In Western culture, there lingers a stigma that video games are somehow bad in spite of their widespread appeal. In Canada alone, 64% of the population plays video games.
This perceptible gap between video games as we socially view them and the reality of gaming being popular stems in part from unrealistic conceptions of the medium itself. Last August, after a shooting in Florida, President Trump said, “the level of violence (in) video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.” Comments such as this, which have intermittently flitted through the news cycle for decades, increase concerns within the public, especially among non-gaming communities, that electronic games corrupt the player.
Another common source of this apprehensive feeling regarding computer games is the angry reaction many parents witness in their children when the child must shut off their game. Kids will often play for hours and for some shutting off the game console and doing something else is difficult. The tantrums that have been caused by shutting off the game have likely made many witnesses pause and question whether games might, in fact, cause violence.
Even if games themselves seem to blame at first, a correlation between virtual violence and real-life violence has never been found. In 2019, psychologists Andrew Przyblski and Netta Weinstein of University of Oxford and Cardiff University respectively, conducted a survey-based study wherein they regularly interviewed 1000 adolescents (roughly age 14-15) and their caregivers, after they played violent games. The researchers concluded that “violent video game engagement … is not associated with observable variability in adolescents’ aggressive behaviour.”
Another study, published by Springer in 2017, lead by Adam Lobel interviewed children – between the ages of seven and eleven – at intervals of many months looking for any behavioral changes based upon the amount of games the child played. They concluded that:
Violent gaming was not associated with psychosocial changes. Cooperative gaming was not associated with changes in prosocial behaviour. Finally, competitive gaming was associated with decrease in prosocial behavior, but only among children who played video games with high frequency.
Violence in games had no effect on the children’s’ violence towards society and both cooperative and competitive gaming, in general, did not affect the sociability of the child. Unless that child played above 8.5 hours of competitive games per week (the high-frequency threshold), cooperative games at similar frequencies had no such effect. Whether that decrease in sociability is a fundamental symptom of competitive gaming has not been tested. It might just be that any time a child commits to a solitary exercise for more than 8.5 hours a week their social outgoingness drops. However, each parent should determine a healthy amount of gaming for their child.
While there is little evidence of any large negative effects of gaming, there are gobs of people anxious about the possibility that gaming could be harmful. Although this sort of panic is nothing new. With the birth of the novel in the 18th century (previously creative literature was poetry), society was ill at ease over the amount of time that their teenagers were spending reading novels. Today panic over reading would seem insane. Every parent, teacher, politician, and journalist wants kids to read more. Frank Furedi examines this crisis of the novel in his 2015 paper “The Media’s First Moral Panic” where he describes how society came to see reading as a “disease,” saying:
A dangerous disease appeared to afflict the young, which some diagnosed as reading addiction and others as reading rage, reading fever, reading mania or reading lust. Throughout Europe reports circulated about the outbreak of what was described as an epidemic of reading.
Perceptions of gamers today, to paraphrase Furedi, could well be described as inflicted by “video game rage” or “video game fever.” Moreover, Furedi discusses how society began to attribute this “reading disease” to youth suicides. Yes, without evidence society correlated youth entertainment to violence. If this smacks of the purported virtual violence/real violence link, it should. To think now of novels causing suicides is simply bunkum, and likely the future holds the same threat for sensationalized fears of video games. For the last two centuries novels have been an incredibly popular choice of entertainment for all sorts of people and negative side effects do not exist.
Years after “reading mania” had taken hold, radio was the crazy new entertainment medium entering the home and frightening adults. The Washington Post summarized these suspicions in their 1935 issue, “our children are going to the dogs and it is the fault of radio.” Once again, new entertainment popular amongst youth caused panic. In the same Washington Post article, Sidonie Gruenberg, then director of the Child’s Study Association of America commented on the relationship kids had with the radio. She said:
Instead of looking upon children’s radio interest as manifestations of wickedness or perversity we might profitably consider them as drives or desires that must somehow be met and that are present whether we have radio or not … There is probably no [radio] program that is good for all children or bad for all children.
