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An Essay For Edge And Games Tm


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Videogames have often been described as being “the nightmare before Christmas” (Senator Lieberman - Edge #46) and their ensuing popularity has resulted in them being dubbed as the “marriage of television and the computer” (H Gardner ‘When television marries computer’).

Whilst only being established for 25 years (Nolan Bushnell invented videogames by creating Pong, way back in the year 1972), videogames have undoubtedly been accepted as an integral part of our culture and this can be supported by the evidence that in 1994, 40% of US consumers owned a videogame system (Edge #11). However, despite the commercial success of videogames, many moral guardians are sceptical as to the implications which this medium brings. As a result, many have argued that videogames are pathological. Indeed, the President of the Glendale Council of Parent-Teacher Associations once commented that “videogames remind me of smoking. Smoking doesn’t do us any bit of good. We don’t depend on it to live. And yet it’s addictive and its expensive, and that is what these games are….. There are kids in there that really cannot stay away from them” (Mind and Media).

I personally don’t believe that the portrayal of violence and sex can alone attract the attention of children. There are many factors and like the subject of sociology itself, no clear solutions. It’s true that I have based my Context on my experiences and personal beliefs (this may be a disadvantage as I’m influencing the nature of this Context. This is known as ‘reflexivity’), however I’m sure that this is the most appropriate manner in which I can express the attraction which videogames pose for young males.

The problems associated with writing this Context are many. Due to the lack of appropriate sociological studies, I will be forced to use psychological studies in order to accomplish my objective. This approach may be problematic as I’m aware that psychologists often fail to understand the social impact which videogames have upon society. I also have been forced to derive my sources from numerous members of the videogaming industry, as well as being forced to manipulate many existing studies based on other aspects of sociology.

According to Ken Parsons, videogames have often been criticised for being addictive (Evening Standard 18/09/97) and this it’s argued, is mainly due to increasing market competition. As the industry expands and the stakes get higher (excluding other financial costs such as marketing and license fees, the average cost for developing a game in 1995 was £140,000 - Edge #24), game developers are being forced to create “better” games (videogamers would support this industry movement as they argue that addictiveness is an integral aspect of game design) in order for the game product to generate maximum sales and a profit.

But there is great concern as to the amount of time teenagers invest in playing videogames. Although videogame machines are used for recreational purposes, many sociologists however are profoundly worried as to the social implications which this technological medium represents. Many parents and teachers, complaining that teenagers spend far too much time playing computer games and not enough time doing their homework, argue that “some children are playing computer games for up to 30 hours a week” (Dr Ken Parsons -Evening Standard 18/09/97). Whilst this is an extreme example, it is however a harrowing image of contemporary society. As a result, many fear that we are producing a generation of “cathode-ray junkies”.

In contrast to what the Dr Ken Parsons believes, Edna Mitchell (1983) discovered that videogames were not addictive. In her study, 20 Californian families kept diaries for a week each month for 5 months after getting a videogame console. If games were addictive, this should have coincided with the fact that the consoles were on for long duration’s of time. Yet, Mitchell discovered that the videogames console was used for an average of 42 minutes every day per family. This hardly accounts for addictive behaviour, especially when compared to other technological mediums such as TV, for which conservative estimates (in the US) put pre-school children for spending 2.5 hours watching TV every day.

Despite what Mitchell believes, Functionalists would condemn the medium of videogames. Durkheim would argue that the role of schools is to teach skills (a secondary socialisation agent) to members of society in order for them to live in society. Because children are spending too much time on videogames and not enough time on their schoolwork, Durkheim would argue that these young people would not be able to learn the skills to live in society. Therefore, videogames are seen to promote disequilibrium.

However, it can be argued that videogames are a legitimate form of education. Indeed, various studies have been done by the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition which prove that learning-disabled children find videogames to be a better educational tool than education itself (“A Model System for the Study of Learning Difficulties,” Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, 1982, 4, 39-66, p. 57).

Liberals such as Illich would also disagree with the functionalists. Unlike functionalists (who argue that the role of education is to teach individuals to know their place and to ‘sit in it’ i.e. conformity is stressed as being vital for a healthy society), they believe that schools are repressive institutions in which pupils are brainwashed and smothered of their creativity by the hidden curriculum, thus becoming institutionalised.

