to 18-certificate films containing sex, foul language and death? I doubt it, well I hope not – so why are parents letting them play 18-rated games?
I have no time for people who buy GTA for their 11-year-olds and are then shocked by killing prostitutes to reclaim money, outrunning police cars & aiding hardened criminals in various illegal activities for fun. No, I don’t personally like GTA but I know a lot of people who do. They are, importantly, well over 18 & can easily separate the virtual world from reality. Just as we have the watershed to protect children from unsavoury television, we have the certification of games. It is the fault of people who fail to pay attention to these if their child’s attitudes become warped, not the gaming industry itself. I don’t think any sensible person would call for the end of swearing, sex and violence in all films so I don’t see why it is reasonable to call for all disturbing video games to be banned. Just don’t go and buy them for your kids.
Literature, too. Anyone who’s read Stephen King must have at some point wondered what’s wrong with him – where does all that disturbing stuff come from?? I don’t recall anyone burning all his books, though. If you’re an adult you can choose what you want to do; go and see a violent film, read a freaky book, play a crime game.
Another common complaint is that gaming is anti-social. Really? I used to have friends come over for multiplayer, bringing games I didn’t have. I didn’t play all day long – if your child is playing too much, stop them! Have a time limit, have the computer and TV where you can see it and take some responsibility.
The current gaming landscape
Now we have the world of online gaming. You can challenge/team up with people from miles away. Whether console-based or, for the more serious gamer, on PCs, this is surely a form of social interaction. I know that after being bullied throughout primary school, having the internet from the age of 12 (where my parents could see it, I hasten to add), really helped me. I could go to small chat rooms & talk to people without being in the same room, even people on the other side of the world! It was fascinating and it rekindled my interest in people and socialising.
Gaming communities within epic landscapes such as World of Warcraft allow some otherwise shy & secluded characters to re-make themselves into something they’re confident to show to others. Whether this translates to the real world or not, surely some interaction with others is better than none? Online capability is increasingly important in new releases, with the fun of playing death-matches with your friends in the same room extended to people you may not have met face-to-face… yet!
More recently, the Wii has brought us ‘active gaming’. We flail around, pull some muscles (Wii Sports baseball) and get a bit sweaty (boxing!). Maybe this will lead to more people of all ages going out and trying a new sport or just being a little bit more active than usual. We can easily move away from couch-potato-land if we embrace these innovations. No, it’s not actually tennis/bowling/skiing – so what? It’s more than watching someone do it on TV; it’s funny (laughing is healthy too) and sociable. Most people I know who play games also do some real sport and have other hobbies besides.
Nintendo hoped to change people’s gaming attitudes and the typical gaming audience. Now from the youngest to the oldest, male and female, people don’t feel alienated from the fantastic experience that is the video games world. I know it has enriched my life and friendships and sparked my imagination many times. While other consoles may be pushing for ever increasingly realistic graphics with more and more brown-green-grey, hordes of FP shooters, racing clones etc., Nintendo still leads the way in producing original, innovative titles, even if a lot of them recycle characters (with varying success).
Thank you, Ninty, for keeping my inner child alive.
Left: Deku Link; right: Link with Goron mask (Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask; inspired by Wil Overton‘s original images )
Edit: Just found this talk, how gaming can save the world! Good stuff.
Addendum Re: today’s (10 March 2010) news story; how exactly do they know that the reason the toddler grabbed the gun was because she thought it was a wii gun (which are white and blue plastic)? Toddlers grab stuff, it’s what they do. If you leave a loaded handgun on the table, your parenting shortfalls are far more extensive than playing too many games, or indeed letting your children near games. Picking up a controller doesn’t kill you – shooting yourself in the stomach most certainly does. They are clearly not the same thing.
“It looks so real. I mean, when you take that and you can look at my glock, there are real similarities,” said Wilson County Det. Jeff Johnson. – er, well, kitchen knives look an awful lot like… knives… but if your kid stabs themselves with one you left on the floor, the problem isn’t with the fact that knives exist is it! Christ.