Monday, March 30, 2009
Home Alone: end-games
I am still being pursued by researchers from TV programmes who want to explore how computer gaming undermines society as we know it! Years ago, in the mid-90s The British Library awarded me a grant to direct a research project on video games in the home. Unlike the highly suspect statistical research of the time, we went into 100 homes and observed and interviewed children with their families over a period of time. The results were sufficiently entertaining and challenging to put me on Newsnight and other media outlets. I suppose the limelight lasted about six months after which I refused further show time on the basis that the research results were past their half-life.
At the time I argued that computer games were actually beneficial and that addiction in this sphere was no greater than in any other. The incidence of ‘loners’ resulting from games playing was a favourite topic of debate. As it still is. I also argued that video games, despite being extremely violent in some cases, were unlikely to ‘trigger’ psychopathic behaviour. I received quite a lot of mail, most of it uncomplimentary. Computer games were the work of the devil and rotted the brain, or at least the moral centre of it.
In the intervening period, because of my work as a panellist for The British Board of Film Classification, I have read much more research which seeks to prove that gamers become anti-social, autistic, criminal, morally corrupt and so on. Most of this research comes from America and most of it is self-fulfilling, being sponsored by politically or religiously motivated groups. Their work cannot differentiate between individuals with deep-seated social problems who gravitate to games playing for kicks and the millions who play every day and are not affected.
I also proposed that gaming has many valuable qualities in the development of social and intellectual skills, having seen how children teach each other, work in competitive and cooperative peer groups and seem to undergo intensive learning spurts. It was not just hand-eye co-ordination but something deeper, as though levels of cognitive awareness were being developed under the surface.
Whatever, the research proved contentious because all research ends up in a political bunfight as unscrupulous or blinkered individuals and pressure groups seek to use it for their own ends. When I suggested that schools were outmoded museums and beacons to failure and should be re-drawn as workshop spaces with teachers conducting research in their own specialist areas alongside their (secondary) students and that there should be separate centres for developing social understanding of sex, parenting, cultural difference etc, I was vilified by oponents. The bastions of the traditional territories and structures of the educational profession are difficult to breach.
So, with pleasure and a bit of a smug “I told you so” I see that the BBC website reports research in Amsterdam which confirms my hypotheses in those early days of domestic gaming. Very few of the hundreds of young people they have treated are addicted. They suffer, instead, from social alienation brought about by poor upbringing. Their condition is reversible, following a bit of love and affection and social development.
If you play with your kids on their machines a little and demonstrate you love them, no problem!