The effects of computer games in society and culture

In this essay I am going to analyse what effects computer games have on modern culture and our society. My main interests are to focus on the views that have been brought up in the media about gaming and have been looked at by other studies. I would like to determine why gaming is being portrayed as a negative form of media, and blamed for many problems including violence, social problems and causing addiction.  These are of course subjects of concern to society and especially among young people. My main view towards this is that games should not be put in the firing line and I will argue that such problems are probably already there within the person. The game may bring out the problems people have but the game should not be completely to blame.

The reason why I am choosing this subject for study is for me to look at the evidence and reasoning as to why people label games in such a negative light as, like many others,  I have experienced a great deal of enjoyment playing these games. Therefore I am interested to see what arguments there are to back up the idea that games are a problem. Throughout this piece I intend to keep an open mind and I may agree or disagree with certain case studies or research I find throughout the essay. I think it is important to look at what the problems are said to be and therefore I will look at 3 case studies that cover the issues of addiction, violence and social problems.  I will consider what other opinions there are and discuss what I think about the problems and issues that being brought up. My own opinions may change throughout this essay as I read and look into the evidence to support the problems that computer gaming causes.

This essay will be split into separate chapters to look at each case study. For the first chapter I will focus on social issues and how people may become detached from their everyday life and going into virtual reality. For example, the game Second Life where you can run a life much like having an alter ego. I will be looking at a case study related to this game later in the essay and I will also look at issues to do with depression, anxiety, obesity and issues of agoraphobia which may be blamed on gaming.

For my second chapter I will move onto addiction and look at how games are said to control people and look into my own personal experience with game addiction, wanting to play and the feeling of playing and then not playing. I will focus on one case study of someone dying of deep vein thrombosis because they did not move from a game. I will look at other cases as well where people were so embraced in a game that problems occurred. Although it may sound like games are causing these problems, in this chapter I would like to explore the problems more widely and argue against the idea that it is entirely the games fault for causing the problem.

In my final chapter I will move onto violence which, from the amount of evidence available, seems to be the most notorious issue that people complain about when regarding aggressive games. As part of this section I will be doing a self-study on my own gaming alongside looking at another case study of people committing murder which has been blamed on a game. I will discuss the issues of children playing such games and what problems this could cause them long term or short term. I will again be arguing that we need to look for other reasons apart from gaming to explain aggressive behaviour.

Additional topics I will discuss include classification of games and if parents should be educated on why a game has been classed as 18 and possible solutions to the issue of younger children being brought up with graphic images and violence in games.

I will look at how games can now been considered a sport especially now that they are multiplayer and there are events and conventions people can go to win money and a trophy. This could be also being linked into game violence as competition can also provoke violence in other sports.

I may talk about the effects of other media such as TV, film or books and how they are said to affect people.

Finally, I will consider the evidence of the different case studies to assess whether it is in fact fair to blame gaming for these problems.

 

Social problems

Computer games have become a big part of everyday life for many people however there are probably more young people that play them than older.  The question is how they are affecting our social lives. I will first look at how they are said to be making people lose their grasp on reality. In my case study I am looking at the game Second Life and recently a couple that divorced because of an affair in the game.  This may seem surprising because as it is a game and not reality but the wife of the person took it seriously. She stated:

‘ ”I went mad — I was so hurt,” Taylor said of the Internet affair. “I just couldn’t believe what he’d done. I looked at the computer screen and could see his character having sex with a female character. It’s cheating as far as I’m concerned.’ (Adams 2008)

 

For someone to do this on a game and then get a divorce over it seems a little far-fetched. It may well be because the characters that are interacting are real or it may be that its seem as certain speed dating sights there are out there as then that I could see why it’s a betrayal of trust but because this is a game and it seems that the line between reality and fiction seems to have been lost completely or game and real life have now intertwined and can be consider the same seem. Glenn W Harrison argues

‘When the virtual reality is sufficiently “real,” users become immersed in their virtual experiences: the stimuli from the virtual interactions are dominating their perception and cognition’ (Harrison G.W. December 2010)

I have played second life and just seen it as being like the Sims which was realised in the year 2000, which was originally a single-player game using fictional characters (‘bots’), but with real people. I just played for fun and did not become detached from life or start my own virtual life. However, Second Life has become a money making game for the people who play as they can own their own shop and design their own clothes and then sell them to other players. In fact, they no longer need a job in the real world and now with internet shopping they don’t need to leave the house to get food either.  I can understand how people can become so immersed but does this mean they no longer understand the difference between real and virtual? According to Adams

