Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Games are more than fun

"New research dispels the well-worn stereotypes that computer gamers having no social skills and girls avoid violent games like Grand Theft Auto", apparently. Some of this is "well, duh" to people like me that have grown up with games. For instance:

"Two-thirds of boys aged 12 to 14 and one in four girls had played an M-rated game (meant for those over 17) in the last six months."

C'mon, how many of us had seen films rated way above our age before we reached "maturity"? I remember my physics teacher showing us Predator on the last day of term (minus the boring, talky bits, of course). Interpreting a) violence and b) films (or storytelling at large) is a way important part of growing up that people seem to overlook. Grimm Brothers fairytales? Violent. Roald Dahl? Sick. The world is disgusting, we'll find ways of sorting out that information way before we're 18 (or probably even 12).

"Children used games to help them manage their emotions. When angry or stressed they liked to use games to get these emotions out."

Much like adults then, I would assume. This highlights the difference between games causing violence, and games containing violence (perhaps even violence "causing" games...). The debate over whether gaming causes violent behaviour might as well be the same as asking whether punching bags cause violent behaviour (another, more "real" simulation of violence). Same goes for music - we don't need to stop people from being violent - they're violent and nasty by nature, half the time (the other half they're quite good, really). We need outlets. (Hey, does this mean we need more violent games for kids?)

The second part of the link deals with the sociability of gaming:

"When I was a lad computer gaming was a very unsociable activity. This was partly because good multi-player games hadn't yet been developed. Now players can battle each other while sitting side-by-side, or virtually across the internet."

This shows, I think, an intriguing trend in the development of computer and console gaming. When I were a lad, computer gaming was extremely sociable - a lot of games in the Amiga/Atari landscape were at least 2 player, and we often gathered for bouts of 3, 4, 5 ... even up to 8 players, all at the same time. The relative failure of Sega's Dreamcast and Nintendo's Gamecube are irritating signposts to, from my perspective, the less social nature of games. PC gaming (over the internet), the PlayStation (in all guises) and the XBox (both with less than 4 controllers by default) mean gaming - again, for me - is a lot less fun because it's a lot less sociable. (No coincidence that I sold my PS2 recently, but am keeping the Dreamcast and Gamecube.)

That said, I think there's a lot going for narrative and story in games - "immersive storytelling" is far more of a social experience outside the gameworld than a straightfoward romp through levels one at a time. Games then have become more like books, or films, in that "consuming" them is a generally individual experience, but one that's shared with other people who have gone through the same thing.

Perhaps this is the amazing thing about ARGs, which have filled a gap which videogames have tended to stay clear of on the whole - they involve a group in a story, so both develop as the game is played through. I'd love to see more of that in videogames. (Well, I would if I had time to play them ;)

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