Videogames and Australians

It would be incorrect to assume Australians have responded to the phenomenon of videogames in the same way other nations have. In a sense today’s contemporary gameplay is a global network of servers and players whom preference certain games or genres. However, despite the ease of access to international information about videogames, childhood, parenting and school, very little information is based on national evidence and is not one single progression of discussion, study or debate – but a multitude which often have little in common aside from the term videogames.

I argue that videogames are essentially grouped into three periods of study and interest. Each period of study has seen increasing diversity and technological advancements of videogames and gameplay. I make a point of also separating videogames and gameplay because they evoke quite different conceptions and emotional reactions in both adults and children.

The first period is pre-2001. I realise that between the mid 1970s and 2002 videogames made many technological and cultural advances, but in terms of study, this period was concerned mostly with what games are, what play is and the effects of video games on society. It followed a long tradition of viewing media with suspicion and conducting experiments with small groups of participants to try and guage how playing certain games (mostly violent and sexualised) altered the behaviour of the sample subjects. As numerous scholars have argued, the methods used to do this are suspect and they made many assumptions, demonised and simplified games to the point of being little more than an erant-interactive film. Despite the claims from clinical science, it has not been shown to lead to real-life violence in any predictable way.

The second period is between 2001 and 2009. This is essentially because this period of scholarly interest and research began to look more deeply at the assumptions being made about videogames. In the literature, you will find many respected media, sociology, game and educational academics began to write about and discuss new dimensions of games and critically appraise the ongoing claims about aggressive and habitual behaviour in real-life. People like Marc Prensky, Jasper Juul, James Gee, Henry Jenkins and James Seeley Brown expanded the field of research (and potential research) well beyond the realms of science, economics and mathematics. This era also is the foundation of the majority of ongoing debate about videogames in popular culture. It plays out in newspaper, magazines, television and websites on a daily basis.

The essential question is usually: Are videogames bad for childhood development (and therefore society) and what should be done about it.

The answers probably lie in the third period of research and study of videogames, which can best be described as beginning. In Australia and prior to 2008, videogames were treated in national studies as a leisure activity. In that regard a videogame was treated like a trip to the movies, playing a game of soccer, listening to music or reading a book. It was not treated as a media-text with unique properties. It was not investigated in the public domain in association with or in preference to the kind of media-choices that families take in their stride in 2014. Most significantly, it was not treated as a form of literature nor something which was used in education or the workplace.

We therefore know very little about videogames and Australians right now. We have seen reports of statistics, but these often focus on simple demographics and size of the market. This is unsurprising given the close association some scholars now have with the games industry — and how secretive the game industry is about their data and their customers players.

In 2008 we knew that most parents were not overly concerned about aggression, violence or so called addictive qualities of video games. We also know that those parents with children aged 12 and over we considered to be the first generation of children to have grow up with access to video games and that over half had played video games as a child and continued to do so using a computer. Again, no specific details on the type of computer or game and even less about consoles and handhelds.

We can’t compare todays figures with older figures because there have been significant revisions to how videogames have been classified and how questions have been asked at the national level. For example, videogames are now considered part of children’s ‘screen-time’ use, but as most parents know — that use varies as does children’s access and the type of games they can play at any given available time. No data is being collected on the use of screen time or games in education, despite the billions of dollars of educational technology funding lavished on teachers and school systems since (weirdly) 2008.

What we do know is that the media presents videogames in ways intended to gain the attention of parents: either as customers or to perpetuate the same ‘media effects’ panic which has been rolling though popular media since the 1930s. We do know that all children and the vast proportion of adults play video games of one sort or another in the home, where as the vast majority of teachers and students (identity switch) do not. It strikes me as bizarre that some teachers are now expressing new interest in game-based-learning as though our culture has not already embraced it as media entertainment and used it to make sense of the world from the inside out for a very long time.

Videogames are a prolific and much enjoyed form of media entertainment in Australia. Despite ongoing media panic, Australians have not had the level of negative emotional reaction to videogames as might have occurred in other nations. We can’t assume that data and facts from PEW (American Life) can be generalised to Australia in the way the Aussie Dollar is a bit like the US Dollar.

We don’t need to hide from teaching and studying games, and games don’t have any excuses to make. The fact that Australians are highly likely to engage with complex, computational problem solving from pre-school onwards despite un-ambitious and media-conservative educators and narrow media ownership whos dislike of games is obvious — is quite remarkable.

So if anyone questions why you’d want to use videogames in school or home it is fair to say that as a media-text we see far more value in them than media reports broadly admit and far less danger than they claim.

