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31/12/2010

Games in the news – why are games still getting so much heat?



OPINION

It seems like a bizarre concept in the modern day. And yet, games as a medium still receive lots of heat when it comes to mainstream media coverage. The attention gathered through debate programmes, one-off special edition shows and newspapers seems not to be much different from the situation 4-5 years ago when the likes of GTA, Bully, Manhunt or pretty much any Rockstar game would receive coverage from tabloids, broadsheets and TV alike in great measure. Of course, one has to consider the agendas of newspapers providing such coverage on titles that are usually renowned multi-million sellers within the first few weeks of release.

A good example to draw upon would be the recent Panorama special, aired on BBC One that cared to highlight the reality and dangers of gaming addiction. The 30-minute special covered players of titles such as World of Warcraft through to the likes of popular modern day console titles as well as the levels of addiction attributed to MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online roleplaying games for the uninitiated) in countries such as Korea (renowned for having some of the best quality broadband internet connections that side of the world).

The producers of the special would have their own agenda when it came to presenting the points they want to make in the programme, otherwise what would be the point in creating the documentary in the first place? Watchers could also take away from the programme what they feel are the key messages presented within, based on the knowledge that they themselves hold to construct a rounded understanding of whether there are underlying issues inherent within gaming addiction or whether it is a cause of habit, much like other daily habits that people conduct in work, socialising and other areas of their lives.

Another example of media taking an axe to the medium was on the Alan Titchmarsh Show which aired a few months back. Although early afternoon shows such as Titchmarsh's cater for a particular audience, it is useful to remember the scenario at the time. Present were Titchmarsh, actress Julie Peasgood, the former editor of the Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie and editor of online games website CVG, Tim Ingham.

The points made in the section were as clear as day. Although it wanted to explore if violent videogames were to blame for cases of violent behaviour in children and teens, how could a fair and balanced argument be presented when Tim Ingham was the only one on the panel presenting the stance that officially released titles in the UK on all formats carry age ratings by the BBFC (British Board of Film and Classification)? Mackenzie was more understanding of the matter, explaining that he could not truly judge as to whether said games were solely responsible for inducing violent behaviour in young individuals in each case. He did acknowledge, however, that it was a matter requiring further research to see if there was any substantial validity regarding the connection.

It was somewhat unfortunate, and maybe expected, that Julie Peasgood ignited the fires of sensationalism in the audience by launching full throttle into how the examples she raised of violent titles were definitely responsible for cases of violent behaviour in young children. It should be noted that Peasgood provided a voiceover for a violent video game titled Martian Gothic: Unification back in 2000.

Titchmarsh tried to represent the middle ground but through a few MacGuffins over names of titles such as Call of Duty and the nature of their gameplay, it appeared that he was paying as much attention to information being fed through his earpiece as he was the debate at hand. Can we truly blame a mid-afternoon programme on ITV for wanting to present such a debate in five minutes when in all honesty the matter is more complex than what can be covered in an amount of time you can count on one hand? It would be nice to see a section on the same show someday presenting a positive example of how games have contributed to UK youth's education and development.

A good and slightly whimsical example as a counterpoint might be Charlie Brooker's Gameswipe, a BBC One programme which deals with the medium in a swift but caring fashion, Brooker himself a gamer and not ashamed to talk about it. To take a quote from the man himself on his Twitter page back in March,

"Which is less civilised? Some gunplay in pixel-land, or an unfair one-sided censorship debate before a mooing audience in reality?"

Looking away from wider media, a wise mind and pair of eyes only has to check the sales figures for Nintendo's Wii, Microsoft's Kinect and the Playstation Move as examples of high-selling gaming devices with alternate methods of control and interaction. The Wii Fit balance board and the means of controlling Kinect are great examples of how gaming can have a positive impact in the home, allowing users to keep healthy if used correctly or demonstrate their worst attempt at replicating the dance routines in Dance Central. The Playstation Move shows through compatible titles released since launch how they attempt to bring families together, play party games and rip each other apart when the mum of the family bests her son or daughter on Start the Party.

Surely if games didn't receive this wider recognition and appreciation from the general public and were only a single-player experience, would the mainstream media still be taking such bold steps to prove that games are detrimental to the development of individuals as they grow up, mature, achieve successes and make mistakes like anyone doing anything in their life will do (life is, after all, only perfect with all of its imperfections brought into the equation. Anyone who's watched The Animatrix, for example, can testify that the idea of a 'perfect world' would only bring boredom to the human race in the long run. Or read up on Thomas Edison sometime to see what 'dedication' stands for).

One last point should be considered here. Gaming addiction aside, how much of any existing addiction can be branded 'addiction' and when is it merely a habit that an individual has chosen to adopt and carry out every day, suiting them and bringing them happiness in some form or other? It could be put simply that eating, drinking, smoking, working, watching TV, writing, reading, computer work, cleaning, opening doors and filing are 'addictions' if done regularly enough. They could also equally be referred to as habits as they are carried out frequently, sometimes necessarily, for humans to keep on living.

It is important to remember, like daily activity, that we all place labels on things around us in life to make sense of them and function in society, whether that be as a role model to others, a follower of said role models, a trendsetter, an extrovert, an invert, sociopath or maybe something else unexpected altogether. Let's just try to remember (like I should try to as well) to carry out the important things regularly and fit the 'enjoyable' ones around those where we can, media sensationalism or not.

What do you make of mainstream media's continued interest, and sometimes controversial coverage of games and their influence on youth in the UK? Any thoughts, feel free to post them in the Comments section below.

3 comments:

Kinsta said...

Comments are two-fold.

Firstly, on 'addiction'. Your argument comes off as slightly glib in that your define it as the repetition of an everyday action.
The programme's definition, and the usual definition when brought up in such debates is that 'addiction' is defined as something you cant help but do and is usually to the detriment of a healthy lifestyle: Both directly health related, such as lack of food and sleep etc... or within other lifestyle aspects such as not socializing with people (outside of online friends), failing in school work, job deadlines, spending too much money, etc...

The examples used were indeed extreme cases and here i think the term 'addiction' was legitimate.


Secondly, what the program was addressing wasn't particularly groundbreaking or new. Its simply the case that gaming is becoming increasingly mainstream with more and more people playing every year. its becoming part of the fabric of everyday life and so its no surprise that debate amongst so-called 'moral guardians' such as Titchmarsch and the Daily Mail spring up on all manner of gaming related topics.

Gamers in general know where they are at, so this kind of programme is unlikely to affect them.
The real question is what kind of effect this will have on non gamers such as parents. So its about awareness and how the individual uses the expressed views and information.

End of the day though, there is such a high demand for games from adult paying customers that this kind of debate is unlikely to dent sales or affect the games market whatsoever.

Sure, there are people with addictive personalities who will suffer from 'game addiction' but this is true of many things: cigarettes, alcohol, gambling et al, and is an issue with the individual, not the product.

That may sound harsh, but really it is a case of properly educating parents and putting warnings out there - but scaremongering by posing extreme cases as typical is the wrong approach and in the end will lose its credibility and backfire.

Kinsta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick Honeyman said...

Again, I appreciate your comments here on the matter. I get a little frightened sometimes as I think I have an addictive nature and would like to learn better how to control it if I am able.

Just need to read up on it more and be more self-disciplined.