Consequently, liberals would argue that education should be a liberating experience in which it promotes the interests and talents of the individuals to the full. Indeed, Illich would see videogames in a positive light as they help to promote certain skills and psyche.

This clearly contrasts with the functionalist perspective on videogames. Videogames, it can be argued, teach key skills which are seen as being beneficial in adult life. Indeed, much research has been done in this area to investigate what the positive effects videogames have on young people (Dr Mark Griffiths has spent 3 years studying videogames - Edge #46). Whilst videogames have often been accused of being mindless, they however incorporate various levels of complexity which in turn test the videogamer’s abilities. Consequently, they would be seen as being responsible for the development of sensorimotor skills such as eye-hand co-ordination. Whilst this is important in many situations, according to Piaget’s theory sensorimotor skills are the foundation for later stages of cognitive development. (mental process by which the mind becomes aware of things). These cognitive abilities which are developed whilst playing videogames are parallel processing (the ability to take in information from several sources simultaneously), and spatial skills (the ability to co-ordinate visual information coming from multiple perspectives).

Consequently, Patricia Greenfield (1981) conducted a study to investigate whether spatial skills could be developed whilst playing videogames. In it, she observed that whilst almost every child who attended the computer camp came equipped with a Rubik’s cube, some of the campers had computer experience whilst others did not. But virtually all of them were experienced videogamers. Whilst they all possessed a Rubik’s cube (as many children did at the time), the majority of the campers could solve the cube, some with amazing speed. Indeed, there were regular contests at the computer camp to see who could solve the cube with the most speed. As a result, Greenfield concluded that these campers had more interest and skill with the cube than would have been found in non-videogamers. Spatial skills were obviously developed whilst using videogames and the Rubik’s cube.

Other skills which videogames develop are a flexibility and orientation towards individual achievement (T M Kahn ‘An Analysis of Strategic Thinking using a Computer-Based Game’), an increase in curiosity, the integration of interacting variables, problem solving, and creative thinking.

Indeed, the videogames industry is always on the lookout for fresh talent who has plenty of imagination and can be creative. However, it is mostly populated by enthusiasts who tend to recruit people with similar tastes. With a starting salary of around $50,000, the videogames industry forms a very attractive proposition for the video gamer.

However, marxists such as Bowles and Gintis would argue that the purpose of videogames is to reproduce labour for the videogames industry. They would argue that videogames eventually displace education as being a key socialising agent in which appropriate skills and attitudes (self-motivation to learn a programming language, such as C/C++ or assembly, and a commitment towards videogames, based upon knowledge and current technological trends. E.T.C. ) are taught (accomplished through the hidden curriculum which is passively taught to participants through recruitment advertisements, school and computer magazines) in order for the video gamer to succeed. Also, with a starting salary of $50,000 (rising to around $150,000, depending upon experience, with benefits such as royalties and pensions - Dave Perry, lead programmer of ‘Earthworm Jim’), Bowles and Gintis would argue that the individual is being motivated by external rewards such as money. With the differences in salaries offered within the industry, together with nature of the socialisation which children receive as a result of videogames, marxists would disapprove of videogames due to their capitalist traits.

Another reason why there are concerns as to the amount of time teenagers spend playing videogames is due to the fact that computer games are largely seen as being a solitary activity. Consequently, the teenager is taught to interact with the games machine rather than with other individuals. Indeed, a perception exists that people who play videogames are anti-social, withdrawn individuals who get ‘cheap’ thrills out of videogames.

Functionalists such as Hargreaves would therefore argue that these young people would not be able to live in society (a function usually performed by schools which act as a mini society) since they have been unable to acquire the necessary skills through secondary socialisation (acquirement of shared norms and values, resulting in value consensus) which can only be taught through interaction with other members of society.

However, in contrast to what functionalists believe, J David Brooks argues that videogames are indeed a social activity. In 1983, Brooks interviewed 973 young videogamers in arcades (California). Whilst he found that some individuals were obliged to play, he discovered that they were in the minority. In fact, roughly half the sample were playing games less than the time they were actually in the arcades, the remainder of their time being spent to socialise with friends. In light of his discovery, Brooks concluded that arcades had replaced the ice cream parlour as a social gathering place (Mind and Media).

