Why videogames are not a health concern

Posted By | On 03rd, May. 2010 Under Editorials, Feature, Website

“The second step that we can all agree on is to invest more in preventive care so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place. That starts with each of us taking more responsibility for our health and the health of our children. It means quitting smoking, going in for that mammogram or colon cancer screening. It means going for a run or hitting the gym, and raising our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside.”

– Barack Obama

So videogames are a health concern are they? Is anyone else getting positively sick of people constantly bashing video games?

I know I am.

The mass media loves to demonise video games. And while that on it’s own wouldn’t really bother me (more for me, ho ho!), it’s the people that clearly know nothing about games. Take the recent Alan Tichmarsh show, involving a debate about the ethics of videogames and their effect on children.

Update: This video is no longer available.

Wow, what a great opening Alan. Barely 10 seconds in, the host demonstrates quite clearly that he knows nothing about video games. Call of Duty 2 Modern Warfare? At least get the numbers in the right place. He then proceeds to list off a couple of M rated video games to have released in the last 6 months or so.

But guess what Alan- 95% of video games are not rated Mature! Meanwhile, throughout the rest of the show the other members of the panel do their very best to pull imaginary numbers out of their arsehole (don’t listen to the woman, no studies have ever conclusively proved a link between addictive/violent games and behavioural issues in children).

Another example was back in 2006, when shortly after the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas many US politicians started pointing nasty fingers at video games too.

And naturally, middle class parents are at it too.

Is anyone noticing a trend? All the anti-video game arguments love pulling a couple of trump cards. The first is the hyper-controversial Grand Theft Auto series. ‘You can let prostitutes service you and then kill them to get your money back!’ Oh no, the humanity. Maybe if you took one look at the front cover of any GTA game you would see it is rated M, or 18. For those politicians/hosts/parents that cannot understand the bright red ring with the number 18 printed on it, this symbol means it can only be legally sold to those over the age of 18 (or 17, if it says M for Mature).

And more recently, the major trump card has been the No Russian level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Yes you shoot civilians. But you can also skip it. This level is less of an exercise in brutality than it is a slightly abstract look on the ethics of war. Innocent people die every day. Just because it’s in a game doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to go batshit crazy, but nor is it an excuse to brush off the horrible things that happen to people in wartime. But it’s not like Modern Warfare 2 is the first media form to demonstrate the killing of civilians on a more simplistic level. Films (The Hurt Locker, Blood Diamond, Hotel Rwanda) have done it countless times before.

And why are we all picking on the gaming industry? Surely even the ability to blow someone’s head off in a colourful mess in an alternate universe where it is clearly not reality is better than this (NSFW).

Update: This video is no longer available.

It’s a funny thing that these videogame bashers never talk about the bonuses of gaming though. For one, gaming is not the lonely habit of some spotty teenager who sits in a basement all day long. Online games can be very social, and give you the ability to be a good sportsman. You will never always win, and you have to deal with this regularly as a gamer.

Competetive games also encourage teamwork. Look at Battlefield: Bad Company 2. No team will ever win without a mixture of classes all working together. Without medics to heal and revive, engineers to repair and snipers to spot, you will quickly be overrun.

Gaming is also a way to relieve stress. It has been shown that a 15 or 20 minute game session can help you relax by taking you to a fictional world where worries are few, and consequences are, frankly, inconsequential. You can read up the study here. But I don’t want to lower myself to the level of our Alan Tichmarsh friends by endlessly pulling studies and statistics out of thin air. Anyone can do that.

Naturally some games are very simple shooters, mindless games with little depth. But others, particularly strategy games such as Company of Heroes, Men of War and the Total War series reward tactical thinking and quick judgement, while a game like Halo rewards fast reactions.

It’s really unfortunate that most of the people in power these days feel that just because they’re surrounded by armed guards that they can sling mud at any topic which takes their fancy. How many politicians have even played a video game before? Oh sure, there are physcos, there are atrocities, and the media loves pointing out that just because someone has been near a videogame in the last ten years it means that’s why they murdered someone- but take a step back. Videogames aren’t evil, they aren’t a health issue- but like everything in this world, they need to be controlled and taken in moderation.

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