Most kids don’t play video-games it turns out.

A consistent comment I get from parents, experiencing anxiety and feuds with boys over video games is that “the game” is ruining family life and addictive. There is an imagined cultural portrait in which boys are habitual game users who become anti-social and disconnected.

A report has emerged from the annual E3 Games Showcase (for next years titles) that paints a different story – one likely to be ignored by mass-media. 

In 2010, the Entertainment and Software Association famously told us that only 18% of game players are under the age of 18. In 2011, they said 29% of gamers were over the age of fifty. They also said that women over the age of 18 represented significantly greater proportion of game-players (37%) than boys 17 or younger (13%).

Most significantly for parents, the average age of a video game purchaser is 41, and of those roughly half are female – despite ongoing controversy over the way women are represented in games. 19% of these gamers – pay to play – in online games, but 65% of all gamers play online with other people.

At E3, they released more information for 2013. The average age of player has fallen to 30 years old (from 37) and the largest segment of gamers are 36 and older.

For parents whom might other wise assume game-developers target kids, the reality is less than 20% of kids play games at all. Of the $20.77 billion dollars spent in 2012, more than half is spent by players over the age of 30 who have been playing for 13 years or more. Of that 45% of female. Despite the media-haters focus on violence and sexualisation in games – 90% of the games made have an “E” rating – as in “everyone” and of that 78% of the players play with other people for at least one hour a week and 35% of families consider ‘gaming’ to be a family-activity. In extensive studies of parent opinion of ratings, almost 90% said they used the ERSB ratings system in decision making. Despite anecdotal comments that parents pay little attention to ratings – it is worth saying over 90% of games are either E (Everyone), E10+ (ten and over) or Teen (T).

Young peoples opinions of digital media

What patterns can be found in the interactive media activities and opinions of young people?

I’ve posted a few times that I see patterns in the way students use media in combination around gaming and their social activities. This isn’t all kids – and it’s really hard to know what percentage of kids we might be talking about.The patterns I see appear far more sophisticated and inter-connected than the ones they are using in school. I only have to look at my own kids to see this – but are they representative or an anomaly?

Some teachers are attempting use patterns they have found useful in personal learning networks towards classroom routines such as blogs, wikis and so on. The problem here is that no two people see or use the same patterns. In fact, the personal learning network is little different from a user-group apart from it’s lack of stable membership and tendency to homogonise itself into the same factions in the ‘real world’. The pattern here can be seen by holding regular #edchat (general) #mathschat (maths) #englishchat and so on. Once these patterns emerge, they seem to become region based #ukmathschat, #Ozmathschat and so on. The exception here is the USA, who generally believe the are the alpha-party so don’t bother calling it #usamathschat 🙂

Whilst the software and hardware teachers use in class have some commonality with their own out of class preferences and patterns, there are omissions and forced compromises, such as mobile phones, policed and determined by layers of policy makers at numerous creating non-uniform ‘break-points’.

Education favours a belief that what has been proven to be true is good (and can be improved upon), while everything unproven (unfamiliar) is highly suspicious and easily ignored. School improvement therefore generally approached as N+1 (where +1 is innovation). Innovation in this context is always an intransigent compromise. This leaves the classroom practitioner working in a filtered-intersection which is neither ‘traditional’ or ‘post-modern’. This has always troubled me, especially as popular thought-leaders on stages talk often show examples of the ‘untethered’ internet of things – to fuel their argument that these things are crucial manifestations which underpin their demands for academic, social and cultural reform in schools.

What I am interested in is looking at these patterns, to see if what is being cited as ‘essential’ in this intersection is actually representative of kids opinions. If you like, I choose to challenge the popular notion of the ‘net-generation’. It’s going to take some time to achieve this, as ideally I’d like to have a few thousand kids fill it in. What I don’t want is a convenient sample, drawn exclusively from ‘students’ but from ‘young people’ who are using technology.

Because there is no classification scheme, I’ve used an hierarchical agglomerative cluster from educator’s responding to #edchat. Of course this is my ‘opinion’ of what they we’re talking about from the analysis.

  1. networker
  2.  producer
  3. traditionalist
  4.  gamer

It would be fantastic if you would consider asking someone 8-16 to complete the survey, or asking your class to do so. I’ll publish what I find in the near future under creative commons license. For those willing to do it with a whole class, I’m happy to Skype into your class sometime and run an activity around these questions as a thanks. [timezone permitting]. Just email me if you do, I’m not telepathic.

I’m going to the UK for a month or so in a few weeks, and this survey will be online for a month from today. I’d love to hit 2000 plus respondents.