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BBC beats on Games

"Panorama has been investigating a more worrisome side to the games industry." That was the promise made by the BBC. If they were successful with it we can discuss in my recent blogpost.

Ben Burger, Blogger

December 8, 2010

8 Min Read

On monday the BBC was airing their report “Addicted to Games?” on their TV-Show “Panorama”. They praised their report through a quote of one of their award winning reporters:

“[…] Panorama has been investigating a more worrisome side to the games industry - whether or not some people find video gaming - in its many forms – addictive.”

As the subtitle for panorama praises again itself as investigative[6], the audience actually should expect an educational and professional documentary with new revelations and inside-views of the game scene.



Why I examine this example For understanding aspects of Game-Subculture it’s important to examine and understand the different views on it. I often observed a big distance between the viewpoints of an Insider (typically Gamer itself) or an Outsider (almost all people that don’t play or never played by themselves). Gamers know their medium very well and what happened behind their closed doors while they are gaming but for the other side of the room, especially for parents, it often remains a big secret. Even if they are willing to take a look at what the youth is playing today they will get a wrong impression. It’s a tremendous difference between watching games or playing them. Mostly the pictures on the screen show martial and violent worlds, but the interaction and the communication between the players and the game or the players and other player stays undiscovered. Often journalism and politics try to fill this gap. Opinion forming are especially medias like print-press or TV-Shows, but their opinions are often undifferentiated. So I was really excited about what the BBC would tell us about the “dark-side” of game-culture.

About investigative journalism

A quick view on Wikipedia explains that investigative journalism is a man's or woman’s “profession to discover the truth and to identify lapses from it in whatever media may be available”[DeBurgh]. Referring to the German Wikipedia-Version of investigative journalism it’s getting more precise and ambitious: “The release is preceded by a longsome, accurate and extensive research.” [1]

Addicted to Games?”

A promising title. Everybody who has a deeper contact with Gamers or is a Gamer itself knows for sure a person that disappeared suddenly from the surface for some time. No answers to calls, emails or chat-requests. After a few weeks the person reappears on the scene, paler than a pantomime and a bit scared of the light outside…what was it called again…s…ss…ssa…ah yes “sun”.

“Sorry, I really wanted to answer your calls but I got spontaneously involved in a worldwide conspiracy and had to defeat a bloodthirsty killer alien army that was invading our planet and wanted to eat our brains…. …seriously!”

Yes, we might say that person was shortly involved in a conspiracy called “Game Addiction”. Or we might say this person went shortly into a therapy from “Real Life Addiction” wanted to face some extraordinary challenges that normal life normally not does. Anyway we should know that games really have a factor that suddenly turns the role from the consumer to the consumed. Sometimes games consume us and after some countless days chewing us through we got spit out like a bubble gum on the asphalt. Afterwards friends scratch us from the ground and try to form us back into shape, but only when we still got some friends. I think it’s a fact that computer games can cause addictive behaviors. Studies already mentioned alarming numbers. In April 2007 Harris Interactive stated:

“Reports from around the world suggest that gaming addiction is real and on the rise. Nationally, 8.5 percent of youth gamers (ages 8 to 18) can be classified as pathological or clinically "addicted" to playing video games.”[2]

Now we have more than three years after that announcement and the video game world didn’t change dramatically. The global players are still online games like World Of Warcraft, StarCraft and Call of Duty or Counter Strike (too mention only the famous ones). But on the other Xbox_Preisniveau


hand the access and speed of to internet connections increased and console prizes fall permanently since that time. It’s also a fact that in all studies Game-Addiction is connected to online video gaming. So regarding a growing online-gaming infrastructure through cheaper hardware and better broadband access we can assume that a wider audience nowadays is playing online. A good reason for a well investigated report. What we need now is, how I mentioned before, a look behind the scenes of gamer’s life and what could cause game-addiction. Unfortunately the report was not satisfying at all. It was like looking for an intelligent crime story and ending up with CSI Miami. The whole show was just a show. Evidences were not discovered or linked to each other, instead Raphael Rowe as the Panorama-Horatio wandered around and made some smart comments.

“Do what boys of your age do[…]” (Raphael Rowe)

“He is a liar. I just don't know what the lie is yet.” (Horatio Caine, CSI Miami) [3]

Panorama simplifies the Game-Scene to problem-kids and how they corrupting their family or social life. Drawing a line between video games and social pauperization. The shown examples are real but also known stereotypes, like CSI Miami, Panorama only re-enacts the case of an investigation and only scratches the surface.

“The only thing that matters is the evidence. “ (Horatio Caine, CSI Miami) [3]

If they had taken Horatio seriously they could have get more deeply by following the evidences that the interviews gave them. If we read between the lines, we quick see that obvious all families have social lacks. In case of the Korean family the mother admits that she should have spoken more to his child than beat him. The couple that were neglecting their baby until it starved got attested with a low IQ and depressions. The cases in the UK seem connected with boredom. The signs were already there. Computer Games seem in those cases only the way with the slightest resistance to some joy. Regarding that online-games promising an endless fun-to-play through changing conditions and teammates, the choice to a “funny world” isn’t very surprising.

Blue or Red Pill?

It’s about options and control. Which way I’ll take and for how long. There were decisions made and it not seems that there is an initiative process like in taking synthetic-drugs like heroine. Blizzard released the following comment: "Our games are designed to be fun... but like all forms of entertainment... day-to-day life should always take precedence. World of Warcraft contains practical tools that assist players and parents in monitoring playing time." This is not very satisfying by knowing that especially WoW seems an attractor for overconsumption. A really nice part of the report are the statements of Adrian Hon, of SixToStart:

“In the 1950s scientists discovered that rats which had been trained to feed themselves by pressing a lever, would press it obsessively if the food was delivered randomly……People have discovered that this works on humans as well. If you give people a lever or a button to press and give them random rewards, they will press it all the time.”

Obvious that is a smart connection to games that can cause addictive-behavior. He also mentions in this coherence that game-mechanics can be powerful and not necessarily all people understand this. Again we are talking about the gap between gamers and non-gamers. So we need to work on filling that gap with knowledge and exchange of experiences and not by polarizing the two sides via bad documentaries or unconsidered statements. They opened the door to the secret room of gaming but stopped at the doorsill and pointed with the finger on the gamer and gaming industry. The images and music used in the Panorama report were simple and trashy. Using barely aggressive music from Prodigy in the background to inject adrenalin to the audience is not pertinence. Pictures lie, we all know that, but arranging them to a deeper manipulation is propaganda. Talking about rage of a young boy and showing an screaming orc at the same time is anchoring the wrong images in connection with gaming scene. The intention by Panorama is clear. They used the false-pretense of “investigative-journalism” to fire against a generation they obviously not understand and doesn’t seem their target audience (they wouldn’t corrupt their own audience). Horatio would say:

“The problem with manipulation is that people can turn on you.” [3]

Let’s close this article with another suggestion by Cheryl K. Olson, co-director and co-founder of the Center for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston: “I think it does highlight that parents and kids do need to talk about game play and they do need to talk about rules…” [5] Yes, talking seems to be the right solution not beating.

[1] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Investigativer_Journalismus
[2] http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NEWS/allnewsbydate.asp?NewsID=1196
[3] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0313043/quotes
[4] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1335924/Computer-games-addictive-use-psychological-ploys-tested-lab-rats.html#ixzz17WtSXjFR
[5] http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/626221.html
[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_9254000/9254946.stm

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