This view is also supported by Jonathan Sigger and Dr John Colwell. In 1995, both researchers presented a paper to the British Psychological Society’s conference in London. After having looked at the playing habits of 180 children (aged 13 and 14) in a comprehensive school in London, they concluded that computer games were overwhelmingly a social activity. This was highlighted by the fact that most teenagers preferred playing against each other rather than against the computer. Indeed, “the idea that children play computer games locked up in their bedrooms is a myth” said Sigger. “78% of males and 84%of females said they always played with each other, and only 18% of males said they played alone” (The Times 20/12/95).

Sigger and Colwell’s view can also be supported by the continuing popularity of ‘on-line gaming’. With games such as Quake, Diablo, and X-Wing Vs Tie-Fighter leading the way, many videogame players are now turning their focus towards the internet. This new phenomenon, whilst only being possible since 1996 (Edge #42) is already estimated to be worth over $1 billion by the year 2000 (Jupiter Communications -Edge #50). The popularity for this stems from the fact that there are huge differences between defeating a computer-controlled opponent, and blowing away a human player. Indeed, despite the increasing complexity of artificial intelligence (A.I) adopted by many games, none will ever offer the vast richness in human interaction (Chris Crawford -Edge #30).

Sigger and Colwell also discovered that children who played videogame tended to possess higher self esteem then children who don’t play videogames. This view is supported by Dr Mark Griffiths (Edge #46). Consequently, the idea that videogamers are withdrawn individuals is a myth.

Contrary to the available evidence however, many sociologists are still sceptical as to the benefits which videogames have upon society. They would argue that due to the addictive nature of videogames, the long hours which young people spend playing videogames is resulting in them being socialised into accepting the messages which are portrayed throughout a particular game. Indeed, many have argued (such as the new right) that videogames are pathological and are the source of many social problems.

Whilst this is a bold statement, it can however be argued that the type of socialisation which occurs is largely dependent upon the themes and contents of the particular game which the person is playing.

Hence, due to my hypothesis, I shall investigate two themes which are portrayed in videogames. These are sex and violence.

SEX: The profound impact of video games on young people has been thoroughly documented by leading sociologist Dr Ken Parsons. He argues that males become “addicted to sex, addicted to sexism” (Evening Standard 18/09/97). Whilst many video game purists would argue that his evidence is superficial, none the less, Dr Parsons research can be partially supported by leading sex symbol Lara Croft. Star of the ground breaking Tomb Raider (which incidentally grossed over $1,000,000 in the first six months), Lara is a gun wielding woman who’s large breasts are purposefully designed to be out of direct proportion to her body. Indeed, the cult star status currently enjoyed by Lara Croft merely highlights a growing trend in which it has been widely known in industry circles that sex sells. The growing success of the Leisure Suit Larry series (with 6 sequels and over 1 million copies sold), and recent examples such as Nikki (Pandemonium 2) and Delia (Dark Earth) only seem to confirm the theory.

Feminists would therefore criticise the success of role models such as Lara Croft. They would cite the above sex symbols as reinforcing a stereotypical view of female beauty. Thus forcing young girls to live up to impossible physical standards.

The theory that sex sells was also supported in 1996. Out of the many advertisements designed to shock, Gametek’s ‘Battlecruiser 3000’ was perhaps the most notorious. Featuring a scantily-clad Joanne Guest, the page-3 girl used a box (a copy of ‘Battlecruiser 3000’) to cover her “dignity” (the advert is featured in Edge #41/42). Indeed, it can be argued that videogame adverts are mostly aimed at males.

Consequently, feminists would argue that the video games industry is patriarchal and only serves to promote and enhance stereotypical roles which are gender specific (‘Quake’ being a hi-tech version of boys playing soldiers). Radical feminists such as Spender would argue that the industry is rigged to promote male dominance and is largely controlled by men, she would also argue that males see women as inferior and “their view of women is restricted to how sexy they are” (Dr Parsons). Her views can be supported by the fact that most girls/women don’t play videogames. Therefore, video games are largely seen as a masculine activity (Kelly). This can be supported by the fact that the majority of Playstation games are aimed at males (Edge #41).

