This week saw a BBC Panorama documentary attempt to explore the dangers of addictions to gaming. I thought I would give myself a few days before writing about it as at the time the programme struck me as intensely annoying.
That is not to say I am not concerned about addiction or any of the harmful affects of the industry and its content but it did seem to be wandering into Daily Mail territory rather.
Many of the examples of excessive addiction seemed to be related to parents suggesting they had no idea what their kids were doing. That is of course a little strange as unlike the more worrying addictions that are drug related, most of the long term gaming will happen in the comfort of your own home on a nice warm PC or console connected to the internet.
Clearly some parents will not appreciate the intensity of the gaming experiences that their kids are enjoying but if they are not sleeping/eating/going to school etc then you would surely have a duty to spot that? Thats easy to say with hindsight of course.
The show aimed to inform us that there was little recognition or research into the addictive dangers of games and that the industry is in some way ignoring the fact. I do agree that dismissing it as an industry as of no consequence because there is not scientific evidence suggesting a link between games and addiction is probably not a smart way forward. We all know how addictive games can be especially when you combine the social media factors into them. This is of course something that got lost in the show. An addiction to a single player game is very different to an addiction to a multiplayer/clan/MMO based game. Whilst extremes of anything are probably not good the fact that people are focussed on working with other people to achieve their goals does alter the problem space a little.
The show managed to travel to South Korea to show the scope of the supposed problem too. It pointed out there were professional leagues, televised and a national obsession and there were coming appearing “over here” as if that in itself was some terrible consequence of games. Obviously an entire nation watching some overpaid athletes kick a piece of inflated leather around on some grass every saturday is so much better?
I tweeted at the time that life is a collection of addictions, things we attend to for various periods of time, unbalanced addictions are ones where the collections of things that are attended to are smaller that the “normal”. If the object of your obsession is generally destructive then it would appear to be on the bad side of the spectrum, however if the thing you spend all your time doing is enriching or helping your life and others, where new skills are being practiced, new bonds being formed then it really is not so much to be worried about?
Again the counterpoint to all this is the extremes, so yes those extremes are bad, but to damn an entire art form with all its genres as being the worst thing to happen to us, possibly due to not understanding it, would seem foolish.
Instead of simply suggesting the games suck you in and keep you there and you need to be pulled away to some sort of “real life” the focus should be:
- What is that is so compelling that people pay to engage in these activities and become so involved in the powerful medium that they approach addict status?
- How can that game design, technology and human willingness to participate be harnessed for the supposed worthy things that people should otherwise be doing?
- What are the attributes and aspects of these addictions relating to human relationships, where the game is online, versus single player obsession?
- Examine how we can embrace the creative and technical medium that has arrived at our doors and be proud of what it can do.
It is difficult to reconcile the ideas. “You should stop playing games and do something more worthwhile as games are silly” combined with “Wow these games are really powerful things we need to keep an eye on them” which are almost used in every sentence of the show.
It does end with the sentiment that the presenter will keep an eye on his kids games use just to make sure they are not falling prey to anything, but that should have been the starting sentence IMHO.
As for it being “real” from my personal point of view I have always been a gamer, it used to be that playing games was just fun, some were a little addictive and distracting, then it turned into needing to know how they worked, which became an obsession with technology that has carried me through my entire career to whatever point I am at now. Maybe I am a functioning games addict, but it could just be they are not all that terrible after all?