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The moral panic that runs and runs…

… and takes on many forms.

I recall as a very small kid there was a moral panic over Space Invaders and that was over thirty years ago. Ever since this panic has periodically risen like a zombie on you didn’t put enough (virtual) ordnance into. Computer games have been blamed for almost everything: addiction and ensuing social misfittery, obesity, violence, militarism, school shootings, RSI, satanism, peadophile “grooming”… Not even class-A drug use has been blamed for such a variety of things. Makes you wonder why so many things. Wouldn’t one social evil be enough if it were true?

This courtesy of the BBC and a charidee is the latest installment in a longer runninng series than Final Fantasy…

Social workers at Wings South West said the result was that the social skills of gamers were going downhill.

A computer games advice charity said youngsters were in danger of losing empathy and the compassion of “genuine relationships”. said youngsters were in danger of losing empathy and the compassion of “genuine relationships”.

Yes, you read that right. A computer games advice advice charity. I have now heard it all.

Paul Bowser, who works with young people at Wings South West in Bideford, said: “We have a number of young people who most of the time look almost stoned, not necessarily on drugs, but just with sleep deprivation because they’re gaming all the time.

How do you know they aren’t actually stoned? I mean Occam’s razor and all that.

“It’s certainly different from a few years ago, partly because the technology wasn’t there.”

Except it was, wasn’t it? Because an Atari VCS2600 wasn’t exactly an XBox 360 but it looked amazing to the kids back then. Then the Spectrum, Amiga, a series of PCs and that’s just my gaming machine history. Each one was spankier than the last.

Robert Hart Fletcher, who runs Kids and Media, a charity giving information about children’s use of digital media, said: “Gaming is a phenomenon that’s been around quite a while.”

Now we are starting to see the effects in behaviour of young people.

Now as I said at the start this moral panic is not new. The way it is articulated changes over time but it’s the same thing.

“In the past people had genuine relationships with empathy and compassion which has been replaced by this virtual relationship where they are not necessarily having to show empathy or compassion.”

Oh, what drivel from another rent-seeking technophobe! Technology allows unprecedented social contact. I wonder if he is aware that most people people know on Facebook for example are known to them in “real life”?

“That’s starting perhaps to affect the way they interact on a day to day basis.”

Bradley Bown of the Game store in Plymouth said more education should be available to parents about the controls available.

Bradley – typical. Industry keeling over over in the face of ridiculous demands from what are quite frankly self-serving pressure groups rather saying, “Sod Off!”. Anyway Brad me old China who do you think shall provide this education? For (I assume) a gamer yourself you’ve made a bit of a tactical cock-up there.

For what it’s worth I don’t think any of these nonces really know anything about gaming. Almost proper all studies have shown it improves hand/eye co-ordination reflexes, and teaches things like problem solving tactics and planning. I had to lay-off playing Hardwar many years ago because I’d found myself knocking up an Excel spreadsheet to maximise my trading strategy. I just had an epiphany that in other circumstances someone could be paying me to do that!

PS. In the context this is interesting and the suggestion of gaming PTSD is deeply stupid and insulting.

18 Comments

  1. Sam Duncan says:

    “Bradley Bown of the Game store in Plymouth said more propaganda should be targeted at parents about the controls available.”

    Fixed that for him.

    “(I assume) a gamer yourself”

    At Game, the Dixons of the videogame world? Hardly a safe assumption.

    “I had to lay-off playing Hardwar many years ago because I’d found myself knocking up an Excel spreadsheet to maximise my trading strategy.”

    I did that for Elite. Oolite, actually, not so many years ago, in Gnumeric. It’s probably still lying around here somewhere.

    Anyway, yes, same old pish. I remember sitting in a friend’s house in 1986 or ’87 with about half-a-dozen mates, playing one of Epyx’s classic Games series on the (spit*) C64, all laughing like drains at a story absolutely identical to this.

    *IanB will understand.

  2. JuliaM says:

    Well, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge, videogames can sometimes be the catalyst for naughtiness….

    Mind you, where there’s a ‘problem’, there’s usually a bunch of folk only too happy to solve it…for a price, of course!

  3. Fred says:

    Is there a problem with the comments facility on the copyright thread? It won’t let me post… And when I try again, it pulls up the duplicate post thingy.

  4. NickM says:

    Fred,
    I just checked it and there isn’t a specific issue. It’s just the server is shite.

  5. RAB says:

    Cats is supposed to be updating the server this very weekend Fred. So it may be a whole different ball game next week.

    Not only is gaming and reality becoming blurred re your link Nick, it is becoming the same thing. The “pilots” of those Drones taking out the nasties in the middle east badlands, are sat in a bunker in Texas with a big HD screen and to all intents and purposes, a gaming computer and controls in their hands. Great gamers, using the skills they have honed on x boxes and PCs, are going to be the top warriors of the future.

    The hand wringing leftie sociologists hate the very idea of that though.

  6. Laird says:

    In the early part of the last century ragtime was blamed for many of the same social pathologies. So was rock-and-roll in the 50s.

