Videogames in Society
I recently read a badly written article about some chiniese couple who had “killed” their daughter because of video games. My first reaction was “here we go, another exaggerated report from conservative old media trying to keep its superiority over new media”. My second reaction was giving the reporter the benefit of the doubt and assume that some cognitively challenged parents decided to play Mortal Kombat in real life and decided to throw their daughter down a cliff. After all, it is with great fondness that I recall my 4th grade classmates telling me “you can’t be Ryu, you’re fat. You can be Honda or Zangief”, and then whining about how I would throw them against the ground instead of throwing a pretend ball of fire at them. However, as I read the article I discovered that my first intuition was correct. Furthermore, I discovered the complete and utter lack of competence that non-gamer journalists seem to proudly fly when reporting anything related to video games.
Before continuing it should be noted that the risk of being hurt while pretend-playing Street Fighter in school is the same as pretend-fighting WWE characters (I was always Andre the Giant) or playing real football.
The article stated that the young girl died because of parental neglect: the parents had gotten hooked on a video game called Prius Online. According to the article, the parents would give their two year old child breakfast, leave her home alone, and go to a cyber café to “raise a virtual girl called Anima, while neglecting their real life daughter”. The article then proceeded to cite “an expert”, a psychologist whose experiences with video games stopped after E.T. crashed the videogame market in 1983, and he commented that videogames are as addictive as drugs because they are a form of escapism and that they can be more dangerous than drugs if left unchecked.
It may indeed be true that the young girl died due to some form of parental neglect – I would guess more specifically she died due to malnutrition – and that the parents had gotten hooked on a video game called Prius Online. Prius online is a Korean MMORPG of fairly standard fare where the players take control of an avatar and travel the world completing quests and looking for gear. The article stated that the parents would leave the child alone almost every day of the week to go play, which begs the question – how did they get the money to pay for the cyber café online time? That element aside, one has to wonder how much research the journalist engaged on, as the purpose of the game is not to “raise a virtual child” but to quest as your avatar, the avatar’s name is so far undisclosed, and Anima is not the name of any character, player or otherwise, in the game, but the previous name of the game.
Now, it may seem as if I am nitpicking, and I am. I hate bad journalism, specially when people get paid to do it. Yet the truth, or some version of it, remains, and that is that a child died because of malnutrition caused by parental neglect. How does this affect gamers or the videogame industry? It doesn’t.
The expert interviewed by the journalist seemed to share the journalist’s lack of knowledge of the medium, which led him to make grandiose generalized statements the likes of which one would expect to see in a poorly written American Psychologists Association Journal article by Craig A. Anderson or in heated debate about Mass Effect and the “Se”X-Box led by a Fox News anchor. “Videogames are addictive”, “videogames are like drugs”, “videogames are a means of escapism”, and “videogames have caused untold amount of deaths” filled the commentaries offered by this “expert”. The fact is that videogames are as much of a form of escapism as reading, watching television, playing basketball, or any other activity which one chooses to engage in as a hobby. Just as I have seen children become “obsessed” with videogames I have seen kids become “obsessed” with trading baseball cards and reading comic books.
Videogames are no more addictive than television. When one takes this into consideration two possibilities arise that one would have to consider: 1) videogames are less addictive than drugs, or 2) television is as addictive as drugs. Since television does not have the same addictive qualities as drugs, one would have to assume that the correct stipulate is “videogames are less addictive than drugs”. Some of the more staunch anti-videogame advocates, like Jack Thompson, might raise the question of how different is the addictiveness level of videogames to that of drugs. The answer is simple: drugs, like alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, cause a biological reaction which causes the body to thrive when consuming said substances and almost shut down when these substances are not taken. This is the same level of addiction that strong drugs, like cocaine and LSD, create. Sugar and other sweets cause a lower level of biological addiction where, if available, the body will crave for it, but it will not shut down because of lack of the substance. This is the same level of addiction as cannabis. Videogames and television, however, fall into a different category of “addiction”. Videogames, like all forms of media, serve a main function to keep individuals entertained while they are not engaging in laborious tasks, like working or studying. Playing a videogame after school with your friends is not an addiction, it is an activity, just as playing basketball with your friends after school is a social activity.
It is even more curious that this expert would claim that videogames cause deaths, when all the “videogame related deaths” I have ever seen are actually more closely correlated with elements other than videogames. “videogames kill young child” should read “child dies due to malnutrition, parents choose to neglect her to play videogames”, “videogame kills man after 46 hour gaming marathon” should read “man decides to play for 46 hours straight and dies due to malnutrition”, and “videogame caused whatever shooting” should read something like “disgruntled employee / misguided child / ignored kid / mentally unstable psychopath / religious or political activist killed X in shooting.”
This being said, there are some instances where an individual with certain pre existing conditions may find videogames as addictive and decide to forsake real life for the sake of the game. This is the same sort of withdrawal that children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) suffer from. Given the scope of ASDs, it may be possible that the two “videogame” deaths that I have heard of thus far are not a videogame’s fault, but the fault of individuals not being able to cope with reality.
This brings me to the last point of this short piece: people should learn to take responsibility. Whenever something goes wrong people tend to blame a thing. Someone shoots up a university and the media tries to use videogames as a scapegoat (never mind that the killer hated videogames), a kid shoots up a school (tragic an incident as it was) and it’s Marilyn Manson’s fault, never mind the antisocial behavior displayed by the kids since childhood and the parents’ lack of affection for the kids. Videogames, Marylin Manson, Hip-Hop, Progressives, Glenn Beck, whatever. It’s always someone else’s fault, when in reality it’s not. It’s YOUR fault. YOU are the one who decides what to do. A videogame can engage you in a 30 hour interactive narrative that involves killing blue aliens, but it is YOU who decides to grab a gun and kill some illegal aliens. Glenn Beck can ask you “what are you going to do about the fascist progressive liberals?” but it is up to YOU to answer “run a plane into the IRS building” or “nothing because I don’t care what you’re talking about”. Yes, it’s your fault. It’s you who raises your kids, it’s you who makes your decisions.
Videogames are just a medium, another way of telling stories, another way of creating simulations. Don’t blame them because of your bad parenting or your being a horrible human being. That blame falls entirely on you.
So, to wrap it all up, videogame journalism in the mainstream media sucks, psychologists, social scientists, or academics and scholars in general don’t know anything about the effects of video games on society unless they are real gamers themselves, and videogames should not be used as scapegoat for your failures.
But you know what else should not be used as a scapegoat for your failures? The quote and question of the week, and this time it says “holy shirt I have something in my eye! If you could do in real life anything you have seen in a single videogame, what would it be and why?”
So there you have it. Thanks for reading. My name is Johan and I approve this message.