Friday, September 10, 2010





...................................You know it's a slow news week when you see headlines like this appear in some of the more kneejerk media outlets that we're misfortunate enough to be exposed to, is it really any wonder that parents are left wondering about the effects of modern day games on their children when it's reported on in such a manner. For some unknown reason there still appears to be a large proportion of the British media that seem intent on continually deriding the industry and no amount of balanced arguments and logical debates will sway them. As far as they're concerned any game with even a smidgen of violence is likely to turn the most mild mannered, pleasant child into a raging homicidal lunatic within minutes of playing it.

The worst thing about this outright hostility towards the gaming industry is that it's by no means a new thing, it seems that every couple of years the powers that be get together and decide to condemn whichever forthcoming title that they deem to be in bad taste and on more than one occasion this condemnation has resulted in games being banned in some countries most notably with the 'highly controversial' Manhunt in 2004. And yet countless films with some of the most jaw dropping, gory, gratuitous violence commited to celluloid have been released in this time frame with barely a whimper of complaint to be heard from anyone.

So why is it that games seem to bear the brunt of the media outrage time and time again? One obvious factor is that to the uninitiated, gaming is still seen as a child's hobby, so when games are released with objective content the outcry can be heard far and wide. What a lot of people don't realise is that these games are not intended for their eleven year old son and the 18 certificate on the corner of the box is supposed to be adhered to by responsible parents. But one foray into the mosh pit that is GTA IV online will tell you that the majority of people that reside there are anything but 18. Surely it is up to the parents of the children playing these games to monitor what their beloved is getting up to on a nightly basis rather than the developers being forced to tone down their content for fear of corrupting the minds of the little people expected to run things in the years to come.

It's almost like parenting by proxy as time and time again developers find themselves being stifled by regulations that in essence shouldn't really exist. For example when a film with an 18 certificate is released you'll never see a parent visiting their local cinema with two pre-pubescent children in tow, and even if they did there's no way they would be permitted to view said film. Yet the same parents will happily purchase a copy of the latest console release with barely a cursory glance at the rating certificate, somebody needs to be told a few home truths and it's certainly not the people making the games that's for sure.

Even if we take into account the slipshod parenting skills of these uneducated folk, is it not selling our children short by assuming that they don't possess the intelligence to decipher whether their actions in a video game would be most likely frowned upon were they to repeat them in a real life scenario? The kids of today are more street wise and worldly than any of the generations that came before them and are exposed to life's harsher elements at an age when most of us were still playing kiss chase round the school playground. You could argue that video games should be included in these harsher elements which I refer to but leaving that aside for a moment the sheer volume of questionable media sources that children have access to these days means that whether we like it or not they're growing up a helluva lot faster than their predecessors.

If you were to dig even further into the myriad of problematic issues facing children today it wouldn't be long before you were pondering the dual threats of drugs and underage sex with more and more cases of addicted youths and underage mums being reported on a daily basis, and yet despite all this damning evidence the media would still have us believe that gaming is responsible for all the worlds ails. It all begs the question, was Jack the Ripper a gamer? I think not. What I mean by that is that the world has always spawned maniacal killers from as far back as one would care to remember and even the most civilised societies will produce wrong uns' no matter how sanitised the world they inhabit is. The question of nature versus nurture is one for another day but there's a strong case for the argument that the likes of mass murderers, sadistic torturers and all those other charming folk are born, rather than created by the enviroment they reside in.

Moving away from the whole violence in video games debate another major concern amongst the patrons of the non gaming community is that by gaming all day our children are not only allowing their bodies to rot but also their minds. Now when it comes to the argument that sitting in all day gaming is detrimental to a childs physical health then I couldn't agree more. As I write this article the time is approximately 7.30pm on a fine summers evening and all I can hear coming through my window is the occasional burst of song from a bird and the steady hum of traffic from afar, but what I can't hear no matter how hard I strain my ears is the familiar thwack of a football or the excited screams of children engaging in one of the various games that involve running at full pelt in whatever direction they like. Obesity amongst children is increasing at an alarming rate and there can be no doubt that gaming, whilst not entirely to blame, has to shoulder some of the responsibilty. 

But once more I'm afraid that it has to come back to the parents, I appreciate that it's a lot easier for a concerned mother to have her pride and joy cooped up indoors where she knows he or she is safe from the all to real dangers that confront kids on a daily basis and I can also understand just how hard it must be to practically force an apathetic teen to 'go out and play' when all they want to do is continue their killstreak on Halo, but allowing a child to game for hours on end day in day out is in the long run going to have a serious impact on that childs health as any spell of inactivity is prone to do. Despite the fact that the Nintendo Wii is generally derided by any serious gamer the Japanese giant has to be commended for attempting to address this problem by introducing games where the focus is on staying active whilst still retaining the fun element of gaming, the fact that this is a marketing ploy that is manna from heaven is, in this case, beside the point.

When it comes to the issue of whether excessive gaming can have a detrimental effect on a childs mental wellbeing then the waters become slightly more muddied. As I've stated already marathon gaming sessions spent slumped in a chair will always greatly increase the chances of a child obtaining a physique far removed from the characters they usually contorl on the screen but what kind of effects does this prolonged exposure to gaming have on someones mind. It's been proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that gaming greatly improves a persons hand eye coordination and that much can never be disputed but what effect does staring at a screen full of vivid colours and flashing lights for hours on end really have on the brain.

David James famously blamed gaming for his inept performances in Liverpool's goal during the 90's but given the fact that he's continued to make goalkeeping howlers throughout his career I think we can safely say that his regular cock ups have little or nothing to do with his extra curricular activities. We're forever being forewarned about the dangers of photosensitive epilepsy and due to the amount of cases of this condition being linked to videogames all developers are now legally bound to include a warning of the dangers of PSE in every release. But PSE apart I don't think there is any great risk of long term damage from partaking in epic nights of gaming from time to time, in fact I'd say that the difference between staring at a PC screen and a console game is negligible. Yet if you complained about your child being subjected to hours of staring at a PC in their school you'd be quickly dismissed with the retort 'Yes but that's educational'!! Which brings me to my next point.

For so long games have been dismissed as the most shallow of the arts with little or nothing to be gleaned from them. However as major advances have been made in the industry so the subject matter has strayed from the usual derivative type of game and onto more dare I say it educational topics. Games like Assassin's Creed 2 give the player a chance to immerse themselves in 15th century Italy and whether they realise it or not learn all about the buildings and architecture of that time not to mention getting the chance to befriend Leonardo de Vinci (wherein you discover his 'tendencies' which I for one was hitherto unaware of). Then of course there is the spate of games which focus on brain training and increasing your mental agility in one way or another, as things stand these type of games have limited appeal given their quite basic structure and despite tentative efforts to incorporate this type of element into more visceral titles it still in my opinion remains an untapped market. 

The ideal scenario would be to somehow make a game which enables you to merge the physical and mental stimulation hinted at by some current gen titles and produce a title which in essence gave the player ample opportunity to exercise their body and mind whilst somehow retaining a level of complexity and depth which would assuage the hardcore gamer. When you consider this almost impossible balancing act faced by games developers these days is it really too much to ask for that they not be blamed for turning children into bloodthirsty savages aswell.

No comments:

Post a Comment