‘Avatars need not represent players’ real-life personas. Online, Laura Skye works as a club DJ and is 6 feet tall, weighs 112 lb. and has a penchant for skin-tight cowgirl outfits. In reality, Taylor, an unemployed former waitress, is 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighs 224 lb. and prefers T shirts and leggings.’ (Adams 2008)

If this is true then are people becoming detached from their real lives and identities as they prefer to be in virtual lives? This brings me onto the point that younger people are using computers and gaming more than what they did 20 years ago. I am 23 and when I was younger I had no computer but used to go out and play games with friends in the street or at a park. These games are still played but it seems that computer games are taking people out of their social lives and confining them to their rooms. One writer on netstudies.org comments

‘If we continue to follow this trend social interaction as we know it will be archaic. The frightening perspective is that relationship [SIC] will be built only through Internet.’ (sandrinemaingard 25/04/2011)

I would say that I do know people who find it easier to talk to people online than offline. This may be partly because they are not overwhelmed by intimidating body language of the other person and can express themselves more. One of my friends however, in an interview said

          ‘Yes I can talk to strangers and friends just as easily as I do on games’ (Cook n.d.)

He also explained that he can distinguish between the two worlds. It could be that it is only a certain minority of people that get confused between reality and their virtual lives. It has been said that

‘People who distrust cyberspace, however, say that withdrawing to an online environment may become a way of avoiding real-life problems rather than trying to solve them. These critics also fear that the chance to represent oneself, and to see others, as beautiful or fantastic avatars could reinforce prejudices against people whose real bodies are less than perfect.’ (ClarifiedScience 2011)


  However it can be argued that a player is not socially isolated in games such as Second Life as the player can interact with other people and there are online games where there is interaction with other players to achieve goals. To a certain extent games can bring different people together in events such as game festivals which take place annually in London where they show off new games and technology and have the creators of some games doing game signings.

I would argue that games are not making people antisocial but are creating a new kind of social environment. Nowadays gaming has come so far that the people can socially interact online and even talk to each other using Skype. Whilst writing this chapter I was actually involved in a chat with people who were all playing a game and discussing tactics with each other. FYSM say

‘Games can create a place where one can feel comfortable, where discrimination is limited. A shy introvert can become a fearless leader, friendships can form without judgments of the physical intervening, and tools for accepting differences can be brought into the real world.’ (Mabernet 010)

It seems that some people are just creating a separate life where they can feel more comfortable and not feel anxiety. But might this discourage people from understanding themselves and to have an alter ego when on games. Coming back to Second Life this is a game where alter egos are rife and people pretending to be what they are not or having jobs that they would not get for real is a common thing. In the case where the couple got divorced there was a private investigator hired to try and catch the person in the act which is something that could be done in the real world. Markie Macdonald the investigator was said to          have

‘Hatched a plan whereby female avatar flirted with Barmy in an effort to lure him to her cyber-bed. Instead of succumbing temptation, Barmy spoke of his strong feelings for Laura Skye.’ (Adams 2008)

However was not caught on this occasion.

The social aspect of creating a different persona on gaming is quite a common thing especial in “god” games such as the Sims and Second Life. The aspect of pretending however is not limited to gaming because as a young child I can remember always pretending to be a different person or character in different scenarios. Games today just allow you to play out this more vividly Henry Jenkins points out that

‘As The Sims has moved online, it has become a social space where players debate alter­native understandings of everyday life. Some see the fantasy world as freeing them from constraints and consequences. Others see the online game as a social community that must define and preserve a social con­tract. (Jenkins 2006)

I would say I agree that people like to use these games to have an alter ego but I would not say it was an issue, which would when people get too immersed in the game so that do not see their actual life as real. Some people who play Second Life like to use it to explore their sexuality They may feel that in society they cannot dress as a women or be gay because they may be judged. On the game they can do what they like without caring. There was a case where an industrial designer had an alter ego on Second Life as a woman but I question if he seriously considering himself as a women and has different thought patterns much like a different personality or would someone do this just as a playful thing. I myself have played the women in The Sims but don’t consider myself to be transgender. Turkle talks about his role on Second Life by saying

“You have to be able to do something in the virtual that you couldn’t in the real world. For me, my female character is interesting because I can say and do the things that I mentally want to do, but if I did them as a man, they would be obnoxious (Turkle, 1997).’ (sandrinemaingard 25/04/2011)

I think that whatever the reason why people play games like this, it does not have to be seen as an issue. If people wish to express themselves more in game that in real life then is that really bad? Perhaps it is the future. I think that if people are aware of the game and can come away with another life then that should not be considered a problem. Some people however are so immersed in gaming that they become addicted and this is where problems can evolve.

