We Are The News: RPS And The Observer

You can't get away from us, anywhere.

This week the handsome Alec Meer, and me, John Walker, were drawn into the arms of the Observer, and asked to join a group discussion about the current state of gaming. This is prompted by an article that will be appearing in this Sunday’s paper that discusses the matter: is the virtual world more beguiling than the real one? Amongst other things. The resulting video is below. If you have comments, make them here, or make them over at the Guardian’s site, as the people behind it are paying close attention. And check out the Observer on Sunday to see further comments from Alec and me in the paper.

We should stress, the chat went on for an hour, and the edit of the video is just over five minutes long. So you can be assured that I did manage to discuss other things than crying at Dreamfall, and Alec did say lots of super-enthusiastic things about how brilliant games are. It’s as if they knew. But the result is a good mix of subjects, with a speech that deserves trumpets from Leo Tan PR Man. Enjoy.

76 Comments

  1. Phil says:

    John has a beard! Did everyone else already know?

    • Heliosicle says:

      His picture on rps has him sporting one

    • Wulf says:

      I seem to recall a very weepy John Walker sim (from their Sims 3 features) sporting a beard, and thus I assumed from that point he had one, especially since the picture of Walker-sim crying was visible at the top of the site for quite some time.

  2. Heliosicle says:

    That shot of Alec with his finger on his lip made me laugh.

    Quite interesting, and a good talk overall, very well thought points – I liked Leo Tan’s statement at the end – “So you mean, I’m doing something good with my time?”. :D

    • Rosti says:

      @Heliosicle – I like the idea that Alec defaults to that brooding position. Particularly in RTSes. (DISCLAIMER – my thoughtful brooding ain’t half as cool. Sadface.)

      Interesting little round table this, artsy-camera ‘n’ all.

    • D says:

      He was doing the Hitler emote to the guy talking right?

    • sexyresults says:

      I was tempted to get a screen of the Alec deep in the thought moment

  3. Colton says:

    I think the thing that drives me in gaming is that I understand the “rules” in a game. Gaming provides me with concrete rules and rewards. If I do “X” quest “Y” number of times I will always always get “Z” as a reward.

    In real life I can be rewarded or penalized seemingly at random from one day to the next; go to work and you get fired because the boss’s brother needs your job. Work for 29 years at a company and one day they turn around and remove your lifetime of promised health-insurance.

    I still wonder where “Flint Fibleforge” from Everquest 1 went to. We spent every day together for years and I always knew that no matter what he’d have my back. In reality he lives on a reservation with 3 kids and a wife. In the game he’ll always be my most trusted friend.

    • Lack_26 says:

      Yeah, I can see what you mean, I sometimes wonder what would happen if life followed a stricter, definable rule-set rather the general logic-buggery that goes on. I usually reckon it would be nice, on the other hand, it might lead to conversations like. ‘What did you do at work today? Oh yeah, I was grinding mindless-admin tasks, I’m almost at level 14.”.

      Oh wait, that’s not that different to real life.

    • Heliocentric says:

      In a game you can always level up. In real life grinding doesn’t always work.

    • Babs says:

      If grinding isn’t working for you, you’re doing it wrong.

  4. mister k says:

    I’m pretty sure its been mentioned on one of the many podcasts he inhabits as well.

  5. mister k says:

    ARGH! Reply fail…

  6. Auspex says:

    What’s up with the curious shot of John’s belly at 1:12?

    As if the poor man wasn’t self conscious enough already…

    • Resin says:

      I think this was the camera guy trying to show expressive hands which he does later too, but yeah way to zoom in on a guys gut – thats just mean.

