Saturday, February 04, 2012

Gaming as Life Via Proxy: Platypus Nostalgia

It should come as no surprise that I'm a supporter, with reservations, of video/computer games as both a form of entertainment and a medium for storytelling.  I have tried to defend, via personal anecdotes, gamers from being tared with the same brush as time-wasters, lazy, immature, and disconnected from real life.  That said, my experience as a teacher has presented me with counter-anecdotes.  While I have encountered many students who game as part of a balanced existence, there are examples that stand out in my mind of time-wasting, laziness, immaturity, and disconnect from real life.  Humor me as I talk about that end of the equation.

I have met many students who genuinely struggle with limiting themselves when it comes to gaming.  I've met some adults who fit that profile too.  Children and adults both struggle with issues of continence.  We like what we like, and we all have trouble saying no to more of something we like.  That's a problem, but it's one that we recognize as a necessary part of being a child, a part that must be trained out of them, and a failing in adults, which is shameful where it appears and requires repentance and rehabituation.  To spell it out, we expect children to lack self control and work with them to develop it.  If a child has trouble with compulsive eating, should we really blame the food or should we set more stringent rules about eating and help the child to develop disciplined habits in that area?  Maybe the answer to that is no longer obvious in this day and age of "food wars," but it used to be a given that the food wasn't the problem.  Yet when the same equation is applied to video/computer games somehow many of us want to blame the games.  What makes these games so especially bad that the analogy doesn't hold?  Going after the games distracts from the real problem: children aren't born with the capacity to self-moderate, they need to be taught how to live balanced lives.  Let's face it, some children and adults are immoderate in their consumption of video/computer games.  That bad habit shouldn't be excused or glossed over in the name of defending the games as a medium, but neither should the medium itself have to answer for what is a common human problem with anything that we find desirable.  Anti-gamers, don't hold a double-standard; gamers, admit that some of us do have issues with our use of video games and that those issues should not be glossed over or defended.

I have met children and adults who seem to prefer the world of video/computer games to the rest of the world.  I have met people whose friends are primarily their gaming buddies online.  Rather than argue whether this is good or bad, I'd like to explore one possibility as to why this is the case, particularly in young people.  There are other reasons that could be explored, particularly in the case of adults, but I think the reason I'd like to discuss is overlooked.  That reason is the growth of suburbia and zero-lot housing.  One thing I have found is that the students I meet who are most addicted to gaming are those who have least access to the outdoors.  Anyone who has seen the vast concrete wasteland that is the L.A. sprawl should pause and think about this.  When the world outside the home is mostly concrete, small and carefully manicured lawns, and businesses there's isn't much incentive to go outside.  Over-worked adults in SUVs, local business owners, and homeowners associations aren't exactly friendly to cul-de-sac and parking lot activities such as football, basketball, and skateboarding.  Local parks are often small and overcrowded with either thugs or families with young children who can't tell the difference between packs of teenagers and the aforementioned thugs.  I find at rock-bottom that there isn't much difference between today's pre-teens and teens and myself when I was their age.  I liked exploring, I liked discovering, I liked creating, and inventing, and pulling all kinds of crazy and (mostly) harmless capers that could be bragged about afterword.  The difference is that I lived on an acre lot with nothing but public land for miles until you hit the next town.  There was a reason to go outside; there was space for other interests.  I was lucky.  It's hard to blame a kid in the sprawl for preferring the colorful world of adventure presented by a game when it's so seemingly superior to the late-modern travesty outside.  Maybe we could tell them to go read a book, but that's not really addressing the problem.  Many (certainly not all) of the gaming addicts I've met have reading as their only other hobby.

So what's the gist of this?  In defending video and computer games I don't want to ignore that there are real problems.  I've already brought up sex and violence, and now I've mentioned addiction and escapism.  Once again, these are legitimate issues, and friends and foes of games alike shouldn't obscure them with easy denials or flippant condemnations.  Video and computer games as a social phenomenon aren't going away any time soon and that means that we need to honestly consider them: the good as well as the bad.         

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