Gaming has long been misunderstood by those who do not consider themselves to be ‘gamers’. At various times, it has been seen as something just for kids, or the preferred free-time activity of nerds and social rejects (that was the case for me as a youngster when my dual interests in gaming and wrestling – yes, those are intended references in the title! – meant I was on the receiving end of a lot of teasing).
Even after the PlayStation made it ‘cool’ to be into games, they were still dismissed as a waste of time and anti-social. And then, of course, there was violence. The idea that games somehow set perfectly normal people off on dark and murderous paths has been there from the beginning. I can kind of understand where it comes from – players become so immersed in good games that it can be hard for a non-player to believe that in-game actions and out-of-game thoughts are not the same. It is still a load of rubbish though. As I mentioned in my recent review of my gamer profile, I love to destroy things in games and make my character start fights when it is uncalled for…. but these are things I do when playing and quit unlike me in real life – honest!
Anyway, the violence tag is a difficult one to shake (even when it completely contradicts the ‘just for kids’ one) and so it was proved this week when it made the news that Clash of Clans is to be banned in Iran because of a report by an unnamed group of psychologists who have deemed it to encourage ‘violence and tribal conflict.’
It is tough to know where to start with this one! I briefly played the game when it was first released a couple of years ago to see what my students were so excited about. It may have changed with updates of course, but what I played was an app version of a classic warfare game. You build a base, collect resources to improve it, defend it from attack and initiate attacks on other bases to earn rewards and further improvements. It is all prepared in a cartoonish style and has obvious appeal to kids and tweenies. Is this truly a game that inspires ‘tribal conflict’? Granted, it is about tribal conflict (hence its name) but surely it would not cause a 12 year-old to suddenly incite his extended family to attack a neighbouring street!
As I said about 18 months ago when Turkey was considering a ban on Minecraft (reposted here earlier today), these games are not really violent. Yes, they include conflict through battles and fights. Yes, there are enemies to be defeated by force. But this is all in the context of a game. You fight for survival. You win and advance. You lose and fail. You try again. You learn the game. That is not violence. That is play. Any game with an element of competition includes conflict. By experiencing this through games, we can be better equipped to deal with it in the real world.
Of course, there are violent games with much more realistic depictions of war, crime and life-threatening moments. However, we have to see these for what they are too – games. The vast majority of people are more than capable of drawing a line between what happens in the game and what happens in life.
Then there is the claim that Clash of Clans could ‘negatively affect family life if teenagers got addicted to the game…’ Er… is it only this particular app that has this level of addiction? Even if that were the case, wouldn’t it then be necessary to ban all apps and digital games? Or at least all the good ones?
This is not the first time games have been banned in Iran, which is a country (fairly or not) known for its censorship of digital media. This article in IB Times cites the national ban on Pokémon Go earlier this year due to safety concerns for players and content-related bans for 1979 Revolution and Battlefield 3 in the recent past.
For me, when games as popular as Clash of Clans and Minecraft are banned or considered for bans, the conversation should not centre on the ‘violence’ or ‘addictive nature’ of the game. Gamers, developers and teachers who have used/wish to use these games with their learners should not need to defend the game or try to explain the violence like it is a potential issue. Instead, we need to work on changing attitudes. We need to highlight the enjoyment and pleasure people derive from games. We need to emphasise the strong elements of strategic planning, problem-solving, and evaluation that successful players employ. We need to show how games can play a role in the fostering or critical thinking skills.
But then, of course, perhaps that is what the people who call for such bans are really afraid of…