Nov

16

Gaming’s All Right Again!

Mark Stephens

You may not care what people say…you’re going to make sure your farm gets tended, your candies get crushed, your autos get thieved, your tombs get raided and your birds are made angry. But you might also be pleased to know that it’s all okay again. It’s not a waste of time or money anymore. Gaming is good for you again – officially!

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When Gaming Was Bad…

You probably read the studies and magazine articles, and saw the documentaries and interviews on TV: excessive gaming turned healthy adolescents into obese teenagers, alert individuals into zombies, and active members of the public into lazy goons.

That was then. Even Homer Simpson was affected. In one episode he became addicted to playing the social game “VillageVille” on his MyPad. Poor old Homer was at home, skipping work with a fake back injury, when he started playing the game and became so hooked that he forgot to walk Santa’s Little helper, the Simpsons’ family dog. Disaster!

In an earlier episode Homer was seen playing “Words with Enemies” but that’s beside the point. The point is that gaming was thought to do horrible things to you – like turn you into an addict (in addition to the donuts and the beer).

The recent turnaround into “gaming is good” is a little like what has happened with gambling. In some quarters they like to call playing online poker “gaming” but let’s call it for what it really is: gambling.

Gambling definitely used to be “bad” but nowadays we see it everywhere. And I mean everywhere. If you are a football (soccer) fan you will have seen the betting sites advertised on player’s shirts, around the grounds, on football club’s websites…and even on players’ underwear.

Gambling was once considered the domain of the helpless fringes of society – hopeless addicts, old men with their dogs outside betting shops, and people into horse and dog racing – but it has been “cleaned up” in the public perception, and has actually become accepted socially.

Gaming is much the same.

Now it’s Good…

A recent study from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia means that many parents around the world will be less likely to be pulling their kids out of their room after 20-hours of straight Call of Duty.

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Well, maybe not. That most definitely is bad for you! But the study as reported in The Australian newspaper shows that:

“Gaming improves young people’s emotional, social and psychological wellbeing, and playing as a family can help build stronger relationships”

Far from creating a legion of anti-social, lazy illiterates who find it difficult to form relationships, the findings suggest that playing games with other members of the family improves the bonds with them.

This harks back to a typical “family night” in the past that may have been spent playing a board game or huddled together round the TV watching a favourite family movie. The very fact that it is an activity done together had meaning – just like eating a meal together as a family.

The director of QUT’s games research and interaction design lab said that playing games could be a beneficial social experience:

“We are seeing clear evidence of improvements in mood, stress reduction, increased feeling of competence and autonomy and really strong feelings of being connected with the people they are playing with,”

This especially applied to strategy games, where teamwork was needed and it involved communicating together to work out a coherent plan.

“But how you play is more important than how much or what you play – so if kids are playing with friends or family and playing cooperatively, then that’s really going to help them build relationships.”

Many of the social games kids play these days, of course, are not played in the same place as their parents, let alone the same room. They are played virtually, on mobile devices, not just on fixed consoles or PCs.

With the typical social gamer profile more adult than youth – married 30-something mums with kids are one of the largest game playing groups – one wonders whether gaming is being given a better “rap” because the study authors themselves are sneaking off to tend their farms or beat their high score on Bejewelled! Parents have become okay with games because they must justify the fact that they play them more than their kids!

Simply put, mum and dad are more likely to challenge your high score than challenge your right to play “computer games” anymore!