Is gaming corrupting youth?

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

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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

Sabrina Harris
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

Richard Lewis
veteran games journalist

Carl Miller
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,; author, Radical Blake

Produced by
Dr Shirley Dent communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake
Freddie Sehgal Cuthbert student; contributor to spiked
Recommended readings
Book review: Death by Video Game

Simon Parkin asks what makes video gaming so addictive, if not downright dangerous

Carl Miller, National, 20 August 2015

Gamergate's Cold War William Cheng, Huffington Post, 26 June 2015

Anti-Arab stereotypes persist, even in console games James Tennent, The National, 23 June 2015

Why do we like video games?

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

#Gamergate: we must fight for the right to fantasise Brendan O'Neill, spiked, December 2014

Gamification is taking over our lives, and it all came from video games

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 well

Martyn Perks, Independent, 10 October 2014

Fact or Fiction?: Video Games Are the Future of Education

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

Censoring Video Games Is a Dangerous Path to Go Down Abdul R. Siddiqui, Mic, 7 January 2014

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