Go Outside and Smell the (Paper) Roses!
It is no secret that videogames are blamed for a lot of the world’s ills. Simplistic associations between videogames and societal violence persist despite the ambiguous and often downright flawed research in this area. I suspect this particular gaming albatross is never going to disappear, but just in case that it does, the forces of reaction are lining up new evils to associate with interactive entertainment, chiefly childhood obesity and addiction. This of course is nothing new. Governments have routinely targeted the new media of the day in order to try and expand their control over information; parents have regularly lambasted the media du jour in order to dodge responsibility for their own parenting decisions. I am, however, routinely shocked at how effective the level of societal brainwashing has been. Many of my students have absorbed the “evil influence” argument to some degree. This is perhaps not so surprising in those who don’t consider themselves gamers (although many of them are; they just don’t play “those games,” you know, the bad ones; playing Candy Crush obsessively doesn’t make you a gamer but playing Call of Duty does, in their minds). Yet even people who have been playing and enjoying all manner of games for years, who think of “gamer” as part of their identity, have absorbed some of these negative stereotypes.
Yet behind all of this there is often a much more basic dismissal directed at games, a snooty high-mindedness that declares that those who play videogames are simply “missing out.” What they are missing out on is sometimes unspecified; the proposition is left hanging, a vague assertion that gamers are missing out on “life” in some unspecified way. Sometimes the criteria are established: they are missing out on “social interaction” or “the great outdoors” or “creative play.” Such charges are, of course, usually based on hopelessly romantic notions of what each of those entails. Anyone who has stood in line to get coffee at Starbucks with a group of people who can barely look up from their phones long enough to voice their order (and in fact usually continue texting, etc. without even offering the person serving you your drink the courtesy of eye contact) should know better than to offer platitudes about the vast and exciting world of stimulating social interaction that is waiting for people just outside their front door. Moreover, it is worthy of note, isn’t it, that this “gamer generation” of “millennials” (and I honestly have no idea what that word means anymore, if it was ever supposed to be anything more than a term of abuse ready-packaged for deployment by grumpy curmudgeons like me) are actually those who are seeking out experience, the extraordinary and the extreme, in unprecedented numbers.
With all of this as background, it occurred to me recently, that the real hidden tragedy associated with videogames is that it is the people who don’t play them who are missing out. (more…)