    • kallewoof says:

      I think the camera man just wanted to show the exuberant gestures. I like gestures, thus I approve of this.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      I’ve decided to take pride in the belly shot : )

    • Crispy says:

      The camerawork was nothing short of misguided and amateurish. I don’t need to use fancy terms like mise en scene and decoupage to point out how bad it was; you just need to question why you would frame certain speakers’ hands against a flat background instead of shooting them from the side against the main source of light to allow their silhouettes to emphasise their movements, or why you would deliberately obscure the mouth of the speaker (speaking to the audience for the first time, at that!). Not to mention the constant faffing about with the zooming in and out and shifting up the focus like an ADHD kid on speed.

      The content was great. Next time persuade the organisers to avoid giving their camera-toys to someone who has seemingly never held one before.

  7. Wednesday says:

    You sound different that you do the podcast John.

    • a says:

      That was my first thought too. He sounds much sexier in his podcasts. There goes my Walker crush, I guess. =(

    • Wulf says:

      You should never let reality get in the way of a good crush, a!

    • The Dark One says:

      And on the flip side, I thought Alec’s voice sounded better than in the podcasts.

    • Wednesday says:

      I was thinking he sounded more thinky-quiet than happy podcast. I guess that comes from sitting in a room full of mostly strangers and taking part in something that’s going in a national newspaper.

    • Smurfy says:

      I imagined John to be skinnier and paler. His voice does sound a lot deeper and less friendly in the video. On the podcasts he sounds really cool but here I’d be afraid to approach for fear of my life.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      I was at the beginning of a cold! You should hear how deep my voice is now. Except now it’s underlined by a lovely gurgly snottiness.

    • Lack_26 says:

      No, John’s voice needs to be even deeper. I will not be happy until it causes buildings to enter resonance and start to crumble.

  8. Nicolas says:

    Sorry, even RPS can’t make up for the complete rubbish that is the Observer. (Then again, all Sunday newspapers are dreadful)

  9. Alexander Norris says:

    There are two (and a half) thoughts going through my head right now:

    1) Oh my god, John looks absolutely nothing like I imagined he did. I hadn’t seen the picture on the About page, either.

    2) Oh my god Chinese man with a Scottish accent I have finally found you again and now I can actually name you when I bring up your existence. (With apologies to Leo Tan, who I am sure has a lot more going for him other than the fact that he is ethnically Chinese and speaks with a Scottish accent.)

    And the half a thought to finish: is there any chance of the whole (hour long) thing ever being released somewhere, even if audio-only and unedited?

    • Blackberries says:

      I too would rather like to see the whole video. Surely it wouldn’t be too much trouble for The Observer to throw the whole thing up at some stage?

      Anyhoo, sounds like there was some interesting, measured discussion produced from this. I may even have to go into a real-life shop and hand over actual metal money in exchange for a physical copy of a newspaper. An novel idea.

  10. Heliocentric says:

    Journalism on printed media? How quaint, I look forward to future episodes of this transmitted by smoke signal and cave drawings.

  11. Vinraith says:

    So, have all the folks that are surprised by the appearances of our illustrious hosts never been to the about page?

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

    Or is it that you can’t distinguish the fake facial hair from the real? :)

  12. Bowlby says:

    I think the conversation of whether games are potentially dangerous is an interesting one. Personally, I think they’re at least as dangerous as film, television and books, but are probably more so because of their interactive element. I think it speaks for the power of the medium that this is possibly the case.

    If it were the case, though, should they be banned? No, of course not. It’s precisely because of the impact video games can have on us that makes them meaningful, important and, ultimately, worth having.

    To be honest, and with all respect to those in the video, I think this is an issue more suited to scientific inquiry rather than personal anecdotal evidence. Still, at least it’s an intelligent, open-minded discussion over video games being aired, instead of the more desperate fear-based “investigations”.

    • Ballisticsfood says:

      Ah, investigation, a word which either means “We think that you’re a bad man/organisation/group/code of conduct and we’re out to prove it” or “We’re terrified of this/you/them and we want to disrupt it/you/them for as long and as severely as possible while we run and hide in the past.”

      Unfortunately most people blur the two.

