Apple and Google don’t really care about game content.

This week, a mobile video game has received a lot of media attention. The game has now been removed from Apple and Google’s online stores after a social media based campaign  highlighted the outrageous material, which deliberately named and represented in game characters ‘aboriginal’ and required the player, at some point in the game, to ‘kill’ them. You can read about this, and what Google and Apple did here.

This is a failure of governance. Apple and Google are under no obligation to ‘review’ any game against the Australian Classification board associated with film, television, consoles and computer games. Secondly, the material content in this game plays out in numerous other mediums such as film and television quite differently. Numerous TV drama’s have shown people from different cultural and social groups beaten and killed for entertainment. For the cowboy to save the day, there have to be ‘bad guys’ to shoot and we watch the hero put down ‘bad guys’ from first person angles constantly.

The outrage against this game is of itself part of the interactive entertainment discourse in which interactive entertainment has been represented as MORE dangerous than other media.

Social media – and the public sphere is now in a constant state of outrage. Most people in Australia have watched a TV show and seen a movie where anti-social behavior is amplified to a point where they find it repugnant and vile. Of course TV and film have avenues of complaint, but will push the moral and social boundaries in pursuit of their art. For example, the BBC seem to relish drama which boarders on the horrific and sick, shot in moody half-tones, where animals and humans are tortured and abused. Robson Green is an actor who appears time an again in this ultra-violent dramas – but no one’s running a petition to ban Robson Green or have him reform his thinking. Apple and Google similarly claim they are ‘actors’ and not the producers.

At no point am I suggesting that this game has any merit at all. But this outrage should be applied to ALL games which Apple and Google publish, circumventing scrutiny and responsibly with what I’ll call the “Robson Green clause”.

While I think the correct decision was to remove this game (which is not a BAN in the sense that it has broken any law) the issue remains that media violence in other media is pervasive and remains the biggest concern of parents when it comes to allowing children to watch TV or see movies. In fact parents are far less worried about video games than film or TV – a point the media often gloss over in pursuit of an easy panic-piece.

The evening news offers thin warnings before launching into highly graphic images in order to ignite particular fears and responses, just a TV drama casts the audience as passive observers or all manner of horrific acts — as part of leisure time ‘fun’.

Last week I watched a panel presenter on  entertainment show #theprojecttv ask a woman (who filmed her now deceased baby, coughing with whooping cough). In the live cross, he asked the woman – what it was like to watch her baby in that condition?  — clearly inferring, – watching your baby die?. The director had already cut to the woman to capture her emotional response. Why did he ask this and not some other question at this time? Because it’s high drama to see the poor woman’s eyes well up when re-visiting a traumatic and devastating moment. This is entertainment, with a superimposed #theprojecttv hashtag silently asking for responses – but for what useful purpose?

I found it at best ignorant and at worse – violent. The premise of the bit-piece was that a “woman released a video of her baby with whooping cough to raise awareness” – the Robson Green clause again.

To me, the biggest question here is why Google and Apple are not subject media regulation in their ‘apps’? After all, they want to be part of society and cannot simply expect to profit from it without being held accountable – like the rest of us.

Apple and Google avoid it, because ‘video games’ are simply ‘software’ and stand outside legislation. Banning the game is simply a response to both companies expending social capital in the backlash — and so seek to reduce it and of course, avoid any comment. In fact, neither company report statistics on ‘game sales’ at all. They don’t have to, so while you read about the market-size of video games — these figures don’t include anything more than a guess or a a tidbit of data dropped by some marketing guy.

The CTIA – The Wireless Association, an industry trade group, collaborated with the ESRB to largely apply ESRB’s rating system to mobile devices. It was launched in 2011, with Apple and Google being notable abstentions from subscribing companies.

The question now becomes: why are these media giants avoiding their corporate responsibility towards mobile games – at the whole of market level – and what can the public sphere do to make them provide transparent vetting of games?

