With the sad case of a Barrie youth in the news recently, many news organizations are taking the opportunity to ramp up fear and misunderstanding of gamers, games and gaming in general.
The term addiction is being thrown around like the word maverick at a GOP rally. The truth of the role gaming plays in the average youths life is getting lost among the rhetoric.
For adults with fond memories of tree climbing, tag, pick-up games of baseball, hours of bike riding the thought of staying in glued to a tv or computer may seem addictive. However, seen in the context of a time when children, even teens, are kept under surveillance for their safety, when fewer and fewer children have access to sports or other activities, when our children’s lives are ruled by the fear of danger, the world gaming offers them a safe refuge. Here they have power, they have freedom and they can interact with others with similar interests. They are making friends across the world in much the same way in a less technological time people had pen pals. Our children are partaking of the global village from the safety of their own homes.
Many parents, though they may use the internet for work purposes, do not understand online culture. They, through the media, have learned to see the internet as a scary place, a place where predators lurk and bad things happen. Instead of taking an interest in and including themselves in their children’s activities parents are making ultimatums and failing to recognize the friendships their children have forged, the skills they are developing or the knowledge they have gained. Through many of these games children pick up knowledge about history, geography, math, reading. They learn co-operation, goal setting, consequences of actions. Certainly some will be adversely affected by first person shooter style games, however, games are simply the scapegoat of their actions not the underlying cause. Long before there were games on which to blame all the ills of youth there were some youth who had problems. Just being an adolescent ensures that there will be problems especially with the parents from whom they are trying to detach. Games are played from home as a rule and so this is a generation whose parents are voyeurs to their adolescent indulgences.
Of course the media dramatists such as Dr. Phil are in there quoting myths and creating unease. Lets look at some of the myths and realities.
MYTH: Within hours of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, pundits were on the airwaves and the Internet blaming video games for Seung-Hui Cho’s violent behavior. For example, media darling and pop psychologist Phil McGraw, appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live, stated, “Common sense tells you that if these kids are playing video games, where they’re on a mass killing spree in a video game, it’s glamorized on the big screen, it’s become part of the fiber of our society…. The mass murders [sic] of tomorrow are the children of today that are being programmed with this massive violence overdose.” Former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in an address to new graduates of Regent University, said, “Pornography and violence poison our music and movies and TV and video games. The Virginia Tech shooter, like the Columbine shooters before him, had drunk from this cesspool.”
FACT: The official report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel specifically dismissed the purported links between Cho’s use of video games and his extremely violent behavior. In the chapter on Cho’s mental health history, video games are mentioned on only three pages. When he was nine years old, “he was enrolled in a Tae Kwon Do program for awhile, watched TV, and played video games like Sonic the Hedgehog. None of the video games were war games or had violent themes.” (p. 32) In college, “Cho’s roommate never saw him play video games.” (p. 42) During his senior year of college, his roommate “never saw him play a video game, which he thought strange since he and most other students play them.” (p. 51)
MYTH: In August 2005, the American Psychological Association issued a resolution on violence in video games and interactive media, stating that “perpetrators go unpunished in 73 percent of all violent scenes, and therefore teach that violence is an effective way of resolving conflict.”
FACT: The allegation that “perpetrators go unpunished in 73 percent of all violent scenes” is based on research from the mid-1990s that looked at selected television programs, not video games.
The reality is that games do not create more aggression, are not more likely to produce school shooters and in fact most games are very clear in their delineations of right and wrong as we as a society have defined them.
It is possible to play from the ‘wrong’ side in many games, however, there are generally penalties for doing so and I would rather my child experiment with the wrong side in a virtual world than the real one.
Gamers do spend a lot of time involved in their efforts, they are proud of their accomplishments, their stats and their levels. Ask them about it in all likelihood they will be more than happy to share with you. Of course if you roll your eyes or act as though shooting 3D graphics is the same as wielding a gun on the sidewalk be prepared to be shut out.
I’ve always taken an interest in my kids gaming activities. My younger kids often point out particularly cool parts of the games, and my adult son will often phone me to let me know of his latest accomplishment. I don’t watch my children practising for hours to make a goal, or perfect their slapshot or get their kick down. I have watched them practise for hours to reach a level –even helped on occasion! I don’t consider their time wasted or their interest an addiction any more than I would were they spending the time crafting sporting skills. I’m not a hockey mom or a soccer mom. I’m a gamer mom and darn proud of it!