To a certain extent, Stanko (a radical feminist) would support Spender. She argues that women often find it difficult in obtaining employment in male dominated industries. Even if a woman succeeds in obtaining a position at a software development firm, she will often be sexually harassed by being the butt of sexual jokes or even the victim of touching (indeed, Heidensohn discovered that 60% of women suffered a form of sexual harassment at work). This will therefore discourage women from seeking employment in the software industry, resulting in videogames remaining as a patriarchal industry.

However, it can be argued that the reasons as to why more males tend to play videogames is because of they have more resources (in this case it will be consoles) allocated to them (Douglas). But this factor can still be associated with the socialisation argument because young males will tend to receive videogame consoles because videogames are regarded as being a masculine activity (Kelly). Norman and Oakley would support this as they would argue that boys are given videogames whilst girls are given dolls to play with (canalization).

Another reason as to why many girls do not play videogames is that games which are aimed at females generally do not sell very well (women only account for 10% of videogame sales - Edge #52). This would therefore discourage the industry from producing girl-specific titles. Indeed, apart from ‘Barbie Fashion Designer’ being the only successful title of recent months (500,000 units - probably due to the fact that it shipped before Christmas), many games aimed at females usually fail miserably. The cause of this could be that girls tend not to read computer magazines, consequently marketing for a female-specific title becomes a problem and therefore creates less awareness for the product. This problem is further intensified by the fact that most girls consider videogames to be a complete waste of time (Edge #43). It can also be argued that a male dominated industry may find it difficult to produce suitable software for females.

Another reason why girls may not play videogames is that when they attempt to participate in traditional male orientated activities such as videogames (although this can occur in situations such as football, rugby, physics, maths etc), they tend to be sneered at and are thought to be inferior. Consequently, boys may then tend to undermine the girl’s performance and hinder her progress in games like Tekken2 and Sega Rally. These attitudes therefore force girls to keep a low profile (Spender - ‘Invisible Woman’).

This view can be supported by J.A. Gray and A.W.H. Buffrey. By focusing on the issue of ‘brain lateralization’, they argue that the reasons as to why boys perceive girls to be inferior are because they perform better at spatial tests. This is partially supported by Bleir who discovered that girls performed slightly lower in visio-spatial tests (compared to boys), therefore explaining the reasons as to why more boys tend to play videogames. Indeed, functionalists such as Davis and Moore will argue that only the most able (in this context, males) become video gamers.

Although many radical feminists tend to criticise videogames on the basis that they perceive the medium to be patriarchal, Sue Sharpe (marxist feminist) on the other hand blames women. She argues that it is not the men who are the problem, but it is the women. By dismissing videogames, females are allowing themselves to ‘fall behind’ and this is due to the fact that girls lack appropriate attitudes (similar to the Cultural Deprivation argument posed by Bernstein). Sue Sharpe would argue that girls should blame themselves for their lack of interest and ability in videogames. This opinion clearly contrasts with other marxist feminists such as Licht and Dweck who argue that girls blame themselves as a result of their low self esteem. But where as Licht and Dweck argue that putting the blame on one-self is negative and is indicative of one’s low self esteem (self concept), Sharpe argues that blaming one-self is positive because then the female can strive for self improvement (similar to Fuller’s argument. However, Fuller stressed that the self concept occurred as a result of negative labelling which was imposed by other members of society). Sharpe would also criticise radical feminists because she would argue that men are not the problem. Radical feminists, by directing their anger at men are avoiding the real problem which suggests that they (females in general) are at fault.

Many anthropologists would support this and would also criticise radical feminists. They argue that the reason as to why society is ‘patriarchal’ is because males are superior. By basing human behaviour according to the ‘biogrammer’, Tiger and Fox discovered that male ancestors were hunters and gatherers. This therefore makes males more susceptible to monopolise positions of power (such as in the videogame industry) as they are genetically adapted towards the task. Indeed, Firestone would support this as she argues that many of the inequalities between men and women arose directly from each gender’s biological disposition (sexual class system). She argues that “men and women were created different and not equally privileged” (Haralambos – pg 595).