In light of my analysis above, her words ring true. To call all video games bad is an overstep, just as it is unproductive. Games are likely fulfilling a desire in people that would be present if they had computer games or not. People are bound to find entertainment somewhere so why not in video games? Any form of entertainment, be it movies, TV, books or video games, can become unhealthy if overindulged, but there is nothing intrinsically immoral about the medium itself. Putting off work, friends, family, eating and sleeping to play games all day every day is unhealthy. But this seems true for almost anything in life and it seems silly to vilify gaming when enjoy the medium well within a healthy range.
As more people have begun enjoying games, the stigma has eroded. Thanks to improvements in internet speeds worldwide, gaming has become a massive, global community. By recent estimations, there were 2.08 billion gamers around the globe in 2016 and approximately 2.75 billion are predicted by 2021. Furthermore, the global community of gamers is experiencing not just video games in general, but the same video games together. This connection that people have worldwide to people from cultures they know nothing about is fairly unique to the gaming medium. Most people’s experiences with sports, for example, rarely include any other cultures.
In 2017, CableTV found the most popular video game by country, as depicted by the map below. What is surprising in this map is that each of these games has a player base in Canada, and in most or all other countries on the map. Clearly, the games themselves have no trouble transcending national boundaries. Overwatch was the most popular game in Canada, but also Puerto Rico, Senegal, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea and North Korea. What else – other than this game – do these countries have in common? Gaming interaction online creates similar communities across the globe that would not have existed otherwise.
Most popular game by country (Image Source: CableTV)
Another 2017 study, conducted by a university in the Czech Republic, analyzed the affinities between Iranian and Czech gaming media. Their goal was to discover just how similar the gaming scene was in these two culturally different countries. They analyzed the similarities between opinions from video game critics in each country as well as how often citizens used global as well as local gaming media. What they found was that gamers in both countries were often playing a similar subset of games but followed their countries’ local gaming media to make sense of the games they were playing. However, the local media in each country was often basing their coverage and criticism off of the global community’s coverage while making slight modifications to localize the content. The reality, then of the global gaming scene, is that “the local and the global are not necessarily opposites, but rather are mutually constitutive.”
Video games work well in a global community because they can be transplanted around the world. Even when foreign gamers are reading gaming media in their own language, that media is often translated content from the global mainstream. Therefore, it is impossible to split a local gaming scene from its global contexts, and vice versa. The global gaming community around a game is made of a bunch of smaller, local branches of the fanbase.
Games spread so well because of how cohesive both communities are. Together, these “mutually constitutive” forces make a radically democratic, global culture. Individuals from around the world can participate in the game’s following, either through the game itself, as well as other social media. It is this chance, as a gamer, to participate and contribute to a near-universal, global experience that sets gaming apart from other forms of entertainment.
You are gamers playing the same games with the same experience. This is not so with books, music, movies, a translated book or music is not the same, much of the experience is lost, or modified. Movies, even with subtitles, often cannot communicate to various audiences features of the cultural backgrounds that a scene is meant to convey. Movies capture a specific culture and setting, for anyone not living within that culture, they are not widely accessible.
The same is true of music sung in different languages. While anyone can enjoy other cultures’ music, there is a loss of information and the reasons two cultures have for enjoying a song may be completely different. However, games straddle this line of art and entertainment. They are made to be fun, and many do not display their cultural heritage as much as a poem or song, for example, might.
This is entertainment value is why gaming is on the rise. The universal aspect of the gaming sphere can fit into any aspect of our life, across countries and cultures. Amongst many niches of social life games have become like sports, and marketplaces, social media, even pubs.
Due to the internet, video games are no longer a solitary experience; they are experienced and enjoyed by diverse populations across the globe. To see video games as a threat which induces violence and waste time is to completely miss the entertainment value of gaming and the social opportunities that such a large, globally connected medium can offer.