Let the new gaming witch hunt begin

Published: Monday, October 15th 2007

I'm in my thirties now and I've been playing computer games from the age of about four when my dad first brought home the venerable Vic 20 - partly because he was doing a computer science degree at University but mostly because he wanted to tinker.

Through my life I've borne witness to the rise of computer gaming as a media format to rival and now surpass film and I've seen countless witch hunts focus on computer games as being the root of many of society's teenage evils - everything from being the cause of the obesity epidemic to turning children into cold blooded murderers and violent criminals.

I'd like to think that I'm pretty normal - whilst I have my own individual quirks as everyone does, psychological assessments that I've taken for a couple of employers have branded me pretty average on the whole "serial killer" metric. And even though I'm now suffering from the onset of a bit of "middle-agd-spread", as a teenager and child I was pretty skinny.

In thirty years of gaming I'd say I'm "above average" in terms of the amount of time I spent gaming. I wouldn't have hit "compulsive" but as a kid I'd spend a good hour or two a day playing on the computer. Conversely though I'd spend an hour or two playing outside per day though the key factor was that I watched virtually no TV.

You see my parents had a rule in our house - TV or Computer but not both. When my mum thought we had been spending a bit too much time in front of either she'd pull the plug out of the wall and summarily kick us out the door with the instructions that "it was a nice day - go enjoy it" - this held true even if it was raining or the middle of winter!

So, in what seems like a biennial event another review of gaming has been started - the Byron Review this time is being headed up by the very smart Dr Tanya Byron - an expert in Child Behaviour (and TV personality to add some celebrity to the proceedings). Whilst the review is supposed to cover the full range of technology, Gaming and the Internet are always the first things to crop up as being responsible for the decline of morality amongst our youth.

What won't be taken into account properly though in my opinion is how the role of the parent has changed in relation to these technologies. My parents looking back on it were pretty good (though I know I didn't think it at the time) in policing our internet and gaming activities (our family had access to the internet through a BBS at my dad's Uni).

The modern parent has completely divested themselves of any responsibility for policing their childs' activities. This isn't just limited to gaming and the internet but is a wider social epidemic we are starting to see the symptoms of - everything from anti-social behaviour to academic performance.

I know of adults who have bought games for their children aged under 10 that are clearly marked as being 18 certified. All because of pester power and the guilt that they have over not seeing their child because they have to go off and work all day. What scares me is the "oh well" attitude of these parents - and the fact that because the console is in their kid's bedroom they don't see the actual content themselves. For me games were played in the living room in full view of the rest of the house.

In the face of this blatant irresponsibilty from parents, what can the games industry do? They've created a product they have submitted to the classification board, risking censorship and potentially loss through narrowing their market but then the parents ignore it and go buy the game for their child anyway.

After the fact, parents are the ones calling for tougher regulation and a realignment of the game makers moral compass when it comes to producing the content but it is their failure and own moral ambiguity that has caused the problem in the first place.

For all the public outcries about video game related violence and exposure to sexual content, there is deafening silence regarding the lack of parenting skills to avoid exactly this situation. My parents could do it as could those of my friends - how have we lost that skill in a single generation?

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"Let the new gaming witch hunt begin"
Published on
Monday, October 15th 2007
censorship gaming government media rant
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