The fact that the number of female video gamers is increasing (Edge #30) ultimately means that there may be no need for gender-specific software because girls have been known to be hugely attracted to puzzle titles such as ‘Tetris’ and ‘Puyo Puyo’. The success of Lara Croft can also be regarded as an important factor for the increase in female video gamers because they would cite her as a positive role model. Lara Croft is a strong, intelligent, and a resourceful woman who “represents independence, courage of conviction and strength” (Susie Hamilton, Core Design’s head of PR - Edge #52). Lara Croft’s qualities can therefore socialise girls into taking a stance where they will refuse to become oppressed and act out subservient roles.

VIOLENCE: There is currently a great concern as to the amount of violence which is depicted in videogames. Indeed, one of the biggest concerns which sociologists have is that videogames often display explicit violent content (D Anderson – Mind and Media). Whilst many videogame purists would argue that this concern is superficial (and therefore unjustifiable to a certain extent), none the less, Anderson’s claims can be partially substantiated by recent videogame titles such as Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil 2, Mortal Kombat IV, and Postal. Indeed, there currently exists a common belief that 90% of videogames contain some form of violence (Edge #46).

However, according to Dr Mark Griffiths, there are only 3 forms of videogame (out of 9 genres) which contain any form of violence. These are the “‘beat ‘em ups’, ‘shoot ‘em ups’, and the ‘platform blaster’”. This clearly contrasts with the ‘common belief’ since violent videogames only account for 33% of total videogame genres. ELSPA (European Leisure Software Publishers Association) would also refute D. Anderson’s claims as it argues that extremely violent videogames only account for 1% of the total number of videogames.

But despite the available evidence, many sociologists would still argue that videogames have a negative influence on the individual. They would argue that males become attracted to the depiction of violence. The Broadcasting Standards Commission (The Express 16/12/1997) would support this as its study discovered that some people were positively attracted to violent themes. This can be supported by the success of recent videogames such as Mortal Kombat where the main attraction of the game was to cause fatalities such as ripping the opponent’s spine out of their body. Other recent examples being Grand Theft Auto where the player gets to run over members of society (such as law abiding buddhists).

It can however be argued that the portrayal of violence can sometimes acts as a form of deterrent. Many people can be alienated by violent themes and this is supported by the fact that 79% of women do not like violence, especially if it is of an explicit nature (Broadcasting Standards Commission – Evening Standard 16/12/97). Malone would argue that videogames containing aggressive themes were a turn-off for girls (Mind and Media). Girls hate the concept of death (a violent, yet recurring concept found in many videogames) and many studies exist which would affirm this.

Consequently, this may explain the reasons as to why the majority of women do not play videogames. If women are indeed alienated by violence (as suggested by Malone and The Broadcasting Standards Commission), then they will probably not engage in videogames altogether. This can have huge social implications since videogames are often considered to be the ‘gateway to technology’ (i.e. where a child’s interest in computers begins with videogames). This turning away of many females from computers in general would be unfortunate since the field of computers is an industry which is gaining extreme prominence in our society and under ideal circumstances, could be extremely promising for women.

But if according to Dr Mark Griffiths, violent videogames only account for 33% of total videogames, then there really isn’t an excuse for women not to participate in videogames since there still exists an enormous proportion of videogame (67%) which can be considered to be suitable for women. The lack of sufficient female video gamers would therefore raise the question as to whether girls are actually interested in videogames. Sue Sharpe would argue that girls are not interested in videogames because they lack the appropriate norms and values (a form of cultural deprivation).

Although it can be argued that maybe there isn’t anything inherently wrong with females (as suggested by Sharpe), according to Norman ( a marxist feminist), she would argue that men were traditionally socialised into being the hunters and gatherers (a violent activity), whilst females were passively socialised into adopting the role of nurturers (a non-violent activity). Males are therefore attracted to violence (Broadcasting Standards Commission) as the theme acts as a means to enable them to fulfil their social role. In stark contrast however, females would be against violence as this theme contradicts many of their norms and values.

