There was a woman on TV the other night, the guardian of a teenager who was pictured in the background, deep in a computer fantasy game, which he had queued round the block all night to obtain, and which he had been playing for, I think, 23 hours. She was saying, in its defence, that it was good for him, that he was being creative and that it was stimulating his imagination. It was pretty hard to gainsay her argument, which was being set against an overarching polemic that computer games are rotting the brains of children. This is one of those issues where I don’t know what to think. It was said that television was rotting the brains of children in the 1960s, and that videos were rotting the brains of children in the 1980s. So either it was true then, or it wasn’t; and the same follows for now. The fact that it is an electronic device somehow gets into the argument (it might be bad for the eyes, but it was argued a few weeks ago that this is an urban myth, with as much scientific basis as homeopathy).
But the argument extended to shoot-em-up games, where the objects of the shooting were blown into heaps of limbs, and of course, where the object of the exercise was shooting itself. The graphic nature of the killing, and the fact of the killing are perhaps two different issues. Was I wrong to play Cowboys and Indians? Did the tiny soldiers which littered my bedroom as a child (half-an-inch tall, you bought them in packs of 50 or 100, I think) corrupt me? I don’t think so. Nor were they any less addictive than computer games.
However, I do have experience of a computer game. It was in about 1994, when I was living on my own again, and my son turned up with a copy of what will now probably be derided as a soft, very basic game, called ‘Doom 2’, which was in its day the thing to play. It involved murdering (with a great deal of gore, and using a machine-gun over which you peered) aliens who came round corners at speed. There were twenty levels to get through. I gave it a go. In no time at all, I was hooked. I played it every time there was nothing else to do. It raised my adrenalin levels sky-high. I dreamed of the fantasy monsters I was destroying. It was actually very disturbing. But then, I was in my late forties, and had not grown up as a user of such games, so my reaction was probably out of all proportion. I remember once, in my twenties, showing a man in his fifties a pair of stereo headphones, which he tried on. He had never heard anything in stereo, let alone through head-phones. His reaction was to weep. (Okay, he was quite emotional.) But the fact was, he had no preparation for the experience, any more than I had for Doom 2.
If the adverts are to be believed, ha ha, families across the country play happy computer games using Wii implements (technical jargon letting me down) – happy families like the footballing Redknapps, in nice middle-class rooms, on nice middle-class seven-seater sofas, with a whacking great TV. Is this true? Is this even half-true? It might be. It doesn’t seem to be doing them any damage (although it may be damaging their bank accounts).
In short, I don’t know if games like this are addictive or not. I was hooked on Doom 2, but I didn’t go out and get Doom 3 (and I have a very addictive personality). I killed a great number of aliens (I had to, because it took me about a week to get through even the first level), but I didn’t head for the hills and start looking for other targets.
So… it all seems harmless enough to me. Still here’s a poem I wrote for a competition (poems on the subject ‘Computer Games’) which it didn’t win, and which takes a robustly old-school attitude. But then it was for a robustly old-school magazine that I wrote it.
They began with a small pair of bats,
with the long-vanished pleasures of Pong.
Space Invaders. Arcaders on Pacman. And that’s
when the whole bang-bang shoot-up went wrong.
Hooked by the pleasures of Dizzy,
or Battleships (work, on the quiet),
your fingers were itching, and twitching, and busy –
what followed was mayhem and riot.
First there are fast cars. The traffic’s
nudged over the highway, at speed.
The image, once naff, is terrific. What graphics!
Watch driver and passengers bleed.
Mother’s upstairs playing poker;
Sis juggles nunchucks, kills wizards.
My son and I kit out commandos in ochre,
Gut Arabs, exploding their gizzards.
Hmmm, a strong and biting attack! But I don’t think I believe myself.