I‘ll come straight out and tell you that I’m an avid video game player, have been since I got hooked on Donkey Kong Jr. when I was ten years old. From dotty eight bit graphics on my first Vic 20 to the Pentium 4 powerhouses and monster video cards on my home network today, I’m a technology junkie of the highest order. A simple decision by my parents set me down the path of intelligent adoption early in my experience: I begged for an Intellivision, they got me a Vic20. Suddenly I’m programming instead of mind numbing button pushing – I’m a creator not just a user. Twenty years later I’m working as a systems trainer and technician.
From that brief biography I give you my reaction to the documentary called “First Person Shooter” I saw on CTV last Sunday (www.firstpersonshooter.tv/index.html), created by Robin Benger, a TV producer and film maker. Rather than simply trying to scare you while appearing to keep a semblance of veracity and professional indifference, I’ll try and unpack all of the assumptions and the real intent behind this lightly veiled propaganda. In its desperate attempts to stay on top I find the current popular media (and in this case medium of television itself) taking poorly researched, rather desperate shots at the latest distractions. In the case of “First Person Shooter” the father of a child deeply addicted to a game called “Counter Strike” uses his own medium (he is a television producer and film maker) to analyze and ultimately criticize his child’s dependency on media.
The general issue of addiction can be dealt with in fairly specific terms. Game playing, even in its most chronic form certainly can’t be quantified as a physical addiction. At best it can be described as a reinforced behaviour. What reinforces the behaviour of a chronic player, a need for control, expression, respect? Online playing is not just the wave of the future any more, it is here today. Community, interaction and team building are a huge part of the modern online gaming experience. A child addicted to this is a child addicted to a need to belong; not exactly a damning statement; and one that prompts the question: why are these things so lacking in his non-virtual existence?
What is especially laughable about Mr. Benger’s documentary is that he uses his medium of television to debunk a new and competing medium for media. I wonder if he is more upset that his child is having trouble prioritizing his life or that he isn’t supporting Mr. Benger’s own media infatuation. The question of what benefits television has in attacking a competing medium must be an integral part of this examination.
There is a small step between an addictive personality and an obsessive one and in either case they can lead to amazing, expression or discovery. The price people pay for this kind of infatuation can also lead them to depression and ultimately make them unable to support their need. In short if you’re shooting for a small target like genius you will often miss and the results aren’t pretty. If a child becomes so infatuated something that it consumes their lives, it seems to me the best way to push through it is to assist them in swallowing too much. They’ll eventually force themselves away from it and in doing so their rejection of the infatuation will surely be more meaningful.
In the meantime we’ve got something like video games, that many older people simply don’t accept. They find it threatening, difficult to understand and so place a low value on it. As a gamer (with a fine arts background and an honours degree in English and Philosophy) that gaming has been churning out exceptional pieces of art for many years now. As the technology continues to improve the media presented on it will only become more immersive and meaningful. Whereas once printing allowed for the widespread, sedentary activity of reading for the masses, and movie and television furthered the trend towards sedentary, cerebral entertainment, video gaming has reintroduced the entertainee as an active participant in the process. In doing so it promises to further enhance our ability to express and understand our selves and the reality around us; the goal of any media.