  13. TheApologist says:

    Yep – I agree with this.

    Knowing what to do, having a limited number of ways to do it, even if all I am supposed to do is explore. In other words systems I can understand and effect is what makes gaming a compelling break from life.

    That’s not to say that the aesthetics aren’t also a big part of what makes it compelling, but I can live with a crappy looking game. Not knowing what to do in a game drives me nuts.

  14. Gassalasca says:

    Hmm… John’s voice sounds deeper in the video than in the podcasts, whereas Alec’s sounds about the same.

  15. TheApologist says:

    And by ‘agree with this’ I meant agree with coulton. Reply fail – sorry.

  16. Al says:

    One of the good things about the recent gutting of The Observer (I mourn the loss of the Music Magazine and Sports Monthly) is that gaming has been placed in “The New Review”, in amongst the Film, Music, Books, Art and Theatre content. It could do with more space there, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a newspaper do this before- essentially, finally admit that games should be considered in the same way as the above- the Guardian’s Saturday “Guide” gives Games one page, compared to the several given to Music and Films, and the Monday-Friday gives games one page buried in G2- compare that to the Film and Music supplement on a Friday.

    So, um, yay. Go Observer. Treating games with respect. It is the Future.

  17. Rei Onryou says:

    Alec has the most epic 5 O’clock shadow ever! It’s like he tried to shave 5 minutes before filming, but his man’s man ruggedness blunted the blade.

    I bow to your stubble, Alec.

  18. Flint says:

    If you have comments, make them here, or make them over at the Guardian’s site, as the people behind it are paying close attention

    Now they’ve got all the info they’ve ever wanted about the RPS fanbase’s crush-like adoration towards the RPS bloggers.

  19. Will Tomas says:

    Gaming needs more, deeper and wider coverage in mainstream news. More of this sort of thing please! And let us watch the hour next time Mr Guardian people…

  20. Sobric says:

    JOHN WALKER’S HANDS

    I like how this was a repeated shot. I didn’t think he was particularly more expressive with his hands than anyone else, but obviously the Observer disagrees.

  21. TheApologist says:

    They’re watching? Then may I simply say that John Walker rocks my world.

  22. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Here’s some thoughts guys:

    – (1:52) Leo Tan notion that people inside the same room are still communicating when playing a game together, seems to carry with it a “so that’s ok” ring to it. Well, that kind of communication is not exactly the kind of communication you’ll experience if people are simply sitting on a room speaking freely about several matters. It’s not a “so that’s ok. We are still communicating in a space you wanted to be about communication”.

    – (2:20) Giles Richard overrates the “satisfaction in going against another human” in a game. No doubt because he takes a lot of pleasure of this form of gameplay. And certainly many like him. But When spoken as he did, it is made to look like an universal truth. And then those who actually don’t feel so inclined towards multiplay, or that while enjoying it occasionally do not share such a level of satisfaction, may start questioning if they are not normal. Naturally they are. And the real posit is instead that people like different things and people like them in different ways.

    – (2:43) At this point the question is made on what is dangerous about games. Tom Chatfield, Giles Richard and John speak of the issues about violence. I must confess I was disappointed. And while Tom and John were a little more sparing in their approach, Giles went straight ahead for the killing blow. “There is nothing dangerous about games”. Well Giles, there is. You cannot however radicalize your speech by showing how ludicrous is the comparison between mass murder and GTA hoping that ends the debate there. We know already that is ludicrous. However, games are as much a tool of entertainment as they are educational tools. And for both reasons they have the potential to influence behaviors, define trends and even shape our culture. Much like music and even movies have historically done so. I think the rated system we have in place is good enough. It’s up to parents to control their kids access from there on. But in any case, you cannot nod (I didn’t see you nodding, but I assume you did) at Tom’s comment that the real danger is in players being weak to not be able to resist the seductive nature of many games, and then say there is nothing dangerous about them. Well, of course there is. Otherwise there wasn’t any concerns about people being weak. The components of violence, language and nudity are rated for a reason. There’s a certain level of danger that justifies its adoption. Unless you actually defend that 10 year old kids should play GTA and the rating system is unnecessary. Do you?

