Game Buzz is a weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. This week, we try to look impartially into the accusations that gaming is like snorting cocaine. Note we said 'try'.
So according to Steve Pope - a therapist, psychology lecturer and mental health practitioner, who's probably now just a giant brain, having evolved beyond the needs of the physical body - an hour or two of videogames is equivalent to snorting a line of cocaine. I've grown somewhat bored of the media and so-called psychologist's opinions on the detrimental effects of videogame addiction, but Pope's claim is so unimaginably stupid I had to rub my eyes, refresh my browser and wonder if I'd somehow reverted to April 1st.
But I checked my calendar, and it was most definitely May. An April's fools joke in May is either very badly timed or perhaps rather genius. Pope, whose home is probably decorated with diplomas ranging from child psychology to feline exorcism, revealed his findings to the Lancashire Evening Post, with testimonies from suffering videogame addicts with names like Jack and "Preston boy", who speak of their frightening obsession with videogames, how they'd sometimes spend 24 continuous hours on the demonic box. I, however, have one vital question:
What game were they playing that was so good they'd spend an entire day on it? Because I want it. Right now!
Seriously, though, Pope's claim is wonderfully idiotic. Cocaine is a Class A drug. It's very addictive, and in high, regular dosages can severely damage you. Withdrawal from cocaine addiction is deadly. So how, exactly, is two hours on Call of Duty the same as sniffing coke? I've gone weeks, sometimes months without videogames. I've longed for experience in Call of Duty, for collecting orbs in Crackdown, but I've never resorted to lurking on street corners, asking passersby for a spare Tamagotchi.
Videogames, like any popular hobby, can ensnare a person and develop an addiction. But unlike drugs or alcohol or Star Wars memorabilia, there's no physical addiction involved, it won't cripple your liver or your lungs or heart or, in fact, any of your vital organs. You might get a little bit of RSI or a tad of eye strain (then again try working in front of a computer 40 hours a week!) but that's about it. Pope believes the adrenaline rush from an exhilarating videogame proves addictive in young people. It's responsible for obesity, poor attendance records, and antisocial violence. If that's the case, then why not temper their diet of epic games with some bad ones? If they play a lot of Call of Duty, force them to endure the fires of Daikatana. That'll teach them.
Yet again, the issue of violence in response to videogame addictions is summoned. Oh, and apparently rising levels of obesity and poor attendance is a result of playing too many videogames, as well. First, when playing a game, you're hands are full. There's no way you could clutch a hamburger or some nuggets as you furiously fire away at that damn sniper camping on the roof in Overgrown. You probably sweat more from your hands when playing a videogame than you do watching X-Factor and wondering what mediocre singer is going to get a record-deal next. And if parents are so worried about their children growing fat off a diet of Call of Duty and Halo, then stop feeding them crap! Or at least attach the controller to a treadmill or exercise-bike and tell them the only way to power the Xbox is by running five miles to produce enough power. Simple. Problem averted. Presidential status confirmed.
What's particularly amusing Pope's article, is the testimonies he drew from his suffering videogame-addicts. "It was like a demon had got inside my brain and I just couldn't stop," reveals Jack, from Garstang, which sounds like a location in Middle-Earth. Maybe the boy does have problems. Jack's words, however, seem more appropriate for another bad exorcism movie than an academic report on the nature of videogame-addiction. “I lost touch with my mates, started doing badly at school and became an angry and aggressive person that wasn’t the real me.” How many controllers do you own Jack? Because if you've got more than one, and a copy of Gears of War, then I'm pretty sure you could convince the boy with the long hair who draws pictures of dead people to come round for a few matches of Horde. Videogames are a social activity. Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, LAN-parties, World of Warcraft. It's no longer an embarrassing hobby. I write about videogames, and yet I find most of my friends more involved in Halo than I am when we play.
But Pope's stand-up routine only gets better. From left-field, he then begins to claim adults are in danger of videogame addiction too. "I am working with one family where a 74-year-old grandmother is addicted to online poker, her daughter is addicted to eBay and has bought 270 pairs of shoes and her grand-daughter is addicted to Facebook." She's 74 years old for Christ's sake! If she wants to live out her remaining years by refining her poker-face, I say go for it. And the daughter is addicted to shoes? Well, this is new. Unprecedented, even. Maybe I was wrong after all. Oh, and if you're sarcasm-meter isn't piquing off the charts, then this article really isn't for you.
In the aftermath of Pope's report, the media, both for and against videogames, began to take an interest in his findings. After all, likening videogames to cocaine is a tabloid journalists dream. The headline's set, and the article writes itself! However, Rossignol and Gillen-fronted gaming site, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, managed to nab an interview with the honorable Steve Pope. In the interview, they question Pope on his lack of research cited, or evidence to support his claims. Pope believes statistics are "lies, lies, and more lies", and believes in his own experiences, not "relying on reports".
So, essentially, Pope made it all up. I suppose he could pull the religious card, and claim God, via a message, sign, Facebook status-update, told Pope he must declare to the world the danger of videogame addiction, and how its threat rivals that of a Class A drug. I actually prefer this type of videogame prejudice. At least he's not unveiled a veritable case-study of research, with people like 'Subject A' and 'Man B', focusing on the psychological repercussions of acute cerebral videogame mental deficiency disorder. You can boil Pope's report down into a succinct sentence.
The guy's nuts.