Like many of you, last night I watched a report about the rise of video game addiction on Panorama (BBC) and felt compelled to write my view on what I saw. Thankfully I'm not just shouting into the wind. I'm lucky enough to have the support of an editor who will print my views. It's not as big as the BBC, but hopefully someone will read it and get a little balance.
has, for many years, been a forerunner in British television current affairs journalism. Last night's episode was disappointing in some ways but positive in others.
Let's have a Rowe
Apologies if this is a little long, but I wanted to comment on everything I saw. First off, our presenter, Raphael Rowe. I found him articulate but a little lacking in knowledge on the subject. Throughout the show he talked of his son's gaming hobby, but never once mentioned picking up a pad himself.
Now, if you're going to send someone to report on gaming, would it not be a good idea to have someone who knew something about video games? Wouldn't it be good to have a reporter who has played something other than Pong
Mr Rowe made many rookie mistakes: discussing "Laura" Croft being the most noticeable. It would have been edifying to see someone covering the subject who knew what they were dealing with.
Anomaly v Example
The program majored on stories of 'addicted' gamers. We were first introduced to Joe Stanley. Joe had been thrown out of university because he was, in his own words, 'addicted to games'. There was no mention of why Joe Stanley (who only mentioned Grand Theft Auto IV
and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
) was addicted. He just said he was, with no scientific corroboration.
I found this worrying. Throughout the show, none of the 'addicts' presented to us had any medical back-up. We were simply going on what they said, which is a dangerous road to travel. There was also a mention of him being thousands of pounds in debt, which was off-handedly lumped in by being down to "partly by buying games". He finally stated that he often couldn't pull himself away from the console and once didn't sleep for three days - no food? No bathroom breaks? It was unbelievable in the extreme.
First casualty of Warcraft is truth
"Leo" was up next. He was happy to appear on TV, but not give his real name, something that I again found a little odd. We were told that he played World of Warcraft
for six hours a day minimum, but he had then gone cold turkey on WoW
Addiction counsellors will tell you that more often than not this is an unsuccessful approach. Cutting back and getting involved in other activities is a better thing to do - surely it's more healthy to have a balanced approach, a few hours of gaming combined with other interests? His interview came across as utterly sensationalist - I've played WoW
on and off for years and enjoy it. Leo stated that he wouldn't let his worst enemies play it.
, the video artist, was a curious and throwaway addition to the programme.
A lot of focus was placed on the image of a child who didn't blink while he played games; evocative footage of tears running down his face. This brief section also compared the gurning faces of gamers to those of television viewers, but failed to state that playing video games is not a passive activity in the way that watching television is.
We then moved on to Ian Livingstone from Eidos who spoke a lot of sense. Society is constantly looking for something to demonise, be it music, television or gaming. There is no medical proof that games are addictive. But, yes, some people do have addictive traits to their personalities.
It wouldn't matter if it was video games, gambling, eating or skydiving. Some people are just wired that way - again, something Panorama failed to acknowledge. Quotes from a series of reports flashed up but were ultimately pointless. Research, be it pro- or anti- can always be skewed to how you want to present it.
Next to be interviewed was Alison Dando, a woman whose son (Chris) refused to go to school because his life was being taken over by World of Warcraft
. Did she not consider stopping Chris from playing through the night? Taking his computer away?
Playing a video game is a priviledge, not a necessity of life, and when your child is 'going bezerk' if you remove that game, that is surely the sign of a much deeper problem? His description of his actions (smashing a hole in a door) was accompanied with footage from the game, which was again overly dramatic. This happened a lot in the programme, with lots of use of sinister music and overt imagery to subliminally paint gaming in a negative light.
We were then shown another quick vox pop which came from Dr Richard Graham, a psychiatrist from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust. He was the ONLY medical professional in the entire programme, and was given less than a minute of screen time. In all honesty, he seemed only to be included in the show to say a couple of sentences and lend it some professional gravitas. He didn't actually present any medical fact either, just his view that games were indeed addictive.
Professor Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University was a much more interesting interviewee and came out with plain facts: a small but significant minority of people could possibly be addicted to games, but they could be addicted to anything. When it comes to games, there's not enough research as it's such a new area but it should be investigated. The BBC seem to have passed over the idea that it would surely be better to wait until research is completed then present us with facts rather than give us scaremongering like this.
Reporter Rowe then travelled to South Korea, ostensibly to present us with a glimpse of the future. Viewers were informed that the SK government has explicitly stated that its aggressive push into a technological future has created addicts. Despite my research, I've not been able to find this statement.
