Panorama – Addicted to Games

So, as part of the Body Language material we were asked to look at a Panorama Episode from last year about computer gaming. The piece we were looking at was a small snippet about a boy who apparently loses his blink reflex during gaming and cries constantly while he plays. This was presented anecdotally by a photo-artist and would be considered poor evidence. What did strike me, however, was that I had watched the show when it was first aired but had been so incensed by what I thought was painfully poor journalism (I expect better from Panorama!) that I couldn’t finish watching it! For the purposes of my blog, I will conduct a close reading and criticism of the episode and see what we can make of it. Also it’s a bit like picking at a scab, I know it isn’t good but I just can’t leave it alone, perhaps this will get it out of my system!

00.00-01.30 Intro – Is it harmless fun or dangerous health hazard? 24 million people play in UK voice over imagery from games which are all violent.

01.30 The Reporter opens at a new game premier with the phrase “I just can’t believe how many people are here just to buy a game” this is value laden – the inference is that he thinks their time would be better spent in other ways.

02.47 Parental concerns – “think of the children” – questions “Is it too much for some people to handle?”.

0300 – 0440 In which we meet Joe Staley who has played since he was a small child. He plays GTA4 and COD4 (shooty games) and could play 12+ hours daily. Joe reports loss of social urges and says he would go 2 or 3 days without sleep to play. Apparently Joe has been kicked out of college and is in thousands of pounds of debt – PARTLY from playing games. No proof that it was gaming which caused either issues. Was joe getting good grades before he got so heavily into the X-Box?. Seems like an awful lot of games to buy to get into “thousands of pounds” of debt. Uncritical analysis from the reporter.

0440 So now we meet “Leo” – he’s happy to be filmed but wants to use a pseudonym(!?!).  WOW player for 3 years – played 12 hours a day for 2 years “you substitute the real world for this world”. Social problems for Leo are caused by his WOW habit such as poor uni grades, lack of socialisation and family issues. “This game is just a disease!” he said while playing WOW. Now he intends going “cold turkey”.

06.20 Playing Pong in National Media Museum in Bradford – we can trace development of games here. But we don’t, instead, we meet Robbie Cooper,  a Video Artist. He says there are huge differences in facial expression between TV watching and video gaming. “Computer games suck you in faster” he says. Can this not be explained by the difference between passive and interactive consumption of media? Assertion that one subject is so engrossed that he loses his blink reflex – no actual evidence presented of this.

07.51 First mention that game addiction is not recognized as medical condition despite many previous references to addiction.

08.00 Ian Livingstone CEO of gaming company Eidos, who says any worries are overblown like rock music and other “corrupters of the young” – disputes description of “addiction” and claims the same can be said of TV and other activities. He addresses issues of “addictive personalities” – i.e. problem gaming being a symptom of a problem, not the cause.

Reporter says there are growing calls from within “scientific community” to recognize this as a problem – but provides no examples or quotes.

A WHO report referenced – “A snapshot of the health of young people in Europe 2009”- Finally! Sources!! So I went and looked up the report at www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/70114/E93036.pdf

 Online games addiction

 Online games abuse or addiction presents a serious threat to the mental health of young people in Europe. “Massive multiplayer online games” (MMOG) are computer games that can be played by thousand of players at the same time. The arising concept of online games addiction is associated with the fact that the young people who are involved in playing the games withdraw from real life and its challenges and duties, such as attending school, sleeping and eating properly and engaging with family life and friends; this can occur when they become increasingly intense and frequent users of MMOG.

In the HBSC survey, the number of adolescents referring to spending several hours a day using a computer, specifically on weekends and in countries that more recently were integrated into the EU, increased dramatically between 2002 and 2006. In some countries, withdrawal from family and school life was associated with computer use (10).

 This was a single paragraph in a huge report and as with the Panorama episode it asserts gaming as a “serious threat to the mental health of young people in Europe” without presenting evidence for this.

 09.00-09.30 Industry body UKIE rep highlights positive aspects of gaming. Michael Rawlins offers benefits of interactive over passive entertainment.  A whole 30 seconds on the positive side – nice balance Panorama!

 09.30 Opens with sinister music – We meet Chris Dando, who started truanting and playing WOW “all night”. Cites escapism as reason for playing – was playing for up to 20 hours a day – how is it possible this was missed by parents before it got to the 20 hour stage? Chris became violent when access was restricted. How can we be sure that this is uncommon behaviour for a teenage boy and caused by computer games?

