Wednesday 29 January 2020

Not only do video games not make you violent, they can enrich your life as much as any literature

Video games in 2017 make for a broad church. Photo: Depositphotos
Video games in 2017 make for a broad church. Photo: Depositphotos
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

Pick any upstart cultural revolution and I'll show you a scapegoat for society's ills. The internet, rock'n'roll, television - hell, even opera in its time - have been demonised as the road to perdition by self-appointed moral guardians.

Today's bête noire remains video games, a medium that for many young people has long since eclipsed in importance its peers of music, books and TV. But games incontrovertibly make adults and children violent, according to the research, don't they? And what mass killer isn't fond of a session with 'Call of Duty'? Or so go the folksy, anecdotal, unsubstantiated theories of the chattering classes.

But when a fresh and more rigorous scientific study demolishes that notion, denial is the predictable response from the commentariat. Kudos to Dr Gregor Szycik and his team at Hannover Medical School in Germany for taking a more perceptive approach to the research. The scientists used MRI scanning and a long-term time frame to assess the effects on the brain. The study, published last week, found players fond of violent games were no more desensitised or aggressive than non-gamers.

Gaming's image problem is twofold: an unwillingness by parents to corral their offspring's activities and a blindness to how the medium has expanded well beyond its borders as a child's plaything, a mere toy.

In the first instance, we see teens - and, scarily, even pre-teens - blithely given access to 18-rated products that could chill the heart of an adult. Make no mistake, if you let your child play 'Grand Theft V' for a single second, you are a terrible parent. End of story.

The same goes for other recent best-sellers, such as 'Mafia III', Resident Evil 7' and, yes, 'Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare'. To be clear, there's nothing inherently wrong with such adult-themed entertainment. Skilfully crafted, thoughtfully written and culturally important, they nonetheless should not be permitted to come anywhere near an underage person.

After all, you don't willingly let your kids drink beer, buy cigarettes or have sex before they're (more or less) of legal age. Why should video games be any different?

As the father of two teenage boys myself, I also know that, unchecked, children will gorge themselves on whatever they're currently obsessed with, whether that's junk food, their phone - or playing video games. Try setting some limits - most games consoles have parental controls for that very purpose. Better still, just do your bloody job as a parent and keep an eye on them yourself.

The second complication in the perception of gaming is an old canard that it's an industry existing purely for the gratification of lethargic adolescent boys in darkened bedrooms.

But video games in 2017 make for a broad church. The growth of smartphones and tablets -and the concomitant popularity of titles such as 'Candy Crush' - has dramatically stretched the definition of gamer, to the extent that women players have outnumbered men since 2014.

Surely, though, gaming is limited largely to ultra-violent killing simulations? Does it have anything to match the thematic range of, say, literature? In the last year, I've read books about the emotional aftermath of a one-night stand, the prolonged death of a child from cancer, the experience of scavenging a life in a warzone, the 1979 Iranian revolution, and solving a crime through the eyes of an FBI agent.

Oh, did I say read books? Sorry, I meant I played games on those subjects. Because to pigeon-hole games as "just all shooters" is to ignore the rich tapestry of genres and subjects that constitutes the industry in 2017.

There's no arguing that the sales charts in 2016 were still dominated by shooters - almost half of the top 50 involved weapons as their primary method of expression. But, gratifyingly, the top seller was 'Fifa 17', an immensely social game, as much fun among friends and strangers for its football as its trading cards. Look down through the list and you'll also see perennial gems such as 'Minecraft' - this generation's Lego, of near limitless potential - and 'Pokémon'.

The chart includes a certain amount of unimaginative fare too, but it's not as if gaming has a monopoly on popular yet eye-rollingly awful entertainment either. Come back to me when you've finished burning the '50 Shades' trilogy or any Dan Brown potboiler. Or when the cinema release schedule isn't cluttered by endless superhero nonsense. Then we can talk.

Irish Independent

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