In’s free monthly e-zine, this month, I wrote about “Lessons from the Gamer Generation“. Its quite nice to be ahead of the game – The Economist has a similar article as its latest cover edition.

Its premium edition content, so here are the highlights:
Economist cover

  • Some games are good, and some are bad.
  • Opinions about games are definitely split along generational lines.
  • Older generations invariable are skeptical about new forms of media – in any age.
  • There is no reliable evidence that violence can be linked to video games.
  • TV addicition is much more prevalent and problematic than video game addiction.
  • Sometimes you just have to wait for the older generations to die (I didn’t say that, The Economist did!)

For those who need to read The Economist’s story, here it is:

Breeding evil?
Aug 4th 2005
From The Economist print edition

There’s no solid evidence that video games are bad for people, and they may be positively good

“IT IS an evil influence on the youth of our country.� A politician condemning video gaming? Actually, a clergyman denouncing rock and roll 50 years ago. But the sentiment could just as easily have been voiced by Hillary Clinton in the past few weeks, as she blamed video games for “a silent epidemic of media desensitisation� and “stealing the innocence of our children�.

The gaming furore centres on “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreasâ€?, a popular and notoriously violent cops and robbers game that turned out to contain hidden sex scenes that could be unlocked using a patch downloaded from the internet. The resulting outcry (mostly from Democratic politicians playing to the centre) caused the game’s rating in America to be changed from “matureâ€?, which means you have to be 17 to buy it, to “adults onlyâ€?, which means you have to be 18, but also means that big retailers such as Wal-Mart will not stock it. As a result the game has been banned in Australia; and, this autumn, America’s Federal Trade Commission will investigate the complaints. That will give gaming’s opponents an opportunity to vent their wrath on the industry.

Scepticism of new media is a tradition with deep roots, going back at least as far as Socrates’ objections to written texts, outlined in Plato’s Phaedrus. Socrates worried that relying on written texts, rather than the oral tradition, would “create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.â€? (He also objected that a written version of a speech was no substitute for the ability to interrogate the speaker, since, when questioned, the text “always gives one unvarying answerâ€?. His objection, in short, was that books were not interactive. Perhaps Socrates would have thought more highly of video games.)

Novels were once considered too low-brow for university literature courses, but eventually the disapproving professors retired. Waltz music and dancing were condemned in the 19th century; all that twirling was thought to be “intoxicating� and “depraved�, and the music was outlawed in some places. Today it is hard to imagine what the fuss was about. And rock and roll was thought to encourage violence, promiscuity and satanism; but today even grannies buy Coldplay albums.

Joystick junkies

The opposition to gaming springs largely from the neophobia that has pitted the old against the entertainments of the young for centuries. Most gamers are under 40, and most critics are non-games-playing over-40s. But what of the specific complaints—that games foster addiction and encourage violence?

There’s no good evidence for either. On addiction, if the worry is about a generally excessive use of screen-based entertainment, critics should surely concern themselves about television rather than games: American teenage boys play video games for around 13 hours a week (girls for only five hours), yet watch television for around 25 hours a week. As to the minority who seriously overdo it, research suggests that they display addictive behaviour in other ways too. The problem, in other words, is with them, not with the games.

Most of the research on whether video games encourage violence is unsatisfactory, focusing primarily on short-term effects. In the best study so far, frequent playing of a violent game sustained over a month had no effect on participants’ level of aggression. And, during the period in which gaming has become widespread in America, violent crime has fallen by half. If games really did make people violent, this tendency might be expected to show up in the figures, given that half of Americans play computer and video games. Perhaps, as some observers have suggested, gaming actually makes people less violent, by acting as a safety valve.

Neophobes unite

So are games good, rather than bad, for people? Good ones probably are. Games are widely used as educational tools, not just for pilots, soldiers and surgeons, but also in schools and businesses. Every game has its own interface and controls, so that anyone who has learned to play a handful of games can generally figure out how to operate almost any high-tech device. Games require players to construct hypotheses, solve problems, develop strategies, learn the rules of the in-game world through trial and error. Gamers must also be able to juggle several different tasks, evaluate risks and make quick decisions. One game, set in 1930s Europe, requires the player to prevent the outbreak of the second world war; other games teach everything from algebra to derivatives trading. Playing games is, thus, an ideal form of preparation for the workplace of the 21st century, as some forward-thinking firms are already starting to realise.

Pointing all this out makes little difference, though, because the controversy over gaming, as with rock and roll, is more than anything else the consequence of a generational divide. Can the disagreements between old and young over new forms of media ever be resolved? Sometimes attitudes can change relatively quickly, as happened with the internet. Once condemned as a cesspool of depravity, it is now recognised as a valuable new medium, albeit one where (as with films, TV and, yes, video games) children’s access should be limited and supervised. The benefits of a broadband connection are now acknowledged, and politicians worry about extending access to the have-nots. Attitudes changed because critics of the internet had to start using it for work, and then realised that, like any medium, it could be used for good purposes as well as bad. They have no such incentive to take up gaming, however.

Eventually, objections to new media resolve themselves, as the young grow up and the old die out. As today’s gamers grow older—the average age of gamers is already 30—video games will ultimately become just another medium, alongside books, music and films. And soon the greying gamers will start tut-tutting about some new evil threatening to destroy the younger generation’s moral fibre.

TomorrowToday Global