    – (3:45) Alec rarely speaks and when he does, he spouts a piece of wisdom that takes a certain amount of courage by someone who writes about games. I agree Alec. That’s also one of my biggest concerns. And especially as a parent. Certain games indeed will only survive of their ability to captivate and keep players around for as much as possible, and for as long as possible. This is one huge time sink in many cases, and often with very little in return in terms of personal ( real-life) advancement.

    – (4:28) Tom Chafield needs to known no psychiatrist will ever advise someone with depression to play online games. The thought alone horrifies them (and me!). As these are often very hostile environments, especially for newcomers, which demand a strength of spirit someone under a depression doesn’t have, and there’s also the whole component of being immersed in a world of make-belief and fantasy which is very dangerous to someone whose mental barriers that protect them from easy suggestion are completely shattered. Having someone with a depression playing a MMO is very dangerous. Unless the potential for suicide is some new radical form of therapy.

    There you have it folks. Thanks for the video and the opportunity to discuss your ideas.

    • noggin says:

      Mario you got me thinking more than the film did
      cheers!

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      Yep, having played EVE (and watched my 9 -year-old on Disney’s Club Penguin) it’s the repetitive crack-high time sink element of MMOs that concern me the most. Aside from that worry, gaming is no more dangerous than any other medium. Do we mistrust all books because of Mein Kampf?

      EVE is a beautiful, intricate game. But it has mechanics that are designed to keep the subscription rolling – and it’ll consume a hell of a lot of a gamer’s life. I’m pleased I played on and off for a year, it was a fantastic experience unavailable anywhere else, but a human life is short so that’s enough for me and MMOs.

      I’m trying to educate my daughter to spot where a publisher (in her case Disney) is pulling the time-sink trick so that she can think how she really wants to spend her time on the PC (and leisure time generally).

      I love that we play Spectromancer together though.

    • Michael says:

      Good points.

      Communication between players in online games is probably one of the most important areas in which games need to advance. The human and social aspects of games tend to get left behind. With the explosion of casual gaming, particularly in social networking, this would seem to be an open goal for any ambitious developer.

      Playing a good game against another human is a rare pleasure. It’s rare because games naturally allow more experienced players to dominate. The outcome is too often predetermined, whereas a computer opponent can be carefully calibrated to be a good match. It’s an aspect of multiplayer games that’s rarely commented on in reviews. COD:MW is supposed to be a brilliant online game so why do I keep being thrown into fights with far more experienced players?

      As you say, games, like other media, have varying degrees of audience suitability and are rightly classified. It is well established that exposure to extreme media has a damaging effect on children’s development. It’s just a question of what falls into that extreme. As an example, exposure to violent pornography, as an element of a neglectful upbringing, has been cited as an influence on children who go on to commit acts of violence and sexual assault. This is a very extreme example and goes well beyond anything that mainstream computer games have to offer, but the “games aren’t dangerous” attitude seems to be something developers actively seek to challenge, with the likes of Manhunt and Postal.

      Perhaps the most dangerous or, at least, damaging aspect of games is their timesink quality. The fact that people are developing games which are specifically designed to be addictive seems to me to be wholly unethical and something the industry needs to face up to. In my mind, economics dictates that subscription games will inevitably have this fault.

      I don’t think he was suggesting depressed people be directed to games as therapy but rather that people who have always played games have found, when they become depressed, that it’s one are of society that they can continue to participate in in a relatively normal manner. Speaking from personal experience, I think there’s definitely something in that, though I would be careful not to overstate it.

