As video games emerged as a new form of entertainment in the 1970s, many were quick to criticize them. At best, they seemed like a waste of time to many, a new way for kids to squander countless hours when they could be playing sports or studying. At worst, many worried about the effect that violent games could have on developing minds. As the decades have passed, games have evolved exponentially as a new form of entertainment medium, and, largely speaking, so have popular opinions about their merits or perils. Has Society Moved Past Demonizing Video Games?
Does Violence on the Screen Create Violence in Real Life?
While the first real video game, Pong, consisted of nothing more than a simple tennis simulator, by the end of the ’70s people were obsessively shooting aliens in Space Invaders. The ’80s saw innocuous titles such as Tetris and Pac-Man, as well as the introduction of more violent titles such as the fighting game Double Dragon and the weapon-wielding characters in Gauntlet. Aside from the perceived time wasted playing these games, which were becoming increasingly absorbing as technology and complexity developed, many parents worried that their children were being influenced by these violent games.
In 2002, psychologist Mark Griffiths published a paper which explored the educational value of video games and collated previous studies on the potential for violence to translate from screen to real world via games. He found these studies to be largely inconclusive, with little suggestion that children, or indeed anyone, would become violent after turning off their Nintendo and stepping outside.
Any activity which involves little or no physical movement is going to be problematic in the long-run if it’s excessive. Indeed, much focus has been given to the hazards of sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, and if that’s compounded by hours spent in front of the screen at night, then the body will suffer over time. While it’s true that video games, particularly those that have deeply addictive elements which appeal to a person’s sense of reward and achievement, can entice people to become sedentary, so can many other activities. Indeed, television is arguably even more passive, as there’s very little mental input required when watching a show as opposed to designing a city or solving a puzzle in a video game. The question then is one of balance and personal responsibility, as well as parents ensuring that their children have a healthy mix of TV or video game time and socialization and physical activity outdoors.
From Plaything to Family Centerpiece
Vastly popular when it was released, Nintendo’s Wii console revolutionized the way families interact with video games. Becoming less of a child or teenager’s plaything, parents started to get into casual games such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit. Indeed, now video games were actually asking players to get up and move while playing, and stories of uptake in retirement homes and parents playing Wii Tennis once the kids had gone to bed were amusing novelties in the media. Another innovation from Nintendo was their handheld DS console, which was directly marketed in some campaigns to an older audience, as a device which could be used to play puzzle and brain training games, and even including programs that act as virtual assistants in the kitchen. In that generation of gaming consoles, the Wii far outsold its behemoth competitors, the Xbox 360 and PS3.
A Waste of Time?
Even if critics are able to move past the possibility of influencing violence and obesity and actually becoming more widely accepted amongst different age groups, the question of wasted time remains. Particularly concerning for many is the prospect of children and teenagers spending hours every night playing video games when they could be engaging in more enriching activities such as homework, studying, sports or simply socializing with their friends and family. As with the question of adding to a sedentary lifestyle, worried parents should take a firm but balanced hand, ensuring that time spent slaying dragons is kept to an agreed maximum per day, and with princesses left unsaved until homework assignments are finished.
The concept of time ‘wasted’ or ‘well spent’ is largely personal and comes down to individual philosophies. Some may consider even 10 minutes playing video games when the great literary classics are left unread as time wasted, whereas others may be more relaxed and consider that a balance of passive activity such as TV watching and game playing, mixed with socialization and active past times is a perfectly healthy way to spend free time. It’s also worth considering that video games have moved beyond the simple choices of shooting ducks or chasing ghosts around mazes, and many now offer elements of puzzle solving and even learning about the world (SimCity and Civilization, for example, constantly provide the player with information on real-world geography and history facts).
A Different Means of Socialization
As with the evolution of the internet, so has the advancement of video game technology allowed people to interact with each other in new and exciting ways. Internet-connected games allow players to talk to each other via microphone, and while the inherent stranger danger associated with internet communication is possible, this technology has also turned video games from a largely solitary activity into one that can bring friends and family from far and wide together. As with the Wii, developers have responded to available technology and popular demand for more interactivity.
Has Society Moved Past Demonizing Video Games?
On balance, it’s certainly possible for games to influence players in negative ways. News stories involving attacks and even killings inspired by video games have occasionally received a lot of media attention, although arguably individuals who are motivated to commit such acts based on video games already suffer from severe mental health issues. For the vast majority of society, video games can offer an alternative to passive television watching and allow players to lose themselves for a few hours in medieval fantasies, city-building exercises or sporting championships. As with any potentially addictive activity, such as eating cheeseburgers or consuming alcohol, moderation and balance are keys, and the future is bound to have many interesting innovations which continue to attract new gamers for years to come.