So if violent videogames do actually form the majority of videogames (as suggested by D Anderson), then there should be a pattern between popular games and violent games where the most popular videogames are in fact games which contain violent themes. In contrast to what D Anderson believes, Malone in his study discovered that Petball was the most popular game. This was a videogame which was totally devoid of violence and yet proved to be extremely popular amongst his sample. Indeed, Dr Mark Griffiths would support Malone as he argues that “there are a lot of high-selling games which have no aggressive content whatsoever” (Edge #46).

Another reason as to why many sociologists are worried as to the effects of violent videogames on a male is that they have been known to be addictive. Dr Ken Parsons argues that children become addicted to violence through playing fantasy videogames (Evening Standard 18/09/97) and Dr Mark Griffiths would support this to a certain extent as he states that 20% of video gamers admit to addictive behaviour (The Times 07/01/94).

Consequently, many sociologists would argue that the addictive nature of violent videogames would have a negative effect on the participant. In support of the Broadcasting Standards Commission (The Express 16/12/97), functionalists would argue that the addictive nature of violent videogames can lead to the person being socialised into accepting violent themes as being normal.

Supported by an experiment which was recently carried out which tried to determine the effects of violent videogames. During the experiment, impulsive and reflective children played with aggressive and non-aggressive themes. Afterwards, they were assessed according to interpersonal aggression (during a frustrating situation) in a free-play setting. What the researchers discovered was that children who played violent videogames exhibited significantly more object aggression during free-play and more interpersonal aggression during the frustrating situation (Journal of Family violence 10/09/95).

In contention to these claims however, Dr Mark Griffiths (Edge #46) argues that most research which is concerned with the effects of videogames is fundamentally flawed. He states that “most of it is what we call ‘cross sectional’ which means you look at a particular snapshot in time in a subjects life – there’s no longitudinal dimension”. Children are allowed to play violent videogames and are then transferred to a lab where they are surrounded by loads of toy guns. Therefore there is no surprise that their post-game play is violent. Whilst Griffith concedes that maybe there is a short term effect on children, he argues that the validity of such experiments is often questionable as they are often staged.

Despite what Griffith believes, there is other evidence to prove that people who played a violent videogame tended to display a higher level of aggression (C.A. Anderson and C.M. Ford - Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 12/12/1986). This can be supported by a recent survey which was conducted by Dr Mark Griffiths who discovered that 20% of his sample who played videogames, admitted to aggressive behaviour (The Times 7/01/94).

This aggression caused by videogames has led to incidences where people have thrown their joysticks across the room as a result of their frustration. Videogames have also been blamed for a pupil’s dark mood and consequential tantrums at school. However, it can be argued that these cases are insignificant to some events in America where people have been known to physically stab each other over a game of Streetfighter2.

In contrast to what some researchers may believe, Sigger and Colwell discovered that people who played videogames intensively tended to report lower aggression than people who didn’t/hardly played videogames (The Times 21/12/95). This can be supported by both Anderson (1977) and Liebert, Sprafkin, and Davidson (1982) who discovered that 3% of their sample reported lower aggression once they had been exposed to violence.

But there lies an inherent weakness in Sigger and Colwell’s research which was that they derived their results from 2 player competitive or co-operative videogames. Whilst there may not be anything wrong with this, it can however be argued that this particular study may not be very representative since it excludes single player video gamers. Indeed, it can be argued that the most harmful aspect of violent videogames are that they are a solitary activity. Whilst 2 player videogames may result in a decrease in aggression, one-player games may stimulate further aggression (Mind and Media). Henry Jenkins argues that the reason as to why people tend to report lower aggression once they have been exposed to violent themes is because the game allows the video gamer to expend their hostility safely. Consequently “the game becomes the outlet for his aggressive feelings”. Henry Jenkins calls this effect the basis of the ‘catharsis theory’ (Edge #46).

Consequently, marxists would criticise videogames as they argue that videogames often function to stabilise adult personalities. Videogames are considered to be a safety valve where the individual gets to vent their anger and frustration in a way which can pose no threat to the capitalist system (similar to Ansley’s argument). Indeed, videogames act as a smokescreen for the docile worker and are therefore used by the capitalist system to keep the docile worker in their place by diverting their attention.