      This has been far more interesting than I expected from a newspaper report about games. That, in itself, is a good sign.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      I fully agree there that exists therapy opportunities in games for people suffering from depression (I’m going to discuss that in a moment in my reply to jarvoll further below). And surely I’m ready to accept that some people suffering from it and who have been regularly exposed to online gaming, found some comfort there. But I think it’s dangerous to generalize it as it is my interpretation of Tom’s words.

      Depression is a clinical condition. Finally we are starting to take it seriously. Some even argue it’s the disease of the century. Today we finally breached the social barrier that was making proper treatment difficult: It is now generally accepted that Depression is a medical condition and should be treated with professional help. So, sponsoring an ad-hoc treatment is not the best way to deal with it and may have dire consequences. The least of which, aggravating the disease.

    • Josh W says:

      Just because psychologists currently don’t recommend it doesn’t mean it isn’t good!

      People playing games can learn situations in which they can trust people, they can deal with subsets of their social anxiety that are uniquely focused on in MMOs: For example, it tunnels through some of the introductions and things that normally happen before people start working together, allowing people to get used to that part which they wouldn’t normally reach.

      As much as people put down meeting people in the real world that you met online, (and I can definitely imagine the dangers) it does mean that people can get involved in face to face social interactions that they know there is a prize behind; if they can just get the hang of this new “interface”, they can get to the same comfort with these people that they found online.

      Now the danger there, (which is more broadly a danger in hoping that these games will help with social interaction) is that these games will have some insurmountable barrier of difference from the real world. If people can’t find any common endeavour in the real world that gives the same sort of mix of hard work and social time (I recommend volunteering actually) then they may find their online camaraderie collapsing. What is more, gesture systems being underdeveloped, people can just get into the habit of being a bit blank, and not really expressing themselves by body language. This kind of stuff can form a wall to progress and people will just turn back to a situation in which they are more socially rewarded; back in the game.

      MMOs also allow you to ration your dealings with twats, like the internet does, so that you can learn to be more tolerant and resilient by practice that is not so intense to impair learning (ie getting so pissed off you just want to forget about it).

      Also there are loads of people who are isolated by scheduling problems, like mums with babies or people on night shifts. For them, games like this allow them to stop feeling socially rusty and discouraged, because they can talk and play with people in different time zones.

      Aside from the social field, people can gain an awareness of their own skills and capabilities that might not be being currently taken advantage of, and feeling more empowered, take on some courses and stuff to do it.

      But more generally there’s a big reason people get lost in games, their lives are crap! And I don’t just mean that in the mundane way that would be obvious given that their pumping so much time into games, but because they actually lack the opportunities for fulfilment and social interaction outside of their games. A study I came across recently suggested that games aren’t addictive like coffee, but are just better environments for the addicted people. They become a trap when they show up our reality, not because their too easy, but because our real world situations lack interesting challenge, choice, a feeling of progression, or the freedom from being randomly ganked!

      People complain that children and teenagers are playing computer games instead of going outside, when they are too protective to let the little ones out, and too scared of the older ones. They complain about students ploughing time into learning games when they aren’t doing anything like as good a difficulty curve in their courses, and etc etc…

      I’ve said this before, but I think that games need to push the difficulty curve onwards not just into hardcore reflexes, but into more complex problems, and people making real world environments need to do a lot better job making them rewarding and social, so as to get the best out of people. We need that continuum from play to action or people will just get trapped in a team-up of crap work, brainless socialising and irrelevant play.

  23. Hell Kitten says:

    It’s Alec and John… MOVING! This is awesome, we shoud have more moving RPS guys,

  24. TheSombreroKid says:

    i don’t think it’s a bad thing that we as an industry have to justify ourselves this way i think it’s a bad thing other industries don’t, i’d love to see a video like this with people in the movies inudstry, obviously, but also the sex industry, the military industrial complex, customs and excise, the prison service.

    if you can’t explain why what you do is a worthwhile pusuit you probably don’t think it is.

