Will New Study Make Games Grow Up?
Will New Study Make Games Grow Up?
This week, the BBC announced that the British Government launched a study into the effect of videogame violence on children. The study, headed up by psychologist Dr. Tanya Byron, will also investigate ways to protect children from inappropriate online material. The first findings will not be published for at least six months, but already the games industry is leaping on the defensive. It highlights censorship and age ratings as ways the industry protects children, but some critics feel the system doesn’t work.
I am an avid gamer, and have been for as long as I can remember. My initial reaction to this news was to sigh and shake my head wearily. It seems as if the games industry is constantly fielding accusations of behaviour modification, or immorality. This is not the first such investigation into videogame violence, and I’ll be surprised if it’s the last. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised how beneficial this study could be, and how much of the damage to the games industry’s reputation is self-inflicted.
I think much of my automatic defensiveness of the games industry comes from the fact that I not only grew up with games, but also that games grew up with me. Now in my 20s, as I developed, so did the games. As I became more sophisticated, so did the games (unfortunately while the games got prettier, I… didn’t, but the argument still stands). When I think of children playing games, I automatically remember what it was like for me playing Monkey Island or Sonic the Hedgehog. This rose-tinted view is, of course, completely inaccurate – games today are very different now from how they were fifteen years ago.
In many ways, the innocence has gone. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that games today are better than they have ever been, but the subject matter is generally much more aggressive. First person shooters, free roaming crime games, real time strategy war games; all these are popular genres and many played by children. The publishers may claim that age ratings protect children from bloody violence and swearing, but if I counted on my digits how many children I have seen playing an edition of Grand Theft Auto, I’d have to borrow someone else’s limbs to get an accurate number.
This new study was launched the day after a particularly violent game, Manhunt 2, was banned from release by the censors. The controversy the game has caused is fantastic publicity for the developer, raising interest in the game, but it does the reputation of gaming no favours. I personally would define an ‘adult game’ as one with an intelligent, thought-provoking play mechanic, or a well constructed narrative, interesting characters etc. I would not automatically identify a game as ‘adult’ because it has excessive violence and swearing. If anything, it makes it seem more juvenile, which raises the question, who is playing those games? I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of players are under fifteen.
Does videogame violence have a negative impact on children? Who knows, but children very clearly have access to inappropriate material. With luck this study will identify weaknesses in distribution, and make it much more difficult for children to get their hands on violent games. This way, any discovered effects on children can be reduced, and more importantly, people will stop moaning about it.
I am a copywriter at Prompt and this post reflects my personal views, and does not necessarily represent those of Prompt Communications or its clients.