Forward Thinking: A few game truths

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Grand Theft Auto - if in doubt, blame the game. Photo / Supplied
Grand Theft Auto - if in doubt, blame the game. Photo / Supplied

Many would have been a bit shocked last week when legendary funnyman Robin Williams admitted to TimeOut that he was a bit of a game geek.

He's hooked on online behemoth World of Warcraft - with its 11 million players - and on Call of Duty, the first person shooter series that last year horrified the planet with a level that had players going undercover in a terrorist cell and killing civilians.

"It's the closest thing to cocaine without having to talk to a dealer," said Williams, a man who possibly has the least violent resume of any male Hollywood star. "You do get the same kind of flight or fight response, especially if you are playing online against real opponents. It's exhilarating and at the same time totally aggravating. Like coke, literally - you're awake, you're paranoid: 'Come to bed'.'I can't, I'm at level 14'."

But this type of unbridled enthusiasm for video games isn't as rare for a man of Williams' age (59) as you'd think. In fact, he's decidedly average.

Though gamers are generally seen as unsociable teens with a penchant for ultra violence, a sweeping study into this country's gaming habits revealed that reality and stereotypes are very different things.

The study, Interactive New Zealand 2010, showed that most Kiwis play video games - 88.5 per cent of homes have a device that's used to play games on, and every single home with children has a gaming machine of some kind.

It also revealed that 43 per cent of over-50s play games, the average gamer is a 33-year-old, and, surprisingly, 44 per cent of all gamers are female.

Now, according to the great electronic entertainment myth, all of these people are anti-social wannabe killers learning their tricks from games like the much-maligned Grand Theft Auto series, or Williams' fave Call of Duty.

That gritty war on terror title last year prompted Michael Laws - obviously totally in touch with the nice gaming folk of Wanganui - to tell his RadioLive audience "Gamers are a very unusual group of people. If mass murder was ever to be committed in this country, it would be committed by a gamer."

Attitudes like this are not unusual - non-gamers who answered the survey thought that gamers played because of the "enhanced violence" in games. Yes, some games are violent. Movies and books are occasionally a bit nasty, too. That's why we have a classification system.

Interactive NZ found that the most popular game category in New Zealand is "family" and that the majority of parents - 63 per cent of whom play themselves - are well aware of the games played in their homes, and 95 per cent take notice of ratings when buying for kids.

The other 5 per cent, who continue to be incapable of noticing a big red R18 sticker on the front of a game, presumably would have just as little problem picking up a bottle of Bushmills and a porno vid for little Johnny.

Grand Theft Auto was blamed for an incident in the US where a teen shot three people - probably more for the sake of the hefty lawsuit against one of the world's biggest retailers. He might have been playing a so-called video game nasty, but obviously he was predisposed to violence and stupidity. Was it the parents' fault, movies, aggro content on the TV news? Nope, gotta be the game.

I've played GTA, at length, but haven't actually killed anyone. I do occasionally fantasise about running over cyclists, but that's more to do with lycra-clad robots who don't follow the road rules.

So what's the next game to fall foul of the wowsers who know better than the censors, and to be vilified because of its violent content? Medal of Honor, due out next month, has already been slammed by the British defence secretary because, shock horror, you can play as the Taleban. Watch this space.

- NZ Herald

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