  25. Springy says:

    The still shot on the video before you click to play it: cut footage that shows Leo Tan demonstrating how not to approach a foot-long meatball marinara sub.

  26. Radiant says:

    Stand out bit?
    Giles Richards taking a small beat to mentally confirm that: Yes, you /probably/ will never be the ruler of your own small universe.

  27. Radiant says:

    and thus let it be known that Giles Richards of the Observer speaks the truth.

    I suppose.

  28. Grubblik says:

    @Mario Figueiredo

    Some very interesting points made there and I can only say /agree, your post is well structured and I thank you for your insight, I hope you put this up on the guardians site too.

    Some points though.

    Not everybody likes to go head-to-head in a game (or in real life), there are all sorts of confrontational issues that arise from these situations that some simply can’t or are reluctant to deal with. Whilst I agree that Giles’ tone sounded like it was the only truth, he is quite right in saying that the satisfaction derived from thus engaging oneself is indeed empowering. (Of course, there are many aspects that need to be taken into consideration with this i.e. I don’t know Giles personally so I can’t comment on his personality, also this is a brief moment from a a long interview and that in itself means that we don’t have all the information).

    Whilst I agree with Alecs points that Warcraft is a deliberate time sink, I have to ask is there one form of entertainment that isn’t? Is there a medium out there that is constant brain food? (Can it be said that Tolkien was was consistently enagaing, personally I have found the Council of Elrond a grind every time I had read the Lord of the Rings, even though it is essential to the story). If there a is “perfect medium” if so do we, as humans actually have the capability to continually absorb only the ‘good stuff’, I seem to remember that a child can only absorb something like 40 minutes of education before they turn off to it as actual relevant input.

    I think that maybe we are falling into the trap of thinking of games as the cause of bad situations, when in fact they are more reflections of society, Why did the Romans enjoy the gladiators if not for the chance of blood being spilled? Why do we watch Motor-sport if not for the possibility of a crash? Is it ‘normal’ that we engage ourselves in these activities or is it through voyeuristic tendencies that we resign reality and give in to the gods of interactive entertainment? Does this make us any worse than gaining knowledge of unsavoury situations through film or print? I think not.

    The problem arises with technology being sufficient to replicate these situations in a lifelike manner. We are swamped by media from books to TV, film and games and somewhere in this maelstrom we have to find an equilibrium. With this constant evolution of media I think we have matured in the fashion in which we present these things (The Sun not withstanding) but we also have to continue to expand and push the boundaries, otherwise the whole thing is trite and worthless.

    Anyway, beer is kicking in and I feel the need to vegetate.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      You complemented my thoughts there on what I left unsaid Certainly I agree with you. Our society also shapes the form and the content of our games. So they have the potential to shape behavior, as much as they are a mirror of our society. It works both ways.

      However, also because of that, games can carry with them some of the vices of our societies, making them harder to displace. With the pretext of a game, we indulge ourselves in behaviors we would never have the nerve to do in real-life. This is, as I see it, healthy under most circumstances. John says it, and I agree, kids have so far generally displayed a sane notion of what is right and what is wrong while still playing games with violent content. In fact, I could go as far as saying that nothing like some exposure to violence in the form of a game to train our brains into making that distinction between good and bad, fantasy and reality.

      But,

      There’s a host of other factors that can come into play. Traumatic experiences, social condition, neighborhood environment, school environment, maturity, mental stability, and more, that can create the conditions for a game to become also a suggestive tool.

  29. John says:

    I’m very in agreement with Leo’s last point. Overall a great piece.

    Onto the therapy argument, and mostly a response to Miguel Figueiredo, remember that while emotionally and logically oppressive games are the norm, there is a small fragment off games that simply wish to submerge the game in an happy, innocent world, a la Pokemon (if you don’t take all that weird and strange underworld that the developer’s keep hidden).