 

 

 

Addiction

Do computer games cause addiction or is it the people playing them that have addictive personalities to begin with?  On the website scienceclarified Maresa Hecht Orzack is quoted as saying.

Computer games bring to the surface the problems of the individual …   If such people did not become hooked on games, these supporters say, they probably would be addicted to something else, such as drugs or gambling.’ (ClarifiedScience 2011)

I personally experience enjoyment in playing computer games but not everyone becomes addicted or feels withdrawn if they are not playing.  Something I have noticed myself when playing computer games is that time does become absent and I lose track of how long I am playing because I am so immersed in the game, but does this mean I am addicted? Or am I just enjoying it to the point that I am not paying attention to time. Considering all this I looked at a case study of Chris Staniforth, a 20 year old who died from deep vain thrombosis as he played a game for so many hours. It has been said that;

‘Chris lived for his Xbox. When he got into a game he could play it for hours and hours on end, sometimes 12 hours in a stretch’ (Little 2011)

This is clearly a subject of concern and actually made me think about the amount of game time I play without moving. On every game there is a health warning which states that breaks should be taken after an hour of play but not many people stick to this as the game encapsulates people to play longer. Many games have goals or an aim which once completed are replaced by a new one. With older games once final aims were reached then that was the end of the game, but with multiplayer games today there are many more opportunities to gain awards. In a report on game addiction Joe Ahn states that:

‘Game addiction really started turning into a problem with the advent of Massively Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Games, or MMORPGs.  While regular games would keep you entertained until you beat it, MMORPGs immerse the player in the world and since there is no way to beat the game, the goal is character progression. Leveling up your character and obtaining better and better armor and weapons is usually the norm’ (Ahn n.d.)

Figure 1.

1

With the increase in role play games (RPG) such as World of Warcraft (WOW) or war games such as the Call of Duty and Battlefield series it’s no wonder people can’t pull away from their games until they have achieved what is needed. Playing for kudos and respect from other gamers is a key thing when playing online games as the player does not  want to be labeled as a ‘Noob’ (someone who knows little about the game are performs badly such as running out at the enemy without any thought.) The TV show, South Park did a parody of the children playing WOW (see figure 1.) As funny as this episode it was also an eye opener by representing youth today and showing their addiction regarding gaming. George Randall reports that

In 2004, Zhang Xiaoyi 13 year old Chinese boy, committed suicide by jumping off a building after playing

World of Warcraft for 36 hours straight.  He left a suicide note saying

that he wanted to “join the heroes of the game he worshipped’ (Randall n.d.)

It’s obvious that people do have personal attachments to games and it seems that younger people are more affected than older. There is concern as to how it is affecting them in the long run, what effects is it having on their lives and should something be done to stop it. When I was younger I played computer games but I did balance myself between social time game time and doing work time, mainly because my parents would only allow my free time to commence once I had done my work. These days some parents buy their children games and then give into letting them play. Mark Griffthins thinks

‘Parents should know what video games their children are playing, choose convenient games, encourage children to balance video gaming with other activities, and require children to play only after other chores and homework have been done.’ (Griffiths 2009)

 

I know someone who has been playing and reviewing games since he was at school and I asked them what they thought about this concern and if it affected their performance in any way. He said

‘Like any form of entertainment such as television, overindulgence with video games can indeed be detrimental, and even addictive, but they don’t cause any harm when used in moderation and can actually enhance motor skills for example. It ultimately lies with the individual however, so parents should monitor their children if they show any evidence of an addictive personality.’ (Bigg 2011)

And then went on to say

‘I wouldn’t say video games affected my school or working life. They occasionally led to procrastination when doing school work at home, but not to the extent that it caused long term problems as I was able to work around them – they were merely a form of escapism when I wasn’t studying or at work.’

It seems to be clear that gaming does not cause problems with every single individual that play them. As my friend says above if anyone does show problems they should be dealt with or controlled by self-control or a parent. It is also interesting that he states that games are a form of escapism as I have found myself playing games for the same reason.

Besides games being said to affect people’s work they can apparently cause other issues if there are excessively played Swathi Reddy wrote

‘A wide range of psychological disorders—social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and attention deficit disorders—has been identified as contributing to excessive gaming, with the strongest correlations being between depressive symptoms and addiction’ (Reddy S 2007)

However, it may not be necessarily the games fault. Back before there were games people used to sit in front of a TV for hours and perhaps the issues mentioned above are already apparent in the person but are brought out more when playing games. I don’t think the game industry should be seen as the sole reason for such problems although who plays them and for how long should be either down to parents or self-discipline. If anyone does not pay attention to clear guides or health warnings then they are responsible and it should not be blamed on the games if anything were to happen to them.

