Gamers and game journalists routinely deny that video games can have negative effects on people. This denial is rooted in insecurity about their chosen interest and a fear of politicians and other groups who (unscientifically) link video games to violence.
A recent IGN article, dubiously titled “Games Definitely Don’t Harm Kids, Says Huge Study,” is an embarrassing display of this chicken-shit mentality. The article is also a downright lie. This is the final sentence from the “Huge Study” referred to in IGN’s desperate headline:
However, the study suggests that a cautionary approach to the heavy use of screen entertainment in young children is justifiable in terms of potential effects on mental wellbeing, particularly conduct problems, in addition to effects on physical health and academic progress shown elsewhere.
One might argue that we can’t be too hard on IGN since journalists often suck at reading and understanding scientific articles. My purpose isn’t to single out a publication for butchering science, though. The insecurity and fear behind IGN’s ignorant article represent a widespread disease in the gaming community — a disease that needs to be eradicated for the good of video games and their fans.
Do not misunderstand me: I am not for censorship, nor do I feel anyone should blame all of our problems, including violent shooting, on video games. But it’s time for the gaming community to stop running away from the conversation by lying about the potential negative effects of games. If the gaming community continues to do this, politicians and other groups will continue to set the tone for the conversation. This negative, idiotic tone is reinforced by IGN’s clueless article: “[V]ideo games aren’t a source of pernicious evil designed to rot young minds.”
We have the potential to frame the issue of the potential negative effects of video games in our favor. The legal foundation of this more mature outlook is that games, like any form of media, are here to stay due to protection from the First Amendment. This foundation is no different than the foundation of the childish mentality of IGN’s recent article. However, the next logical step separates a mature perspective from an immature perspective: games might have negative effects, but these effects can be prevented through personal responsibility.
Alcohol offers a helpful, though flawed, comparison. After the massive failure of Prohibition in the United States, no sane person would suggest alcohol should be banned across the board. However, we freely discuss and acknowledge the potential problems associated with alcohol. While alcohol is clearly more dangerous than video games, the lesson of this comparison is clear: acknowledgement of potential problems doesn’t make a form of entertainment illegitimate, as long as we promote the idea of personal responsibility. If you drink too much, you might lose your job. If you play World of Warcraft too much, you might lose your children.
Honesty and courage are required to admit that too much of an enjoyable thing can be bad in certain contexts. I mentioned in a recent Fate of the Game podcast that playing Street Fighter IV online made me snap at my wife sometimes. To fix this problem, I stopped playing the game for a while. The potential negative effects of video games are only a problem when we deny them.