    “The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.” — Aldous Huxley

  7. James says:

    At some point in the future – perhaps when gaming takes place in an immersive virtual reality, and gamers find life there more engaging than in the real world – the moral panic will be justified. However, because well-meaning people have been “crying wolf” since Space Invaders, no one will listen.

    It has been suggested that the fall in US crime rates since the 1990s can be attributed to video gaming. Grand Theft Auto, far from encouraging youngsters to go out and steal cars, allows them to experience the thrills of the gangsta lifestyle without any downside.

  8. Ian B says:

    One interesting part of this type of moral panic is the hauling out of the “not your daddy’s Playboy” argument. It attempts to explain the fact that the Damned Thing has been around for decades with no apparent harm, so they say “oh, but in the old days, it wasn’t like this latest thing which is much more intense and dangerous”. With porn, it’s the laughable idea that 70s porn wasn’t very rude (try watching some of it, ladies) and likewise spending every spare minute hunched over a Spectrum playing Manic Miner was benign compared to an XBox. When of course as Nick says, back in 1982, everyone was convinced that an 8 bit micro was having this precise same effect.

  9. Tim Newman says:

    My kid brother spends half his waking hours playing Call of Duty with his mates from school all plugged into the same server, and he has a damned sight more social skills than I had growing up on a fucking farm in Wales without a TV and a pile of Lloyds Law Reports to keep me entertained.*

    Incidentally, for all the talk of computer games making kids obese, a different set of busybodies think kids should read more. A kid is as no more likely to turn into a fat knacker playing PS3 than reading Harry Potter, but you never hear it put like that. No, it’s always computer gamers who are obese, never bookworms.

    *A bit of an exaggeration, I did have loads of Victor Book for Boys. Now they were superb back in the 70s and 80s, in all their politically incorrect glory!

  10. John Galt says:

    Wings South West – Hmmm! Fake Charity suspicion. Couldn’t find it on the Fake Charities website http://fakecharities.org/, but doubt that you’re average person-in-the-street would cough up for this.

    Maybe the first thing Cameramong should have done was to stop any body in reciept of taxpayers funds (national and local) from making donations to ‘Charity’, especially since the source of these funds was forcibly extracted from the population at large.

    It would be nice to see Common Purpose go broke.

  11. RAB says:

    A friend of mine’s son ( a lover of Call of Duty) came top of his class in a History quiz about WW2 when he was 12, because Call of Duty is factually accurate as well as being fun. Being educational is never mentioned about video games though eh?

    I bet some Po faced twat was moaning that Radio would kill conversation and social skills when it was invented too.

  12. NickM says:

    RAB,
    Some “po faced twat” said that when Ugg, Ogg and Igg formed a beat combo (Igg on the bones). RAB – you’re mates kid – I can see that. I’ve learned a lot from games. I got interested in the history of ideas and such playing Civilization etc. The problem with the nedumakashunal establishment is they hate independent learning. Another thing. I bet they get dead snobby about Sky (“we only watch BBC in this house”). Have they seen Sky Arts 1 & 2? They generally knock BBC4 into a cocked hat.

    John,
    I strongly suspect they are fake at some level. Interesting their site strongly implies they are “Christian” but doesn’t mention a denomination. Hmmm…

    Ian,
    You seen the very earliest film porn (basically from like a week after cinematography was invented) and they’re pretty filthy and much the same. A load were releasedd together a few years back.

    Tim,
    I see exactly where you’re coming from.

  13. Right click you're toast says:

    Yes, well… putting aside our moral outrage over charities being concerned with all sorts of things that are beyond the realm of charities, have you ever seen a kid who spends too much time on a ‘puter game?

    I taught kids, starting at 9 in the morning (or 9.30 for the latecomers who were tired), who stayed up till four in the morning every night playing Whack-a-mole-of-duty or some such shit. They were fine, except…. The ones who stayed awake celebrated by rubbing their eyes and yawning, and their sole topic of conversation was how many bullets their whack-a-mole-47 carried.

    They were dull beyond belief, though they liked the word ‘noob’ because apparently everyone was a noob but them.

    I know, my lessons were boring so that’s why they slept through them. But it didn’t help they were whacking moles all night instead of whacking off.

  14. bloke in spain says:

    If you’ll excuse a slight point of view from the other side of the argument:

    There is a possible problem with gaming, but the damage starts a long time before the kid grabs its first mouse. With kids TV.

    If you watch the stuff, you soon see the primary purpose is to hold the attention. There’s rarely more than 4-5 seconds without something “exciting” happening. That’s just within segments. But the segments themselves are remarkably short. Often you see quite short cartoon episodes split apart with bits of other stuff inserted between. Nothing seems to run much more than 5 minutes. Then you get the manic way compères behave. Very fast speech. Exaggerated gestures & actions.

    Net result is the tempo is extremely high. The whole thing’s running on fast forward. Pushing the sensory input up against the limits of assimilation. Kids get exposed to hundreds of hours of this stuff. I’m wondering if they get conditioned to this mental environment.