 

 

 

Violence

The concerns that games cause violence in society and are effecting peoples brains and creating uncontrollable anger and rage which then becomes worse and causes people to hurt others because of something they did or experienced on a game is quite a big subject of concern and I question if it is entirely true or if there are other reasons to explain for such behavior. My case study for this looks at the game Manhunt which was realized in 2003 in which the player has to escape and try to survive but along the way kill all the emery’s in extreme ways such as suffocating an enemy with a plastic bag (see figure 2.) the main concern with this game is that it caused a 17 year old boy called Warren Leblanc to kill

Figure 2:

2

‘Stefan Pakeerah, 14, was stabbed and beaten to death in a Leicester park in February. Warren Leblanc, 17, of Braunstone Frith, Leicester this week pleaded guilty to the lethal attack.’ (Smith 2004)

The dad goes on to say ‘Manhunt “a manual for murder’. I would say that Manhunt is quite a graphic game but I can’t see why someone with any common sense would then go out and re-enact any of it. The parents continue to point the figure at the game by saying

‘That Leblanc’s fascination in the game, in which points are scored for committing grisly killings, had influenced his actions.’

Ok so are they are saying he picked up tips from a game then that’s the reason he killed? No if my opinion I believe that if he wished to kill this person he would have done it regardless to playing the game, yes he may have thought that’s a clever way to do it and possible took notes but the sole reason for the wanting to kill is not to be blamed on a game.  It’s just a new medium which people have decided to point the finger at for any extreme outbursts such as this. Before gaming was tv and film and in particularly horror films were at the forefront for the blame such as the movie child’s play which was said to have influence the killing of James Bulger

‘The tabloid verdict was that Thompson and Venables were aliens from the Planet Evil, or (no less Gothic) video-junkies mimicking Chucky Doll in Child’s Play 3.’ (Morrison 2003)

It’s clear that such issues have been around before games and I question if it’s the graphic mediums such as violent games or horror films that make people do these things or if these people are already mentality unstable to begin with? Jullia Laytons view is

‘The basic claim in the video-game controversy is that video games are even more likely to affect people’s behaviour than TV because they’re immersive. People don’t just watch video games; they interact with them.’

She believes that because games give you rewards for playing out murders or mindless violence that it is like you are learning. It could be said that such games are implanting negative thought patterns into the brains of players brains and they don’t relies which then causes people to act in a certain way. This is the theory of The Hypodermic Syringe or Effects theory

 

‘The Hypodermic Syringe Model

  • This model suggests that the audience passively accepts the message ‘injected’ into them by the mass media.
  • This model believes that there is a DIRECT correlation between the violent behaviour shown on TV, computer games etc and anti-social and criminal behaviour in real life’ (ecclestona 2010)

 

I would not say this is entirely true as if it were more than then there would be far more cases of violent outbursts which were directly linked to a game manipulating the mind, Also within certain sports people also get aggressive or angry when they don’t win or if their teams do not win, some of which go on riots and fight with the other players. Games could be considered to having a similar affect to such sports in some cases can be classed as a sport as now players are able to go to events where they play each other in order to win trophy and a cash prize. That being said it does not mean that games don’t cause aggression. After playing certain games myself I have come away feeling angry and have even broken my PlayStation 3 controls in the past. When I play I have been told I am like a completely different person almost like a Mr Hyde persona if I am not doing well on the game. I’ve been told that I shout and swear at the game and come away with a terrible attitude if I had lost. This feeling however does not last the duration of my day let alone cause me to want to go and kill people.

‘Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine say that brain scans of kids who played a violent video game showed an increase in emotional arousal – and a corresponding decrease of activity in brain areas involved in self-control, inhibition and attention.’ (Kalning 2006)

 

It is slightly worrying that games can be seen to have an effect on these areas however most people can control the way they feel and not react to it but for younger people it could have more serious impact as the mind is still developing. To say that children should not play on violent games would be hypocritical as when I was younger I played on games such as Doom and don’t perceive myself to be affected now however this is not to say that others won’t be another study I looked at said

‘Youths who are heavy gamers can end up with ‘video-game brain,’ in which key parts of the frontal region of their brain become chronically underused, altering moods” (5). This study also asserts that a lack of use of the frontal brain, contributed by video games, can change moods and could account for aggressive and reclusive behaviour.’ (Kardaras 2008)

I would also note that games today are much more graphical and mentally engaging than when I was younger and if I get annoyed to the point that I break things how are they affecting younger people. The problem today is that most youths today want a game because it is not allowed for them and because there friends have it. It has become a thing to have to stay “cool” if they do not for example have the latest Call of Duty war game then they may get bullied or out-casted from friend groups which I have witnessed whilst at Tesco. I watched a boy around 12-13 push his parents into buying him the game I just mentioned. His reasoning was ‘all my friends have it’ the mum said no it costs too much and its an 18, so she recognized the fact it was for someone older but the boy then said ‘that means nothing I’ve played it before anyway I just need it because everyone else has it and I’m left out’ the mother then very stubbornly said ‘fine!’ and bought the game.