 11.10 We meet the first health professional – psychiatrist Dr Richard Graham who says that “this is something that needs national recognition” also cites no evidence for his position. Also works for a Mental Health org – looking for another treatment revenue stream?

 12.00 Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent Uni. Admits most experiences of VG’s are positive. Small minority experience problems with “things LIKE games” – implies games are not the only factor involved. Not enough research to define seriousness of problem. He asserts that the field is not considered “important enough” for research despite ongoing studies such as http://www.projectmassive.com/about.html

 (also search The Psychologist for computer and video games for other examples).

 13.00 Most games in UK are console but REAL problems are found in MMO games. Reporter suggests this is as we do not have universal superfast internet but implies that once it’s rolled out across the UK then we’ll be in the same boat, gaming wise, as South Korea.

 13.51 Korea’s broadband has “come at a price” – again with the value judgements!

 Journalist gets paid holiday to confirm prejudices from BBC, I meant to say vital research for show required travel to South Korea (value judgement of my own seeing as we’re bandying them around so freely).

 00.10 We meet the Boot Camp for addicted gamers. Sang Uk Kim – Example offered again of poor grades and lack of socialisation.  SK gov’t thinks 2% of children are addicted to games – again un-sourced assertion.

01.15 Reporter at SK gaming café – full of young people. Contrasts to western youth out drinking and clubbing – inference that this is a healthier activity than gaming. Highlights that SK has v popular gaming leagues, top gamers considered celebs etc. This gaming culture has been prevalent in SK for more than a decade. No mention how different from UK gaming culture that this is – all parallels made to SK invalid.  Apparently 12 gaming related deaths since 2005. Blood clotting/DVT issues – can we get figures for the same issues relating to TV watching or book reading for balance?

02.15 Refers to tragic case of baby starving to death while parents played VGs. Parents had previous mental health issues – “mentally not that stable to begin with”. “Problem gamers often have underlying emotional issues” say “experts”. Turns out Sang’s mother used to “hit him a lot”. His mother regrets not having talked and communicated with him in the past. Any surprise he retreated into a computer game?

06.00 Back to the UK and“Leo” and his WOW problems. Cold turkey hasn’t worked. He cites reasons for failure as boredom and missing his in-game friends.  Reporter seems incredulous.

08.20 Game designer Adrian Hon explains methods by which gamers get “hooked”.  Variable Rate of Reinforcement – random rewards keep users involved.  Back to Prof Mark Griffiths – says this only really impacts people with compulsive personalities.  See http://psychology.about.com/od/vindex/g/def_variablerat.htm

10.00 Reporter says he “took his findings” to industry body UKIE to discuss. Findings? A couple of anecdotes and a few experts who all say more research is needed don’t amount to findings!  Rawlins again – rebuts with the “you have no evidence” argument. Reporter asks why industry does not fund research into this. If you ask me, that’s like asking Diageo to fund research into alcoholism. Would we trust the results of industry funded research?

 To end we go back to Joe who recommends that instead of playing games, young people should “ring a friend and go out and get smashed”. Way to find a healthy solution to a problem there Joe! Back to Chris who says not to blame the game companies but suggests underlying problems with small number of players who let a game take over their life. WOW creators Blizzard responded with “Our games are meant to be fun…but like all forms of entertainment…day to day life should always take precedent”. Seems like sensible advice!

The End.

What have we learned?

We have learned that the reporter thinks that gaming is bad, seems to have set out with that in mind and developed an argument to that end based on assertion.

We have learned from “experts” that more study is needed before any conclusions can be drawn on then causality of problem gaming.

We have learned that some gamers have compulsion and impulse control issues that lead them to spend excessive amount of time gaming to the detriment of education/work/social lives.

That a small number of people will develop unhealthy behaviours around problem gaming.

 What have we NOT learned.

That video games, online or otherwise, are addictive in the same sense as alcohol or heroin.

That gaming was the most important contributing factor in the situations shown in what we can charitable call “case studies”.

In all, this was a poorly researched and written piece for what is meant to pass for the BBC’s flagship current affairs. Rafael Rowe, the journalist, set out with the conviction that games were addictive and potentially harmful. He found anecdotal evidence for his position and left the casual viewer with no gaming experience that faster DSL and video games were “a growing menace” to the healthy development of their children.

The really important issues that were missed here were firstly parental responsibility and secondly the real reasons for excessive gaming on the part of the subjects. These two issues may be linked but I will leave the reader to draw their own inference.

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