In Real Life

Let Off Some Steam: 'If You Define People By Their Hobbies, I Feel Sorry For You.'

Yesterday, Fairfax columnist Katherine Feeney wrote a piece titled The Games We