Addicted To Gaming?

BBC Show Fails To Address Real Issues

This week the BBC’s investigative show, Panorama, has put videogames under the microscope. The UK’s gaming community has been bristling ever since. In an investigation into gaming addiction, Panorama sent reporter Raphael Rowe out to talk to "addicts" and leading experts. The show also promised to reveal "the hidden psychological devices in games that are designed to keep us coming back for more."

As a fan of the BBC, I was hoping for a balanced approach to this subject. However, Panorama is known for its sensationalist take on current affairs. Aired on the eve of the launch of the latest World of Warcraft expansion, I’m sure the show’s producers were hoping to stir up a hornet’s nest. Well, it sort of succeeded, but only in terms of calling the integrity of Panorama’s journalism further into question.

The programme begins with a voice over from Jeremy Vine saying, "For some they are just a bit of fun, but to others they’re a threat to our wellbeing." Cut to image of concerned, middle class mum in her kitchen, who says, "This is dangerous, this is a dangerous tool in our house."

Nothing alarmist there then.

Our intrepid reporter, Rowe, takes us to the home of Joe Staley, a young "addict". Rowe tells us, "Joe has enjoyed playing games since he was a small child, but then he bought an Xbox."

It was at this point that I had to laugh (sorry Joe). This was a complete Brass Eye moment. For those Americans among us who haven’t seen Brass Eye, head to Youtube and investigate this brilliant bit of satire.

Back to Joe and his plight. We are shown a lank-haired youth in a dimly lit bedroom. He describes how he would go for two or three days without sleep, as his addiction to Call of Duty took over his life. Joe has been kicked out of university and has huge debts, due in part to his gaming.

Then we meet Liam, who admits to spending 12 hours a day online and having no friends. We also meet a concerned mother Alison Dando, who’s son, Chris had a violent outburst after they decided to switch off the internet to stop his WoW addiction.

These are all sad stories of kids who are obviously troubled and do show some form of addictive behaviours towards games. However, Alison was never asked how it was that she managed to let her son play 16 hours of WoW uninterrupted or how she didn’t know that it was an online game. Surely, this just highlights a lack of understanding from parents and families.

Similarly, Rowe talks to a family in South Korea, who are going through a programme to help their son who is addicted to games. At one point the mother admits that she used to hit her son "a lot" and we see regret and sadness pass across her face. However, Rowe never attempts to investigate how social or family pressures may have influenced her son, who clearly found something in games, that was lacking in his real life.

At one point, artist Robbie Cooper is interviewed regarding his images of the faces of people watching TV and playing games. When looking at Cooper’s photos it is difficult to determine the gamers from the telly watchers. Cooper tells us about a boy who cries as he’s playing games because he loses his blink reflex and also says that gamers are much more immersed. This is used as evidence of something sinister within games, but I’m not sure this is what Cooper intended.

On doing some investigating of my own, I’ve found a piece on some of Cooper’s other work, ironically on the BBC Online. These are photos of online gamers in real life and as their avatars. One is T, who plays on City of Heroes and claims that the game stopped him from becoming involved in crime. T says that if it weren’t for computer games, he probably wouldn’t be alive today.

Another subject is Matt Motokun who is using Final Fantasy online to help him learn Japanese at university, as he talks to Japanese players. And the picture of Jason Rowe, who plays Star Wars Galaxies. Jason is pictured with an oxygen mask on and clearly has some form of disability or condition that leaves him with limited movement.

These pictures are the positive face of gaming, which Panorama failed to highlight. It was much more concerned with portraying games as this insidious threat to our children, using South Korea as an example of our bleak future. We had lank-haired, lonely youths, creepy music and disturbing camera angles, used to present games as dark, seedy and dangerous.

We saw some truly tragic tales regarding gaming compulsion, but Rowe failed to dig deep enough to help us understand why this happens and how we can help.

Panorama hasn’t really given us anything new. We know that some people play games to excess and display compulsive behaviour, similar to more traditional addictions. This is not news Panorama, but it is a concern and one that the games industry has to face up to. It’s just such a shame that Panorama managed to undermine the power and relevance of their topic with lazy journalism.

Most played: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Most wanted: Child of Eden

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