Having finally been broadcast on BBC One last night, the media has reacted with cynicism to what is being widely labelled as an inconclusive and sensationalist report on the potential effects of video games addiction.
“Check your calendar for a second. That's right, this is 2010. Why, suddenly, is the prospect of 'game addiction' a suitable subject for the BBC's flagship current affairs programme?” The Guardian wrote.
“I asked this question before watching the Panorama programme 'Addicted To Games', and having seen it, I'm still baffled. Reporter Rafael Rowe talks to several young men whose lives have been blighted by obsessive games playing. He talks to Adrian Hon, founder of games studio Six to Start about 'the hidden techniques' developers use to ensnare gamers. Except they turn out not to be hidden techniques; they are the psychological mechanism known as 'variable rate of reinforcement', tested on rats in the 1960s. It seems humans respond to non-predictable forms of reward. An incredible revelation.
“Rowe chinstrokes his way through the interviews with a look of ponderous concern. I could only marvel at how self-defeating it all seemed. Focusing on these extreme cases just showed me how abnormal games addiction is, and how these sad stories are so unlike anything I've encountered in the 30 years I've been playing games.”
The Guardian also highlights a point widely made on Twitter last night – were the cases highlighted by the program simply not examples of bad parenting rather than dangerous gaming?
“’That was the point we started to realise, God, this is dangerous’ said Chris's mother, commenting on the door-kicking incident. Somehow, she'd missed the fact that he was playing WoW for 16 hours a day. At home. In his bedroom,” it adds.
“I don't want to judge someone else's parenting – at ages three and five my sons are too young and daft to be left unmonitored longer than about half an hour. But 16 hours a day? I'd hope my alarm bells would have started ringing slightly before any sort of foot-furniture interaction.
“But here's the thing: what was the point in this documentary? Wide-scale scaremongering is unnecessary, given the rarity of the problem. And let's face it, if some parents haven't cottoned on to the fact that games can trigger compulsive behaviours in children, will a half-hour current affairs programme do the trick?”
Of course, none of this stopped some of the tabloids latching onto the show’s claims to create some sensational headlines of their own.
Fortunately, the reaction elsewhere was more reasoned.
“I have always approached the subject of gaming addiction with great seriousness, because it’s my belief that if gaming is inherently harmful, I want to know about it, and I want to warn others who game,” games blog Rock Paper Shotgun wrote.
“And I want to approach the subject with appropriate scrutiny, and with evidence-based understanding. It’s something I expect of others when they approach the subject. It was not present tonight. It was astonishing. An openly ignorant series of anecdotes and half-truths, forming a dangerous, lazy treatment of a serious subject.
“I want to repeat this already. I do not possess the evidence that gaming does not cause addiction. What I do know, from an enormous amount of time spent researching the subject, and interviewing those researching the subject at an academic level on both sides of the argument, is that there is no evidence that games do cause addiction.
“I am not arguing that games are great, and any who say otherwise are wrong. No such thing. But when I see others who are acting that way, on either side of the fence, I believe it should be loudly highlighted. I believe that there is a real risk for those who use gaming to compensate for other negative factors in their lives, and for those whose gaming becomes problematic for any reason. I believe that these matters deserve to be taken seriously. It is to be treated with severity. This sort of scaremongering endangers such people by mis-labelling.
“It is my opinion, and only my opinion, that problematic use of gaming is a reality. People can spent too much time playing games, and this can lead to their and their loved ones suffering. It is also my opinion that people can spend too much time riding bikes, playing bingo, and building model railways. I’m not being facetious. And each of these can lead to their personal lives suffering, and those of their loved ones.
“Until there is some evidence that gaming can create an addiction in someone otherwise indisposed to addictive behaviour, then it must be understood as a consequence of addiction, not a cause. To do otherwise is ignorant, dangerous, and harmful to the individuals. Blame it on gaming, and you’ll take away the games, leaving the person to continue suffering.
“This episode of Panorama was upsetting. Seeing young people who are clearly suffering, struggling socially and within their own families, it scares me to see their serious situations trivialised in this way. This episode genuinely contains someone advising people who game too much to go out and get drunk (“smashed”) instead. It’s insulting to those who for whatever specific reasons struggle to control their gaming, and dangerous for misinforming the public.”