Woes of the modern enthusiast.  Tuesday 22nd May 2012, 18:47

Again I come across another article pertaining to the evils of computer games and ‘screen’ use. Consistently I find these articles have significant bias towards the obvious detrimental side-effects to a more static vocation and none to the real benefits that some individuals get from certain forms of entertainment. Do not get me wrong that I cannot see that obsession with digital media is a bad thing, but I feel as an avid gamer myself and indeed a graduate in Computer Science that our ever-growing thirst for virtual entertainment is the ultimate scapegoat for all the ills of the modern world. During my undergraduate study I presented research on the way games are looked at in society I had plenty of resources criticising them and anyone who plays them, but such a small minority that put across an unbiased view including even a fraction of the genuine benefits. Now I know for a fact that my writing will be biased concentrating on the pros far more than the cons, but this is my experience of the world and I won’t comment on the mental and physical anguish of others without witnessing that first-hand; that sort of analysis is merely propaganda in my eyes and of no use to anyone.

I can see the difference the lifestyle has had on myself; for example my broadband Internet connection is currently down and is likely to be out for the rest of the week, leaving me with nought but my 3G phone as my portal to the rest of the world. This does of course illustrate my own dependence on the technology; I usually stream programmes of interest from the iPlayer and read the news online (this week is definitely going to affect my pub quiz research tonight). I don’t feel lost or as if someone chopped off an appendage, I just find something else to do; obviously not difficult as this is by no means an electronic blackout.

In my experience, and I am by no means suggesting this solution will work for everyone, is an open mind and the willingness to engage with children while they undergo these activities. In my childhood my parents set no restriction on my access to the TV, games consoles or computer. Often we would play through a game as a family solving the problems together, making suggestions, each trying the trickier sections together. Maybe if adults played more computer games they may find they aren’t evil, they’re not rotting the minds of children and they are actually fun and fulfilling. The most important point is to undergo these activities in moderation and not to the detriment of other key components of our lives. Personally I have on more than one occasion played a game all day (and I mean all day), and stayed up way too late trying to achieve that last goal. However I always got my work done first, I’d always eat at predetermined times, although I do have to admit the regular breaks were fairly infrequent. Therefore not everyone will become addicted, nor overweight, nor a social outcast. I have read reports (apologies for the lack of links to these articles this is merely a musing on past research) that say the extra problem solving skills and hand-eye coordination that a gamer has can be applied to real world scenarios.

One of my pet-hates is when people tar playing a game and watching TV with the same brush. I feel the difference is more akin to reading a standard book compared to the choose-your-own adventure editions. With the TV the content is provided to you in manageable chunks with repetitive ads suggesting you buy an array of products every 10-15 minutes. With a game you are put into a different world where your decisions decide the outcome of your experience; not all games are that open-world, but they do exist. I never understood as a teenager how some of my friends were allowed to watch TV during the week but not allowed to play a game. I can’t see how enjoying a story interactively can be deemed a waste of time when statically sitting watching a story is not. Nor can I comprehend how one is more of a distraction from your homework than the other, but maybe I am blessed with the required moderation, time management and constant work ethic (hardly!)

The big risk is a subset of the population who grow up in an environment with over-protective parents who are technologically stunted and will no doubt be disadvantaged in the world of tomorrow that we are building today. If it wasn’t for my initial interest in computer games I never would have learnt to program and may have never taken the specific educational path that I have chosen. There is that ever present risk that this country will continue to ignore our heritage as a technological innovator and never attain the aspirations of the current school IT reforms. I hope for the sake of the children in school today that their IT lessons are not as uninspiring as mine were as that is the worst way to mortgage the prosperous future of a country and its people.

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