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Guns Don't Kill People - Games Do?

Why outrageous claims about videogames continue to generate interest

Sometimes it's genuinely difficult to fathom out what's actually going on with society, and quite how we've even made it to the Information Age at all. It seems to be ingrained into group nature to respond to innovation with such fear and contempt that one can only assume living through the Industrial Revolution was one long and extremely uncomfortable panic for all concerned.

Given the hysterical reaction to last week's tabloid assertion that videogames were now responsible for causing Rickets in children - a disease most commonly associated with a lack of Vitamin D or calcium, and most prevalent today in developing countries - it's hard to work out what readers of such stories must have thought. Would they take such claims seriously and start eyeing that console under the telly with suspicion, or would they rightly dismiss them as a cynical attempt to shift tomorrow's chip paper?

So where did it all come from? Unpacking the claims a little, the facts at the root of the 'story' are based on solid, scientific research - essentially that there's been a rise in cases of Rickets in children, and the evidence points to not enough time spent outside.

It's clear that where there's a problem, the dangers need to be communicated. The scientists concerned have identified through research and analysis a worrying trend and released the findings - along with speculation as to what could cause or exacerbate the issue.

That speculation isn't unreasonable, as far as "not enough time spent outside" goes - but of course the problem lies with how far that argument is then extended, and crucially what's missing along the way.

The majority of the nonsense written last week seems to indicate that the reason why children were spending too much time indoors was because of videogames, and the tone in the vast majority of pieces proceeded further in establishing that therefore games were giving kids Rickets. Anybody who's worked in the games industry in the past decade or so will see a pattern in the formula used to calculate such solid conclusions. It goes something like this:

Society has a problem, and there must be a cause. What has been influencing society increasingly recently? Well, everybody's playing videogames these days. That must be it - look, little Johnny's sitting in front of the TV instead out playing in the park. Problem identified and neatly gift-wrapped.

You can substitute this Rickets problem for any number of society's modern day ills, including obesity and violence, because the underlying argument is nothing new.

Now - children contracting Rickets, or becoming obese, or acting violently are all serious issues which need discussion and attention, so why is it so fashionable to try to box all the difficult questions in with one oversimplified answer?

The truth is relatively simple, in that inappropriate engagement with videogames can cause all of those issues with children. If they're playing games indoors all of the time, they're unlikely to be getting enough Vitamin D. If they're playing sedentary games all of the time without doing any exercise - and eating the wrong kinds of foods - they'll put on weight. If they're accessing adult-rated content with no ability to contextualise what they're seeing or doing, they may be influenced by on-screen violence.

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