‘Children are becoming aggressive, rude and uncooperative because of their addiction to computer games, research suggests.’
We have all seen those headlines, and heard the shock reports. Parents letting their child die whilst looking after their online, virtual daughter. Teenagers sitting in their rooms playing games for 25 hours a day whilst their brain dribbles out of their nose... not really but you get my drift.
We have always recognised the benefits of group activities such as board games. Who can criticise the wholesome rainy day pursuit of Trivial Pursuit or a family-fun-packed game of Monopoly? For a more challenging time we can choose ‘go’ or chess, games that our parents, and their parents before them, grew up with. The many benefits of gaming as a pastime have been well documented and are readily recognised.
However, these benefits have rarely been attributed to computer games, as indicated above. But why?
Certainly, when video games first emerged they were not a mainstream activity. Early adopters were stereotyped as nerdy, lonely, bedroom dwellers who had problems communicating with the wider world. There were some grains of truth in this image, in that, in order to engage with computers in any sense, there was a level of computer knowledge that was required. This assessment of the audience for computer games could well have more to do with the natural behaviour of pubescent boys than a true reflection of the games themselves.
Whatever these old-fashioned ideas were, the audience has grown at a stupendous rate over the last few years; the gaming industry brought in $10.5 billion in 2009 and $24.75 billion in 2011 in the USA alone.
These commonly accepted views are, however, being slowly eroded. Firstly, as I have just stated, the audience for computer games is increasing dramatically and, as a consequence is diversifying; women 18 years or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game playing population (30 per cent) than boys aged 17 or younger (18 per cent); 53 per cent of game players are male and 47 per cent female, and the average age of frequent games purchasers is 35.
The wider perception that all games are violent, involving large guns and zombies is not the full story. Whilst these games still have a strong hold over the video game super-genres or console market – sports games have 14.8 per cent and shooters 18.4 per cent of the market with strategy games having only 2.8 per cent – the mobile market strategy/puzzle games own 47 per cent, 27 per cent of personal computer games, and, last but not least, 33 per cent of gamers play social games.
With the consolidation of iTunes, the appearance of Windows 8 on desktops worldwide, the increase of smartphones of all types, to mention but a few, this trend can only continue.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
It seems that many of the old values associated with traditional gaming are now being applied to video games. Families are now embracing these new platforms in a more positive way. According to the in-depth, recent study by the Entertainment Software Association, a majority of gamers play games with their friends and family members.
In the US, 40 per cent of parents now play computer games with their children at least once a week, with 52 per cent of parents saying that video games are a positive part of their child’s life and that they have useful side effects for communication and teamwork.
In two recent studies, revealed in the Daily Mail no less, ‘researchers found that college students who teamed up to play violent video games cooperatively later showed more cooperative behaviour, and sometimes less signs of aggression, than students who played the games competitively.
No longer seen as a lure for the maladjusted outsider, computer games are being heralded as a cure for some of the growing side-effects of living in this digitally rich, but emotionally bereft, modern world. Two game designers, Ida Toft and Amani Naseem, created a video game in Denmark designed specifically to create social change, ‘The game Junomi was designed to address the problem of loneliness among Danish teenagers and create opportunities for the families to play and experiment with the ways in which they communicate together.’
How fascinating it seems that computer games have finally been allowed out of the darkened bedroom, moving not only into the light of the family hearth, but society as a whole is starting to claim some beneficial side-affects to these new games. Where to next? 3D VR Battle Chess as a training tool for Star Fleet Academy?