Playing Computer Games

Gaming is a HUGE industry. With the development of ever-more efficient chips, smaller computers, and the internet, gaming has become a vast commercial enterprise. It’s phenomenal to see how real the graphics are, how complex the plot lines are, and how well-rounded the characters can be. It wasn’t always like this …

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, where gaming technology was nowhere near as formidable as it is now. There was no internet embraced by the masses, not back then. Dial-up existed, but its speeds were minuscule, and no-one had yet embraced the possibilities of such things as MMPORGS – multi-player computer games that are phenomenal pieces of design.

I was never much of a gamer, and I’m still not. When I was a teenager, a Super Nintendo my parents bought me was a huge deal, and I loved the games I had with it, but I didn’t spend much time on it. Partly because my parents regulated the amount of time I had (quite rightly), and partly because it just didn’t interest me hugely; I wanted a book to read instead of a game to play.

In the 21st century, things are different, certainly in terms of the availability of gaming. Now, you don’t need a specific console to play some games; any internet-enabled device will do. This opens up so many more possibilities, as people will likely have a phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop far more readily because you can do so many other things at the same time – work, school research, online shopping – without having to spend out on a separate machine dedicated purely to one thing.

I’m behind the times somewhat, but my son keeps me up-to-date in a way I wasn’t expecting. He’s never shown a tremendous amount of interest in online gaming; he has other interests, fortunately, that dominate – music, dancing, sports. He does have a small, handheld Nintendo DS which he brought with him from his foster carers, but despite it being completely available to him, he’s probably played with it two or three times since moving in. That’s telling in itself.

But one particular game is the dominating conversation with a lot of his class mates; Fortnite. I’m sure you knew I was going to say that. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably come across the same thing; your child is at least talking about it, and perhaps even wanting to play it.

My son is eight, and in Year 3 of primary school. Despite the game having a recommended minimum age of 12, some of his peers are playing the game. He told me just yesterday that at least one of his friends wishes he could play it all day every day, and I don’t doubt it; these games are inevitably addictive. My son doesn’t seem that desperate, although he was inevitably testing my reactions.

I read up on it a little before giving a reaction, and promised that I would always change my mind if given new information – but nothing I’ve learnt since he told me about the game has made me change my view. Like I say, I don’t think he’s that bothered, but it’s something he talks about in terms of the music and dance moves associated with the game – that’s more like the son I know.

Someone I know just made a point on Twitter that made me smile in agreement; “When an 8 year old says *most* of his friends, what they mean is a couple of vocal kids boasting they play it with older siblings when mum/dad’s not looking.” That’s probably true to a degree; kids can often exaggerate in order to seem cooler – even when they’re already cool on their own. Sadly, that’s a realisation they don’t come to for some time usually, but it’s a different conversation to have.

One of my major concerns is the lack of accountability if you’re not supervising your children constantly on internet-based games. Your children could be having conversations with anyone, and they might not be who they say they are; that’s not exactly a new phenomenon, of course, but when it comes to my son, or other children I care about, I want to know who they’re talking to, who their friends are, and whether these people are genuine. It’s hard to always do that online; friendships can and do get made online, and they’re no less genuine than physical ones (I can personally attest to that – two friends of mine are in the States, and one I’ve not met in the flesh and the other I’ve only met physically once). But we need to help guide children towards genuine, warm relationships that sustain them.

Someone I know who is aware of Fortnite slightly more than me says, “The game itself (despite being a shooter) is cartoony, and isn’t as violent as you may imagine. But, for me, the worst part of letting such a young child play would be the online aspect of it, along with how long they sit in front of the TV playing it.” I agree; some kids would happily spend an entire day or weekend playing online games, and I’d be interested to know studies that have looked at behaviour vs time on computer games. I’m not making comments about any correlation, as I’ve not done any research, and I will be open to know what the scientific data – the facts – say.

I was glad when someone else I know, a computer game writer, waded into the discussion. I shall call him Peter for the purposes of this blog, as that’s his name and he deserves the credit for his well-considered views. Peter has been immersed in the gaming world for some years, so knows the subject well – and I’m pleased to offer his view here as it is based on common sense.

“As with all games, the age ratings provided by PEGI (an independent body that judges game ratings without interference from the developer) are usually good yardsticks. Fortnite has a rating of 12, and so anyone under that age I cannot reasonable recommend playing. If your boy is 8, then no. Don’t let him, simple.

“However, as has been said, Fortnite is cartoony and hardly portrays death in a graphic or particularly impacting way. Also, to double down on that, the constant inclination to blame violent games for violent actions does a huge disservice to games, and the predisposition of people to do things. A violent game can exacerbate violent tendencies, but it is unfair to say it curates violence in otherwise balanced people. A game will not make people cruel, vindictive, violent, or deceitful; not on their own at any rate.

“However, there are two facets of gaming that I would warn about. I say this as someone who has gamed from a young age (more than half my life now, and I’m 30), and has made games for about 7 years now.

“Some things can not be so easily judged by a rating system; mostly the online interaction is where you might encounter extremely toxic behaviour, which even at my age can be distressing if not handled properly.

“Secondly, addiction. Addiction to anything enjoyable is a real problem, and so moderation from a parent is needed, especially when one is foraying into gaming for the first time. Games can be wonderful, whimsical, intense, captivating, and so on; fantastic worlds are intoxicating, so we should always be careful when exposing people to that, because the allure might be too strong.

“However, in conclusion, I’d offer some brief points:
– Age Ratings exist for a reason.
– Games, on their own, don’t cause violent behaviour
– Fun can be addictive, especially when young. Moderate usage.”

Some wise counsel from a man who knows his stuff.

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