Review of video games - what brought us their creation: problems or scope for creativity?
Are video games something more than that 'little machine' with addictive and, in some cases, violent games that causes so many headaches for parents and guardians? Do they have a use beyond pure entertainment?
They began to become popular in the 1980s, when streamers and gaming chairs did not yet exist. Forty years later, El Rubius, the Spanish 'Youtuber' with the most followers (over forty million), bases its content on them, and those ergonomic seats, prepared to spend hours and hours in front of the screen, have slipped in among the most popular gifts expected by the little ones in the house at Christmas. The video game industry has grown to the point of billing, in our country alone, 1,747 million euros in 2020, according to data from the Spanish Video Game Association.
Precisely from the weight of the sector, its ability to create truly irresistible content and the themes of some of the most cutting-edge video games arises the eternal debate that divides supporters and detractors.
Last week a thread went viral on Twitter in which David Ferriz, a video game designer, defended the ability of these products to encourage children's creativity. He showed, through a series of videos, how some of the dynamics of the game's virtual universe served him to play and carry out new activities with his children on the other side of the screen.
"My experience is based on my children, but I think that video games, like any other cultural product, such as books, movies or music, can serve to encourage their creativity," Ferriz explained to RTVE.es. “They are a motivation, just as a child watches a series and spends hours drawing his characters, if he has fun walking with a character on a stage, it can serve as motivation to go for a walk in the countryside and pick fruit as he does in the game," he adds. It is about, defends the designer, spending time with the little ones and encouraging them to do new things.
"I wouldn't let my kids watch The Godfather or play GTA"
"We cannot put all video games in the same bag and we must always take into account the age of the player, but some could help foster certain skills and educate in certain aspects", Pablo Barrecheguren, neuroscientist, doctor, explained to RTVE.es in biomedicine and author of Neurogamer.
"There are games that are designed as if they were slot machines, but they don't all work the same," argues Barrecheguren, citing Broken Age, Guacamelee or Hollow Knight as examples, a game recommended for ages 7 and up that, he says, "gets you hooked." The same way a book could, but at the same time, it manages to be interesting without overusing certain mechanics.”
However, the problem comes when minors have access to products that are not suitable for their age. "I wouldn't let my kids watch The Godfather, or play GTA," says David Ferriz. “Both are masterpieces, but they are not suitable for children. Parents are able to choose movies for themselves, but sometimes video games are not."
The importance of parental supervision and control
Abel Dominguez, clinical psychologist and specialist in child and adolescent psychology, also finds in video games a source of educational possibilities. “Through them you can talk about bullying, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, you can talk and educate. There are very complete video games, which can even promote family fun and provide positive processes on a social level”, he underlines.
However, in the case of children, the role of parents is fundamental. The video games will arrive, if they do, once all the obligations have been fulfilled and may not be available as long as the minor wants to access them. Tutors, says Domínguez, have a responsibility to choose the right video games, so that they can learn things while having fun, as well as finding the balance between games and activities outdoors and the virtual world.
For this psychologist it is crucial that access to them is controlled or authorized and he recommends their use as long as it is subject to parental control. "We have to get really excited, become professionals in digital parental control, because, although it's worth it, there are also risks derived from abuse," he warns. "We are parents of the 20th century educating in the 21st century, but new technologies and video games are here to stay and we must be able to adapt."
For his part, Marc Masip, a psychologist and specialist in addiction to new technologies, is clear: “For me, video games, currently, those that exist now, serve to distract. Regarding the level of socialization, they are a tool that the only thing it does is isolate the children more. I am quite against it."
Since 2018, the World Health Organization has included video game use disorder on its list of diseases, characterized by a "persistent or recurrent" pattern of gaming behavior. Masip admits that there are “good” videogames but, he insists, “they are not the ones that are played. You play Fortnite, Call of Duty, FIFA, video games with an addictive, economical complement and constant game trying.
“If I were a father, my son would not play at home. Of course, he would explain very well why, he would give him education. As a parent, the first thing I would do would be to find out why they are bad, or not," Masip argues.
Social isolation, substitution of other activities for gambling, aggressiveness or loss of control are some of the risk signs that indicate a possible addiction to this type of content. Marc Masip encourages looking for activities outside that room, "encouraging them to go out, play sports, look for other alternatives that are fun." However, he warns "video games are prepared to attract much more attention than being with your family."
The danger of 'freemium' video games and 'loot boxes'
As a developer, David Ferriz also sees aspects in the sector that he dislikes, business models that, he says, bring the video game industry closer to that of games of chance, and that are even more dangerous if they are implemented in content aimed at minors . He refers to video games with a 'freemium' mode and the incorporation of 'loot boxes' ('loot boxes' in its Spanish translation). Both terms generate rejection among followers and detractors.
The 'freemium' modality involves the free purchase of the base game, but then offers a series of payments as the game progresses. For example, the player can purchase new levels or certain add-ons. "Special care must be taken, especially with those that involve a betting system," explains Barrecheguren.
This betting system is embodied by the 'loot boxes', surprise packages that the player buys to get a kind of reward unknown until the moment of opening them. “There is nothing wrong with paying to acquire something specific, but it is different when you include the factor of chance, that is, when I buy an envelope or a box without knowing what it contains”, says David Ferriz.
Almost 30% of young people between the ages of 11 and 17 in Spain have consumed this type of product in the last year, as revealed in the report by the Domin-Us Project, from the International University of La Rioja.
Another typology to take into account, according to Barrecheguren, is that of "video games that never end", as is the case with Fortnite. Games that are constantly renewed and updated, with independent games and new seasons that make it an infinite product. In this case, the player does not have the goal of overcoming a certain number of levels and the experience becomes a constant source of stimuli that leads to addiction.
'Serious' video games and plots for adults
Educate children in values, but also adults. According to Pablo Barrecheguren, some video games are capable of that. He brings several examples to the table, including Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. In it, the protagonist has schizophrenia and the story aims to break stereotypes about mental health. “Neuroscientists and patient associations were consulted in its design and the results are currently being evaluated.”
In addition, it mentions other examples such as That dragon, cancer, which tells the story of a family that must face the diagnosis of their son or Peacemaker, a strategy game in which, through decisions based on real events, you must manage the conflict of Israel and Palestine until reaching peace.
David Ferriz recalls that "video games are not just those sold in stores, created exclusively for fun." Serious games are educational games, used for years in classrooms and work environments. “A few months ago we developed a clinical simulator for medical professionals to train skills with a virtual patient. Video games become one more tool that, used in the right way, can be very powerful”, he concludes.