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Matthew Hague: Computer games aren't just for children

Matthew Hague, Chairman of Bury Conservative Future and a student of Computing at Huddersfield University,  defends computer games from some of the criticisms made about their effects.

With the recent release of Dr Tanya Byron's report on the effects of computer and internet use on children it seemed timely to consider some common arguments.

Computer and video games are not all made for children. The first computer game was made between 1952 and 1961, depending on who you ask, so the first gamers are now approaching middle age. Since then we have had over fifty years of development in this area, from such retro gems as Pong and Breakout to modern works of art like Deus Ex and Bioshock.

Younger gamers learnt their hobby at the feet of Half-Life and Civilisation. This generation grew up in the 90’s on poor graphics but excellent gameplay. Developers are still making their games for this audience, people from 14-99 play World of Warcraft, recently dubbed the most middle-class nation on earth with seven million inhabitants all of whom have access to a computer.  The explosion of the Nintendo Wii has drawn casual gamers in, and Nintendo are famous for their family friendly games.  True games will always appeal to young boys and men (and in the future more girls and women)

Games do not make people want to go out and slaughter everyone, in the same way as reading a Stephen King novel doesn’t make you sit in a hotel going stir crazy and massacring your wife and child.  The only people affected even slightly in this way are those already at risk.

The anti-gaming lobby calls for games to be banned not realising that this simply makes their appeal even greater, especially amongst those they are trying to shield.  History has shown that censorship only makes oppression much easier.  Games should be rated properly, like films are, parents should be made to realise that buying Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is the equivalent to renting them an eighteen-rated movie.

Technological changes have made it much easier for games to depict strong violence and more realistic effects, however at the same time it is games which have been pushing these technological boundaries ahead with the gamers desire for more realistic settings or advanced Artificial Intelligence.  Where a game ten years ago would have shown blood as a mass of pixels it can now depict it as a “true liquid”. This is a reason for better ratings, not censorship of games such as Manhunt 2.

The sooner we escape from the assumption that games are for children the sooner a serious discussion can be started on the true abilities of such an underused medium.  The educational benefits alone are massive, I personally learned about the development of civilisations and technologies from Sid Meier's Civilization, basic finance from Capitalism 2, and many more games have instilled a sense of inquisitiveness. 

Money should be spent encouraging developers to make games to enhance maths, English and science education, and schools should be strongly encouraged to use these tools, it’s not learning if you are enjoying yourself. The therapeutic benefits are only now being investigated seriously, games for the blind can help both the user and the researcher understand their disability.

This is not a discussion for people who have no experience with gamers and the gaming community and culture.  Talk to the gamers, publishers, and developers.


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