I came darn close to surprising my parents over lunch today* by almost appearing on Radio 4’s You and Yours to discuss whether videogames are ruining kids lives by addicting them to stuff when they should be outside getting rained on. Or something. No doubt part in reaction to recent campaigns like Games4Life drive to get kids outside.
Unfortunately the way radio and TV work is people like me are often asked to be on but equally often don’t make it on. In this instance, it was a phone in and they were deluged by callers. I wasn’t listening, just sitting by the phone, but I imagine it was full of outraged Daily Mail readers complaining that videogames are an insidious evil that are ruining today’s kids, turning them into couch potatoes, causing them to have short attention spans and fail at school.
It’s an all too common narrative and it’s lazy, not to say incorrect. I’m 40 years old now and have been playing games of one sort or another for 35 of those years. That’s 87.5% of my life, if you’d prefer a percentage. I’m not excessively good at games but I do have a depth of experience of playing them dating back decades and I’d point out that video games have always been addictive, they’ve always sucked in any available time that a kid has to throw at them (and in the case of the Spectrum and Commodore 64, that would include interminable tape loading times before you even got to play the game). Over the years I’ve been variously addicted to Space Invaders, Tetris, Sonic the Hedgehog, Championship Manager, Ridge Racer, Total War, Tekken and many more. How addicted? I used to hear the music from Tetris in my sleep.
Videogames have become more realistic, arguably more involved, not particularly any more expensive when you factor in inflation, but inherently still hold the same appeal to small boys (and girls) as they did when I was playing Jetpac on the Spectrum, Dungeon Master on the Atari ST, Sonic the Hedgehog on the Megadrive or Tomb Raider on the Playstation.
What has changed is the environment that the games are played on. Back in the 80’s like most households we had one television. Negotiations had to occur for any computer time after dinner. It wasn’t until I was about 9 that we picked up a great aunt’s small portable black and white telly (and yes I did watch the snooker on it), which gave us the opportunity to watch something different to mum and dad. Not that there was much on of course; kids telly ran from 3:15 to 5:25 and that was that. Even when We got a second portable telly (colour this time!) a few years later, the Megadrive was set up in the spare bedroom (AKA the playroom) and not an actual bedroom.
Fast forward to now, and the 8 year old is incessantly complaining that all his little mates have TV’s in their bedrooms (and a lot of them do, I’ve seen them in some instances). I tell him that he can have one in his room at exactly the time he’s old enough to play the games he’s pestering me to let him play (the ones that his mates are playing), which is when he’s 15 (or in some instances, 18).
This is where the disconnect has come- a proliferation of screens has meant that parents no longer effectively control what they kids play or watch, or how long they do it for.
Videogames aren’t making kids fat, they’re not reducing kids concentration, a lack of parental control and involvement is. Of course it’s easier to blame videogames because that’s an abrogation of personal responsibility and making it something else’s fault is much easier isn’t it?
*sorry mum, I’m not a proper celeb just yet.