Don’t be fooled, this is not an oversight. Both companies make (but are not reporting) a lot of money from mobile games. Both companies have created their own ‘rating’ guide and refuse to participate in any third-party regulatory body. Therefore, the content of any game (which children and adults can access) goes though no useful ‘vetting’ as the ‘spokesman’ puts it. — And I’m talking here about the MATERIAL — whereas there are clearly some games which promote alarming behavior in players – such as habitual use, paid leveling and in-game purchase regimes.

It would be great to see ‘journalists’ try and put this debate to these corporations — and not to take the easy story about material content, which no doubt they picked up on from the re-share rate on Facebook and Twitter.

The mobile game market is a huge problem and needs far more scrutiny than it’s getting.

 

 

 

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Pathological Media Misuse

Let’s take down this latest rubbish from News Ltd, which it put online in various formats and places online. Related coverage included Kids are digital but not that savvy, addictive dangers no game, games ruining young mined blah blah, the usual run down of the internet and games, my favourite was the Herald Sun, who’s screenshot was of a middle aged man using a circa 1998 beige PC in an office, viewing Wotif.com. Or you can read the other version with a different image in which the story changes to “Preschoolers becoming addicted to M-rated video and internet “. Which of course isn’t even about games.

Welcome to the mind of journalist Bruce McDougall, who appears to have several stories. I liked this one “Cairns boy’s video game addiction is ruining his family’s life” as it almost mentions Dr Tam at the bottom and is a suburb piece of bad writing, I love the “are considering adding internet addiction” line here. Of course clinicians are considering forms of addiction, that is what research is about. They are also considering addiction to all manner of other things (not listed) for effect. But Mr McDougall loves this stuff. It’s easy link-bait. However, a quick trip to Google and you find he’s often reporting on Internet violence, porn and addiction. Ideally making claims that these things are all related. This is then chopped around with several headlines and various hacks at copy.

In all these pieces, Mr McDougal lanches into “one Sydney mother (no date) claiming her son now punches walls because of World of Warcraft”.

This falls under the widely used news’ tactic of “what every parent needs to know” type moral panic. And why not, just make up the headline, link it to fear, uncertainty and denial and a quick phone quote from an academic which you then quote in any context your like – as long as it grabs attention (and therefore sells advertising).

Cleverly (lol), these pieces appear to be the view of Dr. Tam, and not Mr McDougal. So this isn’t responsible journalism or meid use, yet it has received a lot of response in social media. As I’ll discuss here, I don’t think that this Dr Tam’s view at all.

In a Minecraft forum, where amazingly, these addicted youths took time out from falling asleep and punching walls, they responsed to the post in a brief discussion.

“Many older people seem to not really understand all this new “technology”. What humans don’t understand, they tend to fear and despise, and blame for other problems.”

“Dude thats just what kids do in this generation. This is like the same thing as when people were protesting to make santa clause skinny because they said he was promoting bad eating habits.”

“It’s really just this simple: Anything can become an addiction. No matter what the object of discussion is–games, sex, drugs,tv, plastic surgery–it can become an addiction. This had nothing to do with the thing itself.”

“I think in the future the regular–almost constant–use of technology will become the norm. People that don’t use it will be the ones we give the concerned looks to.”

“Its a behavioural problem or just bad parenting”

Next, let’s also not forget the research ‘interest’ here is the potential of their being such a thing as an ‘internet addication’ disorder – not games addiction or violance in games leading to violence in the streets – or punching walls – or porn. (Sorry Bruce).

No, this is another specific attempt to give the public the same message that runs though all the posts I could find from Mr McDougal. There were some on right wing religious websites, but I’m sure it’s the same person (see I can do it to).

So, let’s put the media to work and look at comments made online from the blog of Dawn Barker – psychiatrist and writer. In her blog, in which the comments reveal a quite different story from that reported by News Ltd.

I suspect this is because it was originally posted on November 1, 2010. OMG a repost? A cynic might suggest this is simply a beat-up resulting from a ‘googlewhack’ on the part of Mr McDougal. In the Waynes World ending, it might well be that Dr Tam and this piece are no more connected than that – and indeed Dr Tam appears to have been promoting a new website that talks about possible internet addiction – no more than that in the News Ltd piece.

