The BBC’s (British Broadcasting Corporation) long running and respected current affairs documentary programme ‘Panorama’ is turning its attention to the ‘issue of addictive video games’ next Monday on BBC 1. The Panorama team have been talking to young people around school and university age, who play games for up to 20 odd hours a day, drawing the rest of the world’s attention to a very unfair and poor sample of our beloved industry.
Whilst I respect other people’s opinions on video games and their place in modern culture, I can’t bring myself to stomach stereotypical criticism, preached from the town criers who breathe in the smoke of ignorance. I should probably say here that Panorama is a fantastically informative programme and that I have absolutely nothing against it, BUT they always tend to have very clear direction in their research. I just hope they do this programme without preconceived bias, and do it thoroughly.
I can’t resist making a few quick points on the topic myself, so I’ll keep this brief. The clichéd attitude non-gamers have on gaming, is that playing them is “mindless brainwashing” and that it slowly turns the players (us) into some kind of delinquent zombies. Most of you will have heard this being voiced in the media, and/or similarly rushed opinions and arguments in your own lives. But the problem with these points are that interacting with a gaming world is more taxing on your consciousness than sitting down to watch TV for four hours. Haters should consider the dynamics of skill (nearly any game) and interactive character development (RPGs etc), the elements of problem solving (genuinely well crafted puzzle sections in games like God Of War, Portal, Tomb Raider and so on), or the moral exploration and cultural reflections more forward thinking titles like Heavy Rain. Not to mention the fact that the folks who create these “brainwashing” experiences essentially consist of a tight real-world fabric of talented, passionate artists, musicians, actors, mathematicians, writers, and dizzyingly sharp minds. ‘Mindless’ is an untruthful generalisation, and it is infuriating to see games given so little credit and being dismissed by people who know next to nothing about it
I’m getting into this too much now…hmm, just a few more paragraphs eh. Next up, ‘brainwashing’: so the only force in the whole of the media platform that can influence people in complex and subtle ways is videogames? Umm so I guess we should pretend that films, music, literature, newspapers, magazines, art, television, and social climates don’t contribute to anything? Come on, if you want to throw labels at gaming, then save a few for yourself. I accept games have very powerful influences on some people, but I don’t believe these stimuli are negative in general.
Also worth noting: news headlines are always happy to host stories of “videogame drives X number of young people a year into crime” (not exactly like this but you get the sense of what I mean), putting the emphasis on the vulnerability of younger generations. But if they take a step back and look at the industry, they would soon be shocked to realize that the average age for a gamer is around 30-35, and a pleasing percentage are female gamers, so in many ways they’re looking in the wrong direction at the wrong demographic.
Granted that gaming is popular among kids, but many overlook the fact that they are not the industries primary consumers, or that gaming has sunk its teeth deeper in to mainstream ‘zeitgeist ‘ in the form of facebook games and iPhone apps. And just for the record, the idea of “playing games” isn’t a new one, and it’s also not a problem. 16 year olds with low self esteem, family issues, and peer pressure, are not the faces of the gaming world. It’s easy for those on the ‘outside’ to blame things simply on the grounds that they don’t fully understand them.
We all engage in gaming for so many different reasons, some do it for an escape from the problems and terrors in the real world, some plug in for the growing social side of it all, to feel accepted and part of something bigger. Others may want to feel some sense of achievement, or adventure in their repetitive lives (I don’t mean this in a cynical way), or occasionally even to just have a bit of fun. For me, the underlying rule is this: like any medium in life, virtual experiences are only as deep as their audience, gaming is an art form, and art works like a mirror.
Hopefully you didn’t give up halfway through reading that. I’m interested to see what the BBC have discovered about us all (you should be too), on Monday evening. For those of you curious about what some other people have to say in defence of gaming, check out one of my previous posts on this topic.