I discovered that SK is introducing legislation to limit gaming in the PC Bangs (Internet cafes) that we also saw, but no mention that they had created addicts. What we were shown was a 'boot camp' that helped conquer game addiction. We were also presented with the information that 'proved' games drove these children to extremes - a young boy who stole money from his mother's purse to visit an internet cafe. He then said that he did this because he couldn't find anything else to do, but this was glossed over.
Now came a very strange section - instead of ?going out drinking or clubbing? ('normal activities) apparently people go to Internet Cafes to play games on a Saturday night. This was presented as if ALL young South Koreans do this on a weekly basis, and the cafes were portrayed in a very seedy manner.
There was consternation that some people have managed to make a successful career in the e-sports field. But is there any qualitative difference between the celebrity status enjoyed by the PC gamers and footballers in the Premier League?
I felt that the part of the programme dedicated to deaths attributed to video games was incredibly reckless reporting and borderline dangerous. More people die from blood clots through flying, so why bring this subject up? The story of the baby who died through parental neglect was tragic, but we were told that the parents were depressed as well as mentally unable to cope with a child. Unfortunately, the blame was again laid squarely at the demon game.
Thankfully there were some positives in the South Korean section. We returned to the 'boot camp', which in reality was little more than a youth club where kids could hang out with each other in a safe environment. It was revealed that most of these gaming addicts had underlying problems that could be dealt with through social interaction and counselling.
Real life relationships could be nurtured, and the children weren't the only people learning. The parents were too, admitting that beating their kids was wrong, and the right path was discussion. A lesson for British parents, perhaps? Talking with your children is a good thing? The underlying message from the boot camp seemed be one promoting a healthy balance, something we should all be advocating.
Returning to Britain, Reporter Rowe seemed to be intent on portraying events happening here as a portent of doom. The rise of broadband, an e-sports gaming league (which is miniscule in comparison to the Korean one), even a selection of vox pops recorded at a LAN event all edited in a context-free environment.
We returned to "Leo". He had unsurprisingly failed to kick the WoW
habit and was now portrayed as a victim of circumstance, unable to stop playing long enough to even talk. It was obvious he was in a section of the game that required concentration, so of course he had to focus.
It was also obvious that he had been asked to play while they recorded him, so why did the presenter point out that Leo was uncomfortable? If we went to interview the presenter while he was indulging in something that required concentration, would he not become irritated?
Adrian Hon from SixToStart
was next, and he spoke eloquently (if briefly) about the techniques used in games to keep people playing. This was combined with more from Professor Griffiths, pointing out that again it's a minority who need and deserve help.
Games are getting bigger each year and I agree that yes: research SHOULD be conducted into the possibility of addiction. We were then told that UKIE is willing to fund such research, so why was Panorama intent on painting the industry as the big bad wolf?
"Why aren't parents told to watch out for compulsive or addictive behaviours?", asked the presenter of Mike Rawlinson of UKIE. "Why isn't it on your website?" Rawlinson was put on the spot and made to look ineffective and weak, despite not actually having anything to answer for because, unlike alcohol, cigarettes and other legal addicitions, and like film, books, music, shopping and excercise, there is no proven link between videogames and addiction.
Sins of the parents
The issue that was never touched throughout the whole programme was that of parental responsibility. Do you need to be told absolutely everything to be a 'good' parent?
The final section returned to our British addicts. Joe gave us some sage words:
"My advice would be to put down the controller, go and ring a friend, go out and get smashed."
Replacing games with alcohol? A brilliant idea to promote, and yet the single most ridiculous line in the whole programme was then balanced out with some decent thoughts. Joe does everything he needs to with regards to work, then rewards himself with a game - a balanced outlook, a healthy attitude.
Chris Dando was grown-up in his attitude as well, which was pleasing - he knows Blizzard is not to blame, and admitted that he was at fault. Blizzard's statement was presented as a throwaway remark from a giant company, placing responsibility on the players and parents... and that is exactly where it should be.
The whole Panorama report smacked of shoddiness. No concrete proof was presented. Everything relied instead on circumstantial evidence and anecdote, which wouldn't stand up to scrutiny, and I found that incredibly disappointing.
Video Games are merely the current thing to blame for a small minority of people who need help in a wider context. Reporter Rowe pretty much dismissed any of the positive elements of the hobby. Anything taken to extremes can and will make you ill, so moderation is the key.
Panorama could have done well to remember that, as a balanced report would have probably garnered a more sympathetic reaction from viewers like myself.