I’ve been asked to give a talk to local parents of primary aged students a talk about games. In Australia, parents see games as mostly positive in primary aged years and are more worried about television (if we’re focused on content). When in high-school, parent’s switch this around and often rage against games. The reality is, by the time they hit high school, parents have created a domain in which using ipads and mobile phones to play games is completely normal. As children get to high school age, the ‘tethering distance’ between parent and child expands. Kids used to go off and hang out, but now they can’t – so they ‘geek out’ playing multiplayer games from about year 3 onwards.
There are two factors that drive this. Massive increases in organized sport and after school activities in the last decade (community and commercially driven) combined with longer work hours and soul-sapping commutes to and from for parents. The consumer driven culture works hand in hand with neoliberal political economies. The result is that high school kids, tend to spend more time in their own space – on devices – playing both casual games and hardcore games (I hate those terms) and streaming entertainment to their devices on demand.
Parents say they ‘hate’ games, but have limited experience of them, when they really mean they feel trapped by inexplicable changes in culture and life generally, which doesn’t appear to match the ‘ideal’ being presented by the media, or the selective halo-posts on social media of their friends illusory more fun, more connected, more real relationships.
In the 1980s, video arcades were seen as complementary to television watching. Research at the time disproved media panics about these places being dens of evil-doers, or that games were addictive. In reality, games were driven into the home because arcades competed with retail – movies and shopping in the high street. By 1981, arcade income was over $9billion in the USA alone. It’s not surprising that local business and big business sought to create media panic and create all manner of ‘licenses’ and civic ordinances to drive arcade owners out of business. Games entered the home as refugees.
Today, games are not going away. They make so much money in the home that 98% of homes play them on a very regular basis. To change the teenage use of games – in which they play with friends and see it as socializing – is to accept be critical of our own involvement in sustaining the economic and social conditions which keep them there. Part of that is the fact teachers act as sales agents for brands – even if they are game-narrow-minded still.
The question is always, how are you going to minimalise and re-adjust family life? Most kids do want to have unstructured play time with family members, they do like camping and hanging out – but the junk-culture we live in is saturated in the ambitions of retail and commerce, not quality time.
It’s hard to dispel almost fifty years of research which shows games are good for learning, but even more difficult to show that Bill Gates (worth $86 billion) has public interest at heart – let alone the rest of the 1%. That might seem far away from your teens bedroom, but the Internet, school and pervasive media make it no more than a click.