    Trouble is, the real world isn’t like this is it? It’s more long periods of relative inaction with odd interludes of mildly interesting. Takes an entirely different mindset. Can’t help but wonder if what gets labelled as Attention Deficit Disorder is simply kids who cant adjust to the slower pace of reality. Can’t cope with the lack of stimulation. I hear friends’ kids with the “Mum, I’m bo-o-o-ored…..” whine. I can’t honestly remember being bo-o-o-ored as a kid. I don’t think it’s selective memory. I don’t even think the concept was there. Even waiting an hour at a bus stop could be an adventure. The imagination would overlay a battlefield across the brickwork of a garden wall so that imaginary soldiers could fight to take the gatepost fortress. A rain soaked gutter would be a mighty river & leaves floating along ships.

    Odd thing is, I’ve never really caught on to games. Missed out on the first ones, maybe, by being too interested in pubs, girls, the rest of it. I think my tolerance level for Asteroids was about 5 minutes. Couldn’t see the point of it. Space Invaders? It actually got less interesting the faster the little aliens ran down the screen. You knew that eventually they’d overwhelm you. (That was how it worked, wasn’t it? Don’t supposed I played it more than half a dozen times.) If the outcome is predetermined, why waste the time going through the ritual? The score? So what? You may be the pub Asteroid maestro but I think I’ve cracked the blonde with the big rack. See you later.
    So the modern computer games are mildly interesting to read about, or watch someone else play for a few minutes, but immersive? I find the tempo far to high. I’m usually knocked out before I’ve worked out how I’m supposed to be playing it & I really can’t be arsed to cultivate the skills needed to succeed. The ones I’ve ever seen that tempted were the analytical things. Building empires. Battlefield tactical simulators. But then why not play chess? (Incidentally, I don’t play chess. So you win? Big deal! Now Poker…..)

    Is this because I lack the conditioning.

    There’s mention above of controlling drones. Are gamers really the people to do that? I’d imagine the skillset required would be closer to fishing or hunting. The ability to concentrate for long periods on nothing much, trying to spot the minute clues that reveal ones quarry, combined with the acceptance you might be doing this for days without anything showing up. A gamer’s mentality is more conditioned to seeing every car travelling along that road as potential bad guys. That there’s an underlying ‘script’ being played out. That one of the cars ‘has’ to be bad guys. Maybe that’s why innocent people find a Hellfire appear in the rear view mirror?

  15. Tim Newman says:

    I find the tempo far to high. I’m usually knocked out before I’ve worked out how I’m supposed to be playing it & I really can’t be arsed to cultivate the skills needed to succeed.

    I can relate to that, too many strategy games turn into click-fests, although you can adjust the game speed on most of them. I tend to prefer the adventure or RPG games, although they have turned more into “run here – speak to this person – run there – clickety-click on a chest – run here – speak to this person – quest complete”. You end up following a list of instructions and don’t need to think or work anything out. I have yet to find any game which hooked me as firmly as Final Fantasy VII or Ultima VI. I tend to get bored after an hour or two of playing any new games.

  16. NickM says:

    A gem of a comment Bloke in Spain! Certainly you’re spot-on about kids TV.

    I may lift some of that if that’s OK?

    As to games. I think they’re more subtle than you might think these days but I agree with you in your assessment of the likes of Space Invaders. As to the drone operators… Well, I dunno.

  17. bloke in spain says:

    You’re welcome, Nick.

    Surprises me that the relationship between kid’s TV & behaviour isn’t obvious.

    Once took a g/f’s 8 y.o. off for a couple days fishing to get him out her hair during the summer holidays. That or she’d've strangled him. Start he was a pain. Running up & down. Bored with the whole thing after five minutes. I’d set up to catch littl’uns & after half an hour we got a couple & they weren’t the only thing hooked. He soon got the idea that the purpose of the fish in the river wasn’t to provide his entertainment but were quite keen to stay there, thanks. That you had to entice them & they weren’t queuing up for a go at the bait like at McDonalds counter. Then he saw a big one on the surface & from then on you hardly heard a word out of him & that a whisper. Cooked up a couple of good ones he’d landed for dinner, that night. Roach isn’t much of a treat, fish wise but for a kid who before thought breadcrumbs was a natural camouflage device to conceal the fish’s fingers amongst the chip groves, eating something you’ve caught yourself is ambrosia.
    Net result is I take home a different kid complete with grazed knees, mud in his ears, wind burn, sun burn & a plaster on his finger where I’d had to dig a hook out of him. (Not a whimper). Mum gets to eat fish caught by her intrepid son ( me for the fifth straight meal) & reckoning I’d brought home the wrong boy.
    Power of TV? Next morning he’s in front of the ‘toons for half an hour & back to being the usual asshole.

    Games, subtle or not, don’t float my boat because they’re entertainment. I don’t need entertaining in that way. The poker isn’t the online flavour. That’s like cybersex. Poker’s a bloodsport.

  18. RAB says:

    Lovely bit of writing there, Bloke in Spain.

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