Contrary to what the above sociologists believe, many new right sociologists (such as Murray) still believe that videogames are a major source of crime and deviance. According to the Social Learning theory (which states that people learn by copying what they see around them), they would argue that people are socialised into adopting a more violent attitude (an approach usually associated with the underclass). One of the biggest concerns which new right sociologists have with videogames (in respect to other visually dynamic mediums, such as TV) are that videogames are interactive in nature. Watching people shoot each other (they argue) is not the same as shooting someone yourself (even if it’s electronically). Indeed, Matza would support the new right sociologists as he argues that videogames teach subterranean values (being aggressive) to the individual.

The New Right would argue that working class children do not receive the necessary support and attention they require from their parents (usually because they are working in order to support their family). As the surrogate parent, computer games act as a socialising agent to young children in which the participant is encouraged to kill people. Consequently, protagonists such as Murray would argue that videogames are pathological and help with the breeding of the underclass. This can be partially supported by the fact that the S.N.E.S and the Megadrive can be bought for just £30 whilst the games for these consoles only cost around £6. Therefore the idea that videogames can only be purchased by middle class children is a myth since video games can be purchased by all.

In contrast to the new right, the Policy Studies Institute discovered that young offenders did not have significantly different tastes compared to non-offending children - both groups insisting that Streetfighter 2 (a beat ‘em up) was their favourite game. Consequently, psychologists such as Elizabeth Newson would argue that the link between violent videogames and violence by children is a myth (The Times 11/04/94).

Whilst the above statement sounds convincing to the casual onlooker, it can however be argued that the disadvantages of the Policy Studies Institute’s study was that it neglected to consider that young offenders watched far more explicit violence (this maybe because of the absence of their parents), even though they played videogames for the same duration of time compared to non-offending children. Dr Mark Griffiths would argue that over-exposure to violent videogames can result in people adopting a more violent attitude (Edge #46).

But whilst many sociologists argue that videogames cause violence, Professor Henry Jenkins argues that violence is innate. Indeed, according to him, there is evidence that children in the 19th century greeted each other by throwing rocks at each others heads. Videogames therefore hardly account for violent behaviour since they didn’t even exist in the 19th century (Edge #46).

Whilst Lombroso would concede that violence is innate, he however criticises Jenkins by arguing that the biological characteristics which cause violent behaviour are only really found in a small minority of the human population (criminals). New right sociologists would support this to a certain extent as they claim that (working class) criminals are a part of the underclass.

Marxists such as Chambliss would criticise Lombroso and the new right. They would argue that the reason as to why the criminals (underclass) were predominantly working class males is because they lacked the necessary financial and political power to get themselves acquitted.

Whilst many sociologists have claimed that videogames are pathological, Dr Martin Barker (University of West of England) however argues that violent videogames can be beneficial to society. In contrast to what new right sociologists believe, he states that violent videogames can fulfil a moral function as they help the participant differentiate between good and evil (The Guardian 04/04/95). By evaluating both sides (good and bad), the participant can make an informed choice as to which path will forever control their destiny. Indeed, Barker would argue that the new right view of violent videogames creating violence is deterministic as not all people who play violent videogames end up being deviants (underclass).

But does the availability of choice really help the participant in making an ‘informed choice’? According to Mr Alton, he argues that there are videogames which exist where they ask the video gamer to choose between killing a woman by garrotting or with a machete (The Times 22/02/94). So therefore it can be argued that the availability of choice still leads to the participant to delve into deviant behaviour.

But if violent content does lead to violent behaviour, then why is it that “our society finds a new medium in which to present that content and yet again that demand is insatiable” (D. Anderson, Informal Features – 1982)?

Whilst it’s probable that videogames do have an impact on young males, it can be argued that the industry has been used as a convenient scapegoat for deep rooted social problems (Institute of Communication Studies – The Guardian 01/08/95). Violence, marxists would argue is a more likely product of the inequalities and conflict within society, such as unemployment, homelessness, poverty etc.

