How To Make Sure Video Games Sound Bad: A Guide

By Leon Hurley on at

Like almost anything in the world, games can have positive and negative influences on the culture that surrounds them. And while there are plenty of positive examples and encouraging stories about games and the people who play them, it always seems to be the negative that's emphasised by the outside press - and they've got it down to a fine art.

A recent Neurology Now piece, called "Game Theory: How do video games affect the developing brains of children and teens?", is a near perfect example of how to write about games as an almost exclusively harmful activity. In fact it's a masterclass that perfectly illustrates how to write your own video game horror story.

Firstly, ensure the title is a question not a statement. By avoiding the definitive 'how games affect kids' in favour of wondering 'how do games affect kids?', you're free to pose the idea of an effect without ever really stating it outright, leaving that phrase hanging in the air: 'video games affect the developing brains of children and teens'.

It's also best to make sure you find a worst case scenario to start with too. In this case it's Anthony Rosner, who made a short university documentary called IRL – In Real Life about how his gaming addiction meant that "real life was virtually nonexistent... He neglected his schoolwork, relationships, health, even his hygiene". That's also handy as it lets you write up quotes from a two-year-old film as if you just spoke to the guy (just make sure to avoid mentioning his second film, IRL 2.0: In Moderation, where he talks about games being okay if you don't overindulge). As the article later points out, "Nine out of 10 children play video games", so make sure you only pull out an unflattering example.

It also helps if you talk about old studies in vague ways. Saying things like, "As far back as the early 1990s, scientists warned''...", or "A study published in the scientific journal Nature in 1998 showed..." And if you mention this Chinese thing ensure you bring video games to the fore instead of the "Internet Addition Disorder" mentioned in the abstract and previous coverage. Similarly, when you say things like, "with news about video games turning kids into bullies or zombies", or, "violent video games are of concern to many experts", you don't need specifics like the actual news, experts or concerns in question. Also make sure one of your key interviews has a vested interest in the topic. Someone like "David Greenfield, Ph.D., founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction".

It's worth noting that talking about this stuff and including sub-headers like "Got a Gaming Addiction?" helps demonise the subject at hand despite having little to do with the original question. And if you really want to hit it out of the park then have another sub-header like 'THE DEVELOPING BRAIN ON GAMES' followed immediately by talk of more addiction, violence and dopamine release (which can be triggered by all sorts of things). Again, you don't need specific connections or explanations, you can just put it all in the same general area and raise an eyebrow suggestively.

You can also get around problem statements like "the concept of game addiction is difficult to define" or "the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states more research needs to be done before 'Internet Gaming Disorder' can be formally included" by opening with phrases like, "Yet despite mounting evidence about the cognitive, behavioural, and neurochemical impact of gaming...". It doesn't matter then if the experts and the 'standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders' disagree because there's 'mounting evidence'. Somewhere.

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You definitely don't want link to sources or mention anything past the "early 2000s", so avoid stuff this:

Actually, you can mention it but keep it to a single paragraph and move on quickly. No point in dwelling on that.

If you get all this in place, when you do finally get to talk about how the brain's "prefrontal cortex—the locus of judgement, decision-making, and impulse control—undergoes major reorganization during adolescence", then you've made the threat clear. Despite the fact that's it's as fundamental a part of human biology as puberty and can be affected by any ongoing behaviour. Definitely avoid articles like Adolescent Brains Are a Work in Progress which explains things with less bias: "If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they're lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive."

If you get all that right then you can avoid the fact that all you're really doing is vaguely alluding to some decades old research while talking about basic developmental biology and then frowning in the general direction of video games. Do it well enough and you'll get other people to write your piece up as if it's actual news and fresh research despite quoting nothing written in the last ten years or actually citing any kind of paper directly at all.

So why do it? Well, because people will read it. Fear and danger is far more interesting than Minecraft charities. The Daily Mail doesn't write about cancer almost every day because they want to inform. And who really wants to read quotes like this from a 2013 Time Magazine article?

"No one’s yet produced a study linking video games to violent crime, and where behavioural researchers claim to have found relatively weak links between violent video games and increased aggressive behaviour, those studies fail to quantify or contextualize said aggression. More aggressive than playing (or watching) something like football? Drinking several cups of coffee? Engaging in other forms of gamesmanship? "

No, if you instead propose a vague idea and then mumble around a collection of old research that fits what you want to say then you can work wonders, creating a sort of nebulous menace that games can break children's brains without ever having to actually address it with anything as definite as 'this is how'.

Then people will read it.