Thursday, 17 September 2015


This was the question posed by the BBC's Horizon series last night.

The programme began with the usual display of headlines that included one of someone who went on a killing spree after playing an undefined 'Call Of Duty'. Only the night before Devon Moore was highlighted as he killed three policemen and drove off in a police car - he had been playing 'Grand Theft Auto'.

The tone seemed to be set as psychiatrists etc were wheeled out to demonstrate how this part and that part of the brain was affected by violent video games to the point that it was some kind of addiction that made gamers immune to violence.

After a quick five minutes with video game journalists who defended the industry to the extent that the genuine remarks were drowned,

So having begun the programme with a virtual prosecution it was time for the defence to show that the naysayers evidence were only part of the picture. They showed that those self-same parts of the brain had a knock on effect that affected other parts of the brain that countered the first instincts.

Finally, there was a neat little computer game that required the player to keep a car on the road but, at the same time, various signs would pop up requiring the gamer to press a button when certain coloured shapes flashed up. This was demonstrated at helping to multi-task and a device that I did think was helpful - but all the things it was designed for can be found in 'Forza Horizon'.

What the programme did reveal was that those aged from school age to 35 are in the minority - while those who are older make up the rest. 

The above is a rough summary of the programme but the result was a sort of inconclusive result.

The real problem is that there is, was and always will be a blame culture. Back in the 'fifties it was American comics since then heavy metal, violent movies and 'Dungeons and Dragons' have been highlighted as the cause of murder to campus killings to suicide. As humans we need to blame something that we don't understand - and when challenged the accuser admits to never have played the game, seen the movie or know who the heavy metal group are.

Nor does playing games like 'Devil May Cry', 'Streetfighter', 'Titanfall' or 'Call Of Duty' make anyone immune to the violence around them. The media has already done that - years of famine with starving or dead children thrust in our face (never adults - just wounded ones). The constant pictures of ruined empty cities with earnest reporters trying to stress some story passes many because we've seen it all before. Citing games as the cause just doesn't hold water. Games are an escape from the very reality that some games portray - but that escape does not mean that no one cares.

Recently, YouTube had a thing called 'Elders Re-Act to 'Call Of Duty:Advanced Warfare' - not very flattering to these over sixties who sat around with controllers not quite what to do. In the 'Horizon' programme they introduced a bunch of over sixties to console gaming for the first time. They had great fun playing 'Sonic Racing' - and a shame that it took up a short piece of the programme because it highlighted something that I know very well. For these older people it was shown that their brain function was enhanced.

Back in 1999 (9th August to be precise) I had a stroke that left me with a weak left side and memory loss - and that loss included some short term loss as well. I was told that amongst the things that I would never do again was drive. So come 2000 while I was doing rehab I was asked if I had a games console - my son had one and it was suggested that if I could use it then it would serve as an aid for hand and eye co-ordination. There was also an aid to something else - the controls themselves - I had to remember what the buttons did. Scary at the time - had to keep asking what does the square button do? Oh, right I should have used the back bumper/trigger - and so on but after a while I was able to master 'Tomb Raider' and 'WWF: Raw Is War' on the Playstation One but racing games eluded me.

Today I play 'Titanfall', 'Call Of Duty'games online in multiplayer. An area where I first took up the gun with 'Modern Warfare 3'. But while I play most nights it is more thereputic than addictive. I can play racing games like 'Need For Speed' and the 'Forza' series. 

Ten years after that stroke and being told that there was stuff that I couldn't do - I bought a car and I now drive. Never underestimate the power of that controller or the game that is played - it isn't a cure all - but gaming does have positive benefits - and a pity that the Horizon programme didn't cover these aspects fully.

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