When I was a child, one of my favorite things to do was come home after school and spend some quality time with an Italian plumber as he smacked around an army of turtles. To this day, I still derive much enjoyment from sitting in front of my TV, controller in hand, and while away the hours in a digital world. To put it simply; I love video games. And there are some high profile people telling me that that is a bad thing. But why? The way I see it, video games have had nothing but a positive influence on my life. I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only one who can say that, either. In fact, I would put hard money down on the opponents of video game would be hard pressed to find a direct link between video games and detrimental child growth.
One of the most common complaints against video games is its propensity towards sedentary lifestyles, preventing children from getting exercise. The supposed disorder, Nature Deficit Disorder, as coined by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods, plants video games as one of its 3 main causes. Many states have taken steps to address these concerns (as no medical organization even deigns to recognize this disorder) with programs like Connecticut's “No Child Left Inside” program, which features, rather accusatorily, video games first amongst the list of causes on its website, stating, “Instead of spending endless hours outside riding bikes and climbing trees – i.e. being kids – they are playing video games, surfing the web, watching TV and texting,” (CT.gov).
The one thing video games have in their favor, though, that those other activities do not is a small, white box that comes from Japan. The Nintendo Wii was released in late 2006, and with it, a revolution in the video game world took shape. IGN.com reported that the Wii sold over 600,000 units in its first week (27 November, 2006), which quickly outpaced competitors, Sony's Playstation 3 and Microsoft's XBox 360, and continues to dominate this generation of console wars.
What makes the Wii so unique in comparison to the technologically superior XBox 360 and Playstation 3 is its motion control. Instead of the traditional, “press button, get action,” control layout (which should be a statement to how ubiquitous gaming has become to have traditions), the controller senses player movement, combined with button presses, to affect the action on the screen. This is most evident in the game title bundled with the system, Wii Sports, where players use the motion control exclusively in the game, relying on button presses solely for menu navigation. My brothers and I have wiled away the hours in front of the television, swinging our arms at the screen, trying to best each other as we threw our illusory bowling balls down the digital lane, where we would've simply pressed buttons on similar titles for other systems.
Sony and Microsoft have learned from Nintendo, however, and are now launching their own motion control peripherals, the Move and the Kinect, respectively. The trend of more active video gaming is taking hold. You're not going to see anything like that for watching TV (as hilarious as that would be).
You might be thinking now, “Yeah, that's physical growth, but what about the mind? Video games are a mental wasteland.” As much as I would love to simply ignore such a defamatory statement, it is my intellectual duty to refute this claim. Unlike books, movies, and television, video games are an interactive medium, requiring a much more in-depth mental investment. According to a DiscoverMagazine.com article:
“A host of new studies suggest that video games build, rather than
diminish, cognitive skills. Even a relatively simple tiling puzzle like
Tetris has been shown to boost brainpower. Moreover, learning expert
James Gee's research reveals that typical teenage gamers are anything
but addlebrained. 'We had a hard time finding kids who were bad at
school but good at games,' Gee said,” (“Your Brain on Video Games,” 2005).
Like all things, though, overindulgence into video games is not recommended. Even Adam Sessler, host of the video game show, X-Play, and one of the medium's most prevalent supporters, said in his podcast, “Video Games in the Supreme Court,” from his Sessler's Soapbox podcast series, “I, in no way, think that kids should only play video games,” (4 May, 2010). He explained earlier in that cast, “Anybody who does one thing for too long will see lacking elements in other parts of their life.”
The number one argument I hear, however, is that video games are somehow implanting the idea that violence and sex are acceptable responses to certain real life situations, and that simply being around them will turn kids into rapists, thieves, and killers. Jack Thompson, disbarred Florida attorney who has been at the forefront of the anti-video game nonsense, made the slanderous statement to reporters of the Louisiana newspaper, The Advocate, that, “Nobody shoots anybody in the face unless you're a hit man or a video gamer,” alluding that video games were somehow tied to a fatal shooting, upon which the paper was reporting.
I would like to take an aside to present the character of Jack Thompson. This man is an egotistical, megalomaniacal bigot, whose frivolous lawsuits and childish public behavior has done more to harm children than anything Rockstar Games, makers of the oft controversial Grand Theft Auto series, have done with any of their digital offerings. After a murder in the Miami-Dade County school district, he was quick to note the murderer's fixation with graphic depictions of violence, while glossing over the fact that he also was daily praying to God, stating to a reporter for the Florida paper, The Sun Sentinel, “The Bible doesn't promote killing innocent people, Grand Theft Auto does. Islam does...The Quran requires the infidel, whether Jew or Christian, to be killed...That's a core essence of the religion, ” (February, 2004). Not only is this horrendously offensive to Muslims, it equates playing video games to the atrocities committed by a small sect of fanatical extremists.
It doesn't stop at Muslims, either. In a series of emails between video game political blog, Game Politics, he took a shot at the Japanese. “What the Japanese are doing to our kids is insensitive and racist. The Japanese have for a very long time dumped pornography into this country in a fashion they would not tolerate in their own country. It is another version of Pearl Harbor,” (2 November, 2005). I fail to see how video game sales are akin to an act of war.
In addition to being racially insensitive, Thompson has taken it upon himself to attack people who play video games directly, making numerous derogatory posts to online forums, insulting their intelligence, insinuating drug use, and making baseless claims about supposed studies which support his accusations. The accounts of this are too numerous to list.
While his claims are absurdly out of touch, laws have gone into effect that fall into the same vein. California's Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793, often called the “ultraviolent video game bills,” restricts the sales of Mature-rated video games (as set forth by the Entertainment Software Rating Board) to minors under the age of eighteen (the former bill criminalizing such sales, and the latter forcing retailers to segregate such titles away from other games “intended for children,” and requiring signage to explain the ESRB). Adam Sessler weighed in on the law earlier in his podcast:
“The Leland Yee law, and a lot of y'know, I think, BS studies that
are out there, and the other laws, are predicated on this idea that
video games are, somehow, uniquely harmful to the growing brain
of the child. With the implications that it makes them more violent,
or it makes them, y'know, somehow that much more stupid.”
(4 May, 2010)
That is where the true problem lies, in my opinion. There is nothing in video games that can't be found in other media. Sessler states in an earlier podcast, “Video games didn't create this kind of, y'know, violence as entertainment. It didn't even start in movies,” (“Violence is Entertainment!” 27 April, 2010). In a study presented in the book, Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do, the authors note that “violent crime has steadily decreased since the mid-1990s, over a period when video games – including violent ones – became increasingly available to children,” (Kutner & Olsen, 95). Sessler very aptly explains why this might be, going on to say:
“It's so based in kind of wish fulfillment, or that desire for that sense
of fantasy. I have no desire to shoot a gun in public. I can, y'know,
see what it's like to shoot a gun in public by, y'know, playing some
of these video games. It's a safe place to investigate things that we
all really, pretty much know are not acceptable in society.”
(27 April, 2010)
In my own personal experience, I have found it a cathartic escape to engage in a virtual shooting match with unnamed opponents over the internet in a digitized fantasy world. That is not the sort of activity in which I would be able to indulge were it not for video games. If people like Jack Thompson and Leland Yee have their way, though, those fantasy worlds will disappear. If laws like Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793 remain in effect after the Supreme Court hearings, those fantasy worlds will be relegated to the same shelf space as hardcore pornography, giving people like myself the same sort of stigma that what we enjoy is somehow sick and debased. Worse still, if the laws pass, the same thing can easily befall other media, despite the same content being rallied against is nothing new to video games.
1984 may not have been like 1984, but if they have their way, the future might be.