On the blog, Dr Tam comments to readers.

“I think that the nerdy, socially awkward type is not true; typical users are greagarious, fun-loving, have stable jobs and a high disposable income. More work needs to be done about what factors within that group make one ‘vulnerable’ to developing PIU ( the focus of my planned research).”

Planned research? I am taking it that this New Ltd report is based on zero hours of game play, game data, or any analysis using any game? It strikes me that the origins of this piece had nothing to do with games at all –  judging by the poorly chosen image (no credit given) and sub-editing, the piece probably mis-represents Dr Tam’s work too.

Perhaps recent research from Bond University would help answer who is and why are people playing more video-games now than ever (as if you need to think about that too long). There are links between playing and learning, and learning is therefore addictive if we follow Mr McDougal’s report. However, any link to game addition and violence appears as fictional as Skyrim in this piece and from what I can gather from looking at Dr. Tam’s published works … it’s just not what he’s working on by about 10,000 miles.

It appears News Ltd simply ‘buffed’ up the comments on ‘internet addiction’ and presented it as  games-addiction on no basis of evidence that would stand more than a bar-stool analysis. Yet, it was syndicated it to all sorts of media with minor text changes.

I’d go so far as to say this would make a great high school project – to analyze it as a hyper-text using the digital-journalism courseware from Harold Rheingold as the kind of bias and re-shaping of fact that appears in traditional media. This is exactly why kids must learn about digital media, citizenship and information fluency from primary school onwards. The web is quite simply awash with this type of information.

So having taken down News Ltd, and I hope offering some respite for Dr. Tam who I’d think would not be over the moon with this ‘report’, I might move on to suggest a few positive – evidence based – resources and information that are relevant to games. Firstly, there is no demonstrated link between video games and addiction, that isn’t debated with claims and counter claims. Certainly not the depth of evidence that has emerged from drugs, alcohol, sex etc., Television is far more likely to be finally declared addictive than video-games in all reality – and adults are happy to watch it and let their kids watch it. Games are simply less well understood in the popular culture and to traditional media – are a clear and present threat to their existence and revenue.

I suggest taking a look at further academic studies about games – particularly the assertion in this bar-stool report that “games make children violent”. In particular I recommend the work of Dr. Cheryl Olson, who conducted a $1.5 million dollar research project into violence and games, though the Harvard Medical School (see works below). If you don’t want to read it – watch this video.

If you are a parent, I highly suggest you don’t listen to New Ltd reports, perhaps ask a passing cat, or use any one of the informative online sites such as http://www.getgamesmart.com/ or perhaps download some advice from the Industry (who also funds and conducts research) such as this Ten Tip Guide for families with games in their houses.

Finally, don’t assume games are either bad for learning or addictive – but instead find out if your school knows anything about games. For example, could your academic child actually take part in, enjoy and put their game knowledge to use in something like http://www.stemchallenge.org/ – because right now most schools ban games entirely, and that has nothing to do with the Internet or addiction.

Further Reading.

Olson, C.K. Children’s motivations for video game play in the context of normal development. Review of General Psychology, June 2010.

Olson, C.K., Kutner, L.A., Baer, L., Beresin, E.V., Warner, D.E., & Nicholi, A.M. Jr. (2009). M-rated video games and aggressive or problem behavior among young adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 13(4), 188-198.

Olson, C.K. The electronic friend? Video games and children’s friendships. SITAR newsletter, October 2008. (Free full text available; starts on page 2.)

Olson, C.K., Kutner, L.A., & Beresin, E.V. Children and video games: How much do we know? Psychiatric Times, October 2007. (Free full text.)

Olson, C.K., Kutner, L.A., Warner, D.E., Almerigi, J.B., Baer, L., Nicholi, A.M. Jr., & Beresin, E.V.

Factors correlated with violent video game use by adolescent boys and girls. Journal of Adolescent Health, July 2007, pages 77-83.

Olson, C.K., Kutner, L.A., & Warner, D.E. The role of violent video game content in adolescent development: Boys’ perspectives. Journal of Adolescent Research, January 2008, pages 55-75.