    One recent example, on the console side of the world, is Persona 4, a love letter to high school times. Of course no one would suggest anyone having a hard time with life an Ice-Pick Lodge game. That wouldn’t work very well.

  30. jarvoll says:

    Actually, games could be a good first-step in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, used to treat depression, which is (very) basically getting the client to achieve things in order to get them to realize that they CAN achieve things, and to thus change their thinking from “I’m hopeless” to “I’m empowered”. I can imagine a scenario in which a game provides the safe, controlled platform for the first, baby-step achievements that help the client to move on to believing they can set and reach goals in the outside world: relationships, work, &c… I certainly feel I gained a lot of personal efficacy from playing games. Of course, its (moral, legal) use as a therapy would need to be preceded by SCIENCE! showing it actually worked, but I certainly think the potential is there. Also, virtual-reality machines are already in use in hospitals for various things: putting a patient whose burnt skin has to be treated into a VR world of ice and snow has been shown significantly to reduce pain during said procedure, for example.

    However, I’d like to point out that the common, understandable claim that there’s never been a study linking games to violence is, well, a myth in principle. True, I’ve never heard of a study linking games specifially to violence, and I’m not going to brave the psycINFO search system to find out, but there have been *many* studies which basically have kids observe some kind of violent behaviour (in real life, on TV, in a story that’s read to them) and then get put in a room, whereupon they consistently behave significantly more violently than the control kids who witnessed no violence. The conclusions of these studies are unambiguous: kids act more violently after being exposed to violence; I don’t see any reason to think games should be excepted from that. What I *haven’t* heard of, however, is any study showing increased violence a long time AFTER exposure to violent behaviour, nor any study on the long-term exposure to violence (ethics boards have probably prevented the latter). So, yes: play GTA as a kid, and you’re more likely to punch someone immediately following play. But years of regular play = mass murderer? Science has nothing to say on the issue.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      You touch an interesting aspect there. I totally agree games have all the ingredients for a very effective means of therapy. In fact I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this before and no doubt a Google search will reveal to me all kinds of interesting things. On the particular case of Depression, this may be one of the most effective forms of therapy, but only if done under a controlled and monitored, environment.

      Games are, after all, universal. Animals love games. Dogs, primates, dolphins, we have played games with them all and so far we can tell they love every minute of it. A large number of species play in their youth. I’ve seen bunnies playing apparently complex games of catch (if you ever lived in a farm, you know bunnies love catch), or pups multiplaying with a stick. The fact they (and we too) do it at younger ages, during the phase where their brains are more permeable to learning, is in my opinion revealing of the powerful effect of games in the psyche. It’s thus, I think, just one step short of using games as a real form of therapy, away from drugs.

      If there is one thing that can crown computer games in glory, is exactly the development of games that act as educational tools and games that can act as a form of therapy. We already have both. What is lacking is more awareness to this aspect of gaming. Especially towards potential programmers.

      However, we must be careful not to try and then associate Therapy with Entertainment. Certainly there shouldn’t be a reason why therapy shouldn’t be entertaining under these circumstances. Heck, that’s the whole point! But the other way around is not necessarily true. Concluding that because of this, when I play games I’m also making good things to my brain is not so clear. That’s the kind of dangerous thought that can allow all sorts of abuse.

    • jarvoll says:

      Well, quite – this is exactly why SCIENCE! (by which I meant extensive, rigourous study and trial) would be necessary to turn it into moral, legal, safe, and effective therapy. I would hope that most developers (programmers, in particular) would be aware enough of the scientific method that they’d avoid the trap crystal-gazers seem often to fall into: of charging ahead trying to help people with no evidence that your method doesn’t in fact actively harm, let alone consistently help.

