“You spend far too much on those silly video games! When I was your age, we spent all our time outdoors! Our parents didn’t even expect to see us between breakfast and dinner time! We just went out and explored the countryside and fields!”
This is something I heard a great many times when I was younger, and something my little brother still hears on a fairly regular basis. The trouble is, the issue is a lot more complex and multi-faceted than your parents and the mainstream media would like to believe. For a start, there are decreasingly fewer opportunities to just “go out and explore”, even for the kids who want to. Now, I’m not suggesting for even a second that roads and houses and general urban infrastructrual development is a bad thing, but the fields and forests our parents knew just aren’t there to be explored, and this is actually a pretty tragic phenomenon that has had some less than obvious implications with regards to video games.
In the beginning people went out and experienced things; they went hillwalking, mountain-climbing, caving, or even just walked around what rural scenery was available to them. Many of them were touched or moved by the things they discovered, and some of them came back and made video games inspired by these experiences.
In the world of today, unless you live in some fantastically untapped study of the world, you can’t just go out and do that, no matter how much you want to. Now as an adult this is less of an inconvenience because, should you want to, you can probably drive to one of these such places, but as a child however, you can’t.
So now, in truth, kids are turning to video games instead, and here’s where the mainstream media are getting it wrong.
There will always be kids who are lazy, and will be perfectly happy to sit in front of a video game console and play all day and all night between fistfuls of Doritos.
Those kids are not the problem, those kids have always existed, and contrary to popular belief, video games will not and have not change(d) their behaviour in any way shape or form.
The frightening and rarely discussed problem is the kids who have the driving urge to explore, to discover, to experience; the kids who want to do all of those things their parents did, but can’t, because the world just isn’t the way it was thirty years ago.
Those kids are turning to video games as an alternative, and the damage is being done because video games are are becoming an ever more preferable alternative to the real world. It’s in the nature of video games to want to lose yourself in the experience, but players were always intended to come back from the worlds they were exploring; you were never meant to stay in wonderland forever, no matter how wonderful it was. Video games can teach kids a lot, The Legend of Zelda taught a lot of people about the pursuit of love and staying strong in the face of adversity, Pokémon taught a lot of people about growing up and the unknown challenges life holds, and these are fantastic, beautiful things to teach children, but he consequence of total obsession with non-existent worlds is mental illness, and that’s the terrible truth of the matter.
I know. As a kid growing up in a suburban nook of a slightly dangerous, slightly backwater part of Britain, the possibility to explore just wasn’t there. I couldn’t go out and have my own adventures, I couldn’t climb trees and cross rivers and throw stones into lakes without the guidance and protection of my parents, and even then the ever-present “Don’t climb that tree, you’ll fall!”, “Don’t cross that river, you’ll get wet!”, and “Don’t throw stones into the lake, if everyone did that there’d be no stones left and the lake would be full of them!” made sure that any dreams of such experience were never realised at all, and I was very bored and very unhappy.
So my father let me play video games. He didn’t know – and couldn’t have known – the effect this would have on me as a child, and was probably never really aware of how reliant I became on the games.
I became strange and introvert. I didn’t fit in with other kids. When I was at school, I drew pictures of characters from the video games I played instead of working, but teachers and other kids didn’t like it, and were always keen to voice their dislike, so I became unhappier still.
It took me a long time to adjust properly, probably until I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, and in truth I still am and probably always will be a slightly strange introverted guy who gets a little too caught up in video games. The trouble is that I’m one of the lucky ones, my lack of any secrecy about my obsession meant there was an awful lot of pressure on me to change my behaviour, and somehow, I was able to.
Not everyone is under these pressures. An awful lot of kids are perfectly happy to keep their reliance on video games secret, or perhaps aren’t even aware of it themselves.
We are watching a generation of such kids grow up poorly adjusted, misunderstood, and afraid of the real world.
There are no fields anymore; it’s time to look at other solutions.