Friday, December 31, 2010

Gaming is better than watching TV

Happy new year everyone! Boy, did I spread the love and glory last week with Christmas. I usually write a post for this blog and tell the server to publish it on friday at midnight. Last week that particularly midnight just happened to be Christmas eve and that particularly post just happened to be my first negative review. Not a nice coincidence. Now this week I'll also do something a little different. This week will not be a review, but more of a scientific/philosophical post. It's scientific for quoting researches and philosophical for not quoting enough researches ;).

Games have received a lot of negative attention since they came into existence. They would be addicting and have a lot of violence, therefore making the gamer neglect his/her social duties and instead injuring and killing anyone who comes near. I am not going to deny that games are addictive and violent, because they are. Those who didn't see the movie about the Skinner box from Extra Credits on Escapist Magazine should do so, it's a great explanation about the addictiveness of games. Violence should be self evident, but I am linking to a movie from Call of duty: Black Ops anyway. The fun thing about this movie is that without shooting a gun you'll partake in violence anyway.

Now what other medium is addictive and violent? Right! TV! And without beating around the bush I'll just go ahead and claim that playing games is better for you and your children than watching TV. First of all gaming is active, the player is always responsible for his/her actions. This way you or your kids learn to solve problems. Television is passive, everything that you or your kids learn is dependent on the characters in the story or reality show. This is a fundamental difference I will exploit here.

Now if all goes well, you are a good parent and you will give your kids all the attention they'll need, right? I don't have kids of myself yet, so I might not be in a position to argue, but I will do so anyway. You will most likely leave your kids at the TV at some point, because you want some quiet time for yourself. Even worse: a lot of parents park their kids at the TV and let it raise their kids.
At this point things start going wrong. Your kids are left to people who are not primarily interested in their upbringing, but in making a quick buck out of entertaining them. There are some fail-safes in the system, your children will not be exposed to extreme violence, drugs or sex. They will not always work, like this example of the deaths in the original Transformers movie, but that is a different thing. Somewhere along the line s/he will be taught that "violence is bad" and everything is alright, so extreme violence is not the worst thing that can be seen by a kid.

Jafar from Disney's Aladin. Not a badly
written villain, but I liked his picture :)
The problem is that with making a quick buck in entertainment comes bad writing and with bad writing comes weird character reactions. The problems with those are way harder to identify and rectify. If a writer doesn't think of the motivation of the characters in a story, the characters are doing things just for the sake of the plot. This results in weird behaviour which includes:
- declaring to be friends, while nothing really happened. Creating artificial companions.
- love at first sight, while nothing else between the two involved will be happening. Creating a non-reason to risk one's life.
- keeping secrets from parents, while the parents are completely trustworthy. This results in stories like "I have creatures in my room, hilarity ensues".
- randomly denying things from people, creating a new story arc of how to get it. This is usually left for the villains.
If you'd like more of this pointed out, go watch the nostalgia critic at thatguywiththeglasses or just his review of little monsters which has most of this bad writing.

How about explicitly bad
writing? No? Hmm...
Now imagine your kid seeing this. What will this teach him/her? Plot holes as described above are not a good influence on the behaviour if you'd ask me. Bad writing damages our kids! I don't know if this has been questioned yet by science. If not, it probably won't, since it is very difficult to find people who didn't watch TV when they were young. Even if it is proven by science, just try making a parental advisory sticker saying "badly written content".

But even if the TV programmes are well written throughout, you can't help the fact that when one show is finished, another show will immediately follow to keep you or your kid watching the channel. Eventually there will come along something I'd like to call a brain melt moment, a moment that just breaks the way you are thinking. This can vary from the extremely confusing Transformers movie from 1986, where all the heroes are killed off while happy music is still playing, to the movie of a melting chocolate bunny like this link.

To take the bunny as an example, it is legit to show it to your kids. It has no violence, it is educational explaining the three ways of heat transportation and it is varied by adding a little drama. Yet, you force the kids to watch a character die three horrible deaths while the music expresses its desperate struggle.
Karbonkel as seen in the first
part of the series

Karbonkel's less known
second appearance
This might sound weird, but something as twisted as 'horrible education' has already happened. In the Netherlands, a reading method was employed from 1994 to 2002 called "Ik Mik Loreland" (sorry for the Dutch link). The method was accompanied with a TV series to be watched on schools where the protagonist 'Mik' was sent to Loreland to get letters for the antagonist monster 'Karbonkel' who had the habit of appearing out of nowhere. The creators thought it was a good idea to make Karbonkel a parody on the murderer called Bob from Twin peaks. Needless to say none of the kids understood the parody which resulted in stories of kids who were excused from class, because Karbonkel was too scary. They later changed his appearance, but the damage was done.

Now let's relate the downsides of movies and TV shows to games. Have you ever seen how much fun kids have with badly designed or broken toys? They will try to play with it anyway and if it doesn't succeed, they get help or go find it. The same goes for games. Badly written characters aren't the main focus, the focus lies on the problems presented in the game. If the problem is badly written, when it is too hard they will try to get help. Moreover, games are more consistent and when it ends there will not be another game immediately viewed after it. If you give a game to a kid, you will know s/he will keep viewing the same material. If the game tries a brain-melt, it will not last very long.

For what it's worth to randomly throw a good fact in, your kids have less nightmares if they play games.

There are a bunch of ifs here, because you always have the 'too much' factor. Too much gaming will be just as bad as too much TV and addiction might be lingering more with games than with TV. I also want to stress that I don't want to imply you should let your kids watch no TV at all. What I want to show is that we might want to re-evaluate the way we think about the damaging aspects of both the mediums. We also might want to re-evaluate the rating of media, because I remember seeing a lot of violence in Transformers and the A-team and feeling fine, while I do remember some brain-melts on an art-channel that gave me nightmares for weeks.

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