  31. Rive says:

    I too think that it is much more important to talk about the danger of getting addicted to videogames than the old violence debate. I also dislike the constant comparison to other media, especially tv and movies. A game can (and most often does) demand a lot more time than a tv show or a movie. Video games also provide the player with much more potent and direct stimuli, like rewards or artifical rewards (most strongly in mmos). Its much easier to dump countless hours into Dragon AGE, COD, Company of Heroes or WoW. Id love to see the whole thing, a lot of the snippets seemed a bit sensational to me. Mr Richards also did us no favor by hammering that hard on escapism and being that enthusiastic about the reward factor of competetive gaming. Leaves the door open for the “look for a reward in the real word” argument.

  32. Dreamhacker says:

    “Is the virtual world more beguiling than the real one?”

    Yes, yes and yes.

  33. skalpadda says:

    On the topic of games, addictiveness and how dangerous that is, surely the danger is that people are too prone to sitting at home in their armchair all day without moving about or meeting people out in the real world. I can’t for the life of me see how it matters whether you’re playing a PC game, reading books, watching TV, building model trains or putting makeup on your Warhammer dolls.

    At least if I’m playing a game I have to engage my brain now and then, but for some reason it’s OK to spend all your evenings watching sports or property porn.

    I do completely agree with Alec though, it’s a bit worrying when games are designed to be time sinks rather than enjoyable experiences.

  34. dogsolitude_uk says:

    “is the virtual world more beguiling than the real one?”

    Yep. If you want to set up your own trading business in a sandbox RPG like Morrowind you can do so without having to register as a company or sole trader, paying tax, taking out public liability insurance.

    You don’t have to worry about national insurance contributions for henchmen or providing health and safety training etc.

    If you want to camp in the countryside and light a fire you can do so without being charged under the Criminal Justice Act 1995.

    There are always plenty of quests and jobs in guilds too, with no lengthy application forms or interviews that ask you questions like ‘when did you last go the extra mile to exceed expectations?’ or ‘what is your greatest achievement?’. You also don’t get turned down for a job due to ‘lack of experience’ either.

    If someone attacks you you can hit them back without worrying about being sued, and you don’t get IDed in bars or generally treated like a criminal if you try and buy a beer because you look under 65.

    Oh, and in Morrowind and Oblivion, houses are affordable/obtainable.

    I could go on, but the lack of red tape and general sense of freedom is what does it for me.

  35. Surgeon says:

    Some interesting points there, but watching that, I’m constantly distracted by wondering what happened to the rest of Leo Tan’s cardigan?

  36. Carra says:

    The comparison between 24 & WoW isn’t exactly fair.

    You spend 24 hours watching the TV show and you’re done. Even if you watch all 7 seasons you’ve only lost 7×24 hours. Then it ends.

    Now, for gaming, I have a grand 200×24 hours spent in WoW. And it never ends.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      The comparison between 24 and WoW is completely fair because it’s not a comparison about length; it’s a comparison about how engrossing they are. The same argument can be made about every good TV show: there are people who watch all the episodes one after the other and will spend ten or more hours straight watching that show, just like there are people who will spend ten or more hours playing a video game.

  37. Pod says:

    I LOVE WALKER, BEST OF ALL THE R-P-S.
    I LOVE WALKER, HE’S MY FRIEND.*

    ps: The Cameraman/Director combo should be shot. That poor glasses-man had no face for a while. And they made Alec look like he was doing that blugheyblurgheyblugheyblurghey noise people in cartoons do with their finger and lip to signify stupidity.

    *He’s not.

  38. Leo Tan says:

    In every link to this piece I have found there’s intelligent discussion on everyone’s points except mine. I have, however, always had my cardigan mentioned.

    I win, right?

  39. H says:

    You’ll never go up against someone in real life in a fight?

    I beg to differ. Okay, a slip of the tongue, but I’ve served in two of HM Forces so I don’t appreciate comments like that!

    Good overall “article” though, excellent points especially from John about Longest Journey and Dreamfall.

    • Leo Tan says:

      I’m with H. I’m ready to smash fools in the face at the drop of a hat.