Sunday 18 October, 16.00 until 17.15, Cinema 2, Barbican Battle over Technology
Worries about the effects of video games are not new, from the 1976 arcade release of Death Race, which sparked outrage in the US, to the implication of the game Manhunt in the 2004 murder of teenager Stefan Pakeerah in the UK. However, it seems this fervour has intensified of late. This year, head teachers in Cheshire threatened to report parents who allowed their children to play games rated 18 to the police. In the US, numerous mass shooting are alleged to have been inspired by violent games, while in Australia, major retail chains such as Target and Kmart have taken Grand Theft Auto V off their shelves after online petitions set up by victims of sexual violence. Concerns have also been raised about unhealthy obsessions with fantasy worlds, sparked in 2010 when a South Korean couple became so immersed in an online game which involved caring for a virtual infant that they allowed their own child to die of neglect.
The issue came to a head last year with the Gamergate controversy, when feminist gamers took on perceived sexism in the games industry. Their detractors responded that such complaints were patronising and unnecessary. In particular, actor Adam Baldwin described the controversy as ‘a skirmish in the long culture war’ where feminist campaigners sought to ‘enforce arbitrary social justice rules upon gamers…by stifling varying viewpoints’. His supporters also pointed out that the drive to censor games was hardly liberal.
There is also a wider movement to create socially conscious games as an antidote to the violence and machismo depicted in many popular games. This War of Mine is inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo and aims to help a civilian character survive in a war-torn environment; Migrant Trail has the player guiding a Mexican migrant trying to illegally enter the United States.
Are morally conscious games a necessary response to a toxic gaming culture that has gone unchallenged for too long? Why has the drive to purge violence and sexualised content shifted to those who describe themselves as liberal, when such criticism traditionally came from the conservative right? What is it that makes video games so absorbing to their players? What is the relationship between fantasy and reality?
Session introduced by Freddie Sehgal Cuthbert, student and contributor to spiked
Dr Mark Coulson
reader and associate professor of psychology, Middlesex University; contributor, The video game debate and Online worlds: Convergence of the real and the virtual
technical author; longtime gamer; regular commentator on issues relating to freedom of speech and internet subcultures
Christina Hoff Sommers
writer and resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; host, weekly video series, The Factual Feminist
veteran games journalist
research director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos
Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor, tlfw.co.uk; author, Radical Blake
Simon Parkin asks what makes video gaming so addictive, if not downright dangerousCarl Miller, National, 20 August 2015
Play serves a function that enables us to learn new skills, explore new ways of handling old challenges and perhaps learn new techniques for new challenges as well.Naked Scientists, 27 April 2015
With so many people playing video games, it's no wonder that psychologists, policy makers and businesses have taken an interest in the idea of rewarding people for doing wellMartyn Perks, Independent, 10 October 2014
Some educators swear by them as valuable high-tech teaching tools but little is known about their impact on learning.Elena Malykhina, Scientific American, 12 September 2014
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