I have to admit I was taken aback when Peter Jackson opened his op-ed about a children's charity initiative with the phrase "video game fanatics." He was talking about the response to a Twitter salvo he launched against the video game marathon held by Sandbox Gaming last weekend. The marathon raised money for Easter Seals, a charity that helps children with disabilities.
That's needlessly incendiary, I thought to myself, and I'm afraid it only got worse from there.
"It wasn't the charity I was after," Jackson goes on to say. Of course - you were just after the organization providing the charity with thousands of dollars. That's a...meaningful distinction?
That's when Jackson delivers the analogy that he says his Twitter argument hinged on, which he claims was misunderstood:
On its website, Sandbox Gaming describes itself as an outfit that hosts marathons to raise money for charities that, among other things, “promote play.”
My analogy: it’s like holding a Texas Hold’em tournament to raise awareness of gambling addiction.
Jackson's beef with Sandbox's marathon appears to be that since video games can be addictive they shouldn't be marathoning them online. He claims that "video games serve very little purpose in terms of career development." Here's why his argument is ridiculous:
1) Saying that video games can be addictive is not an argument against video games.
People can get addicted to sniffing glue. Is that an argument against glue?
The awful reality TV show My Strange Addiction features people addicted to eating random household objects like light bulbs and laundry detergent. Is My Strange Addiction an argument against random household objects?
Jackson argues that video games can negatively impact scholastic performance. I'm here to tell you that books can do the exact same thing.
I've procrastinated studying for many an exam by curling up with a good novel. I can't remember ever seeing a tirade against book addiction, because books are a long-established medium, whereas video games are new.
Even movie addiction almost never gets talked about. Give video games another century and the alarmists will have moved on to whatever new medium is threatening to undo civilization at that time.
2) In no way does Sandbox promote the message that kids should marathon video games.
During the 80-hour marathon Sandbox's many members took turns playing games, for an average playtime of probably 4 or 5 hours.
Compare that to the fact that the average American watches 5 hours of television daily (I couldn't find stats on Canadians' TV habits but I assume they're comparable).
Would Jackson rather kids languish for 5 hours in front of a passive medium notorious for promoting mindless consumerism?
Or would he prefer they engage with an active medium that encourages children to think of themselves as the hero - someone who is powerful and who has the ability to have a meaningful impact on the world?
3) Suggesting that Angry Birds represents the entire medium of gaming is like suggesting 50 Shades of Grey represents all of literature.
Jackson admits "I’ve been addicted to [video games] in the past," and then goes on to spend four paragraphs describing Angry Birds to support his argument. "Video games serve very little purpose in terms of career development," he concludes.
Mr. Jackson, if you're spending that much time playing Angry Birds it makes perfect sense to me that your view of video games would be narrow.
Might I suggest Super Monkey Ball 2 instead, which doctors play to warm up for surgery, since research shows it helps them make "37 percent fewer errors?"
Or perhaps a round of Starcraft. Cognitive scientist Mark Blair has studied the game, and he "can't think of a cognitive process that's not involved in Starcraft. It's working memory. It's decision making. It involves very precise motor skills."
What else gets praised for using and strengthening all of our cognitive processes? Oh yeah, making music. Can't remember the last rant I read against music addiction.
Minecraft is used as an early education tool worldwide. Children are more likely to cooperate after playing a cooperative video game. There's evidence that video games help improve the reading skills of children with dyslexia. There are games that educate children about environmental issues. There are games designed to help fight poverty.
You should really expand your video game literacy beyond Angry Birds, Mr. Jackson!
4) The question of whether violent video games increase actual violence is far from settled.
In fact, it's looking pretty good that they don't.
Take this article by Patrick Markey, a research psychologist who has studied the effects of violent video games, where he notes that real-world violence has gone down as sales of violent video games have gone up.
Or this Washington Post article with graphs that show a lack of correlation between video game consumption and gun crime.
Or this study of 11,000 children that found playing video games does not lead to later behaviour problems.
Gaming is the medium younger generations define themselves by. It isn't constructive to attack them for it, especially when you have limited knowledge of the field.
And it certainly serves nothing to criticize a group of young people for using their favourite pastime to raise money for children with disabilities.