For the love of the games

Gaming is to this generation what rock and roll was to 1960s youths. It is a cultural phenomenon, a part of everyday life, and a booming economic industry that has provided entertainment for millions and professional opportunities for plenty of bright young things.

Light-years removed from the early days of Pong, Space Invaders and the variety of 20c arcade machines at the local fish and chip shop, modern video games cover a broad spectrum.

There are the blockbusters - Call of Duty, Fifa, Red Dead Redemption - which have multimillion-dollar development budgets and revenue, and offer highly interactive cinematics and simulation-style gameplay; the fairy-tale success stories, like Minecraft; the untold number of independent releases that find small but loyal audiences; and the snackbox games, the likes of Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, that are free to play and perfect for 10 spare minutes on a smartphone.

Everybody, it seems, is playing games. Once the seeming preserve of geekish teenagers, gaming now caters for old and young, hardcore console advocates and PC master racers, boys and girls.

But, just as rock and roll came loaded with plenty of baggage - the fears of corruption of youth and debauched behaviour that (mostly) proved unfounded - so, too, does gaming find itself in the crosshairs of those who believe it is having deleterious effects on a generation.

A small but vocal and well-organised group, led by the conservative right in America, has long argued the proliferation of violent games has led to more violence and killing sprees. Virtual guns, clearly, being so much more dangerous than the real things.

Now comes a new alarm being rung. There is talk of parents losing the battle against their children's addiction to Fortnite, the free-to-play, wildly popular battle royale game that has become a ubiquitous topic of discussion in school playgrounds.

Bloomberg reports some parents have become so concerned at their children neglecting their studies, or even falling asleep in class, they have gone and checked them into rehabilitation centres.

There is talk of 12-hour gaming sessions, and a searing quote from a behavioural specialist who said Fortnite was "... like heroin. Once you are hooked, it's hard to get unhooked."

This is starting to sound like hysteria, and it might be timely to remind people - particularly parents and caregivers - who have concerns over a child's gaming behaviour that there are quite simple solutions to this problem.

Change your house's Wi-Fi password. Dole out gaming time like you would like a chocolate treat - make it a privilege, not a right. Alternate gaming sessions with outdoor activities.

Worried your child might be exposed to danger while gaming online? Change settings accordingly. Even better, pick up a controller and join in the fun.

There is a sound basis to the theory gaming - like many other things - can be dangerously addictive. Gaming can be a seductive hook with its promises of accomplishment, exploration, escape and social interaction. But that is no reason to throw your hands in the air and let the child, and the game, dictate terms.

There is also no point in pretending this is just a fad. Gaming is hugely popular, estimates showing there are 2.2billion gamers around the globe.

And it is extremely big business. The industry could be worth $US138billion ($NZ208billion) this year, the Global Games Market Report found, making it comfortably the biggest entertainment sector in the world, and competitive e-sports events are thriving.

New Zealand's gaming industry is humming. Revenue here hit a record $143million last year, and as of March there were 550 fulltime game developers working in New Zealand studios.

It's game on, for young and old, and there is no need to be scared about that.


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