So what is the solution to this? Is it the games fault or the parents fault? Dr. Phill says

‘Psychologists have found that when parents limit the amount of time as well as the types of games their children play, children are less likely to show aggressive behaviours.’ (Phill n.d.)

I think the way forward is to educate parents on these games. Perhaps give out free information which clearly states what is in the game and likely to cause a problem. The question also arises what does British Board of Film Classification BBFC actually mean to a game. Just having 18 on it is meaningless nowadays as anyone can buy someone under that age they game. However if someone buys a person under 18 alcohol then the that person gets fined. Overall I think the parents should make the decision but know exactly what to expect from the game.

If games are making people feel angry then how is this also affecting their health. After I played on a game and did not do some well I came away shaking and light headed and was in a state which I felt that I could be ready for a fight  where I was so pumped with adrenaline caused from getting angry.

‘Multiple studies have reported that playing video games can significantly increase heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen consumption. If studies show that heart rate is increased when playing video games, then it seems that the brain is responding to the video game as if the body is in real danger.’ (Kardaras 2008)

But is this to say that I am at risk of a panic attack or heart attack. Personally I do not think I am. I get angry at all sorts of things as I generally have anger issues and the game just brings that side of me to the surface. Perhaps I should come away before I get in such a sate but I have become used to it now and can calm down after an hour and I don’t feel like there is any harm done to me and furthermore I don’t feel aggressive or likely to cause harm to others.

 

Throughout this essay i found that there was a good amount of evidence to support each issue that games are said to cause. My opinions towards the issues have become more fluid and open to different views and statements made by others, although i stand my opinion that games are not the main cause for such issues i would say that certain games could provoke such issues as social, addiction or violence and make the individual worse. However anyone who cannot play again without getting to immersed into it and letting it affect them in a negative way should not be playing in the first place. Games just like movies do come with warnings that state what is to be expected and that if anyone would be offended or affected in any way they should not play, therefore the games are not at fault.

 

When considering my own experience with gaming i am aware that i can get addicted and I do get annoyed but these issues have not affected me in the long run, ironically whilst writing this essay I kept getting distracted by my new game which I really wanted to play but it is clear that I managed to control my time and get stuck in with this opposed to just playing games.

 

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Cook, Tom. “Intreview 1.” n.d.

ecclestona. slideshare. 2010. http://www.slideshare.net/ecclestona/hypodermic-syringe-model1.

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Harrison G.W., Haruvy E and Rutström E.E. Remarks on Virtual World and Virtual Reality Experiments. Forthcoming, Southern Economic Journal, December 2010.

http://www.omdix.com/pdf/docs/test_study_report_termpaper_1071118451.pdf. n.d.

Jenkins, Henry. The War between Effects and Meanings. New York: NYU Press, 2006.

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Little, E. The Sun. 30 07 2011. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3723107/Lad-of-20-is-killed-by-blood-clot-caused-by-playing-his-Xbox-for-up-to-12-hours-at-a-time.html.

Mabernet. http://fysm-126.wp.trincoll.edu/2010/10/19/is-gaming-social-isolation/. 19th October 010. (accessed 2011).

Morrison, Blake. The Guardian. 06 02 2003. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2003/feb/06/bulger.ukcrime (accessed 11 26, 2011).

Phill, Dr. drphil.com. n.d. http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/297 (accessed 11 29, 2011).

Randall, G. “Computer Game Addiction.” n.d.

Reddy S, Grusser SM, Thalemann R, Griffiths MD. “A Disorder by Any Other Name: Excessive Computer Game Playing.” Excessive computer game playing: evidence for addiction and aggression?, 2007: 290-292.

sandrinemaingard. http://networkconference.netstudies.org/2011/04/online-gaming-a-virtual-tsunami-taking-over-realityidentity/. 25/04/2011.

Smith, Tony. The Register. 29 07 2004. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/07/29/dixons_manhunt/ (accessed 11 29, 2011).

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