So how do we deal with the depiction of ever increasing violent videogames? Some sociologists believe that maybe the industry should start to rate videogames, bearing in mind their interactive nature. However, it can be argued that putting age restrictions on games will simply result in them becoming more attractive to the very same people who aren’t meant to play them. It can also be argued that censoring or banning videogames is not the solution for our society’s complex problems, especially when compared to other societies (such as Japan) where videogames are far less censored than ours and have a lower crime rate. Indeed, there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that when censorship increases, deviance (such as violence) decreases (The Times 22/02/94).

Finally, in response as to whether videogames are addictive, it can be argued that the addictiveness of videogames may not be the problem. Illich would argue that traditional learning experiences (socialisation) such as schools are boring and maybe we should concentrate on making education a more addictive experience.

The question as to why young people are attracted to videogames has often been asked.

Indeed, whilst there is great concern that young people are spending a great deal of time on videogames (Dr Ken Parsons), many sociologists are worried that the number of videogamers is increasing (during the second half of 1995, there was a 40% growth in the home computer market - Edge #25). But before one can criticise videogames on the basis that they have a ‘devout’ following, one must consider the reasons as to why young males are attracted to this particular medium in the first place.

Before we can judge as to why videogames are so popular, we must ask ourselves what young people used to do with their time before they had consoles. In Patricia Greenfield’s study, she discovered that 75% of children (aged between 8 and 14) watched TV before they received a videogame console. After a child received a console, the amount of time they spent watching TV decreased rapidly (it is estimated that 40% of parents buy a videogame console in the hope that their children would watch less TV).

However, Mitchell would criticise Greenfield on the basis that children only spend 42 minutes every day playing videogames. It hardly seems justifiable that parents would buy a videogames console (around the £130 mark for a Playstation) just so that their children spend 42 minutes less time watching TV. Indeed, conservative estimates put children as spending 2.5 hours on TV every day. If we take videogames into account, that means that children still spend 108 minutes (1.8 hours) every day watching TV.

It can also be argued that if parents are so worried as to the amount of time children spend playing videogames, then why purchase a videogame console in the first place. If videogames are indeed pathological (as suggested by new right sociologists such as Murray and Dr Ken Parsons), the problems which are inflicted upon children are partly the result of their parents.

What makes videogames able to compete so successfully against traditional child centred activities such as watching TV and playing football outside is debatable. However, most psychologists tend to agree that one of the main reasons as to why children play videogames as well as watch TV (both are very similar because they each incorporate a cathode ray tube) is because they display ‘dynamic visual imagery’. This is an important factor because it has been shown that children are attracted to visual action (Mind and Media).

But unlike TV however, videogames are also interactive. This is an important factor as to why children are attracted to videogames as it means that you can effectively change the outcome during a game. . Indeed, it has been shown that children prefer to participate in activities which allow them to get personally involved. At a zoo for example, children prefer pigeons and squirrels with whom they can interact with, instead of the more exotic animals behind bars such as lions and tigers (S B Rosenfeld ‘Informal Learning and Computers’).

Patricia Greenfield would therefore support Rosenfeld. In her study, Greenfield argues that children prefer videogames to TV because videogames are interactive whereas the medium of television tends to frustrate and alienate many observers. An example being where she interviewed a nine year old girl who said that she often didn’t understand as to why Popeye wouldn’t eat his spinach when she wanted him to.

The success of videogames can therefore be associated with the fact that they are the first medium to combine visual dynamism with interaction.

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Videogames have often been described as being “the nightmare before Christmas” (Senator Lieberman - Edge #46)

Often? Really? Or just the once, by Senator Lieberman, quoted in Edge #46?

(Sorry to be picky, but it's a genuine question. When writing essays, you really have to be careful with the opening sentence.)

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Often? Really? Or just the once, by Senator Lieberman, quoted in Edge #46?

(Sorry to be picky, but it's a genuine question. When writing essays, you really have to be careful with the opening sentence.)

Agreed.

I stop reading because I didn't agree.

It's funny how Edge and GamesTM are being lumped together these days..

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At a zoo for example, children prefer pigeons and squirrels with whom they can interact with, instead of the more exotic animals behind bars such as lions and tigers (S B Rosenfeld ‘Informal Learning and Computers’).

Bollocks, I see them every day in the London streets. How many Lions do you see on your way to work? I therefore conclude the entire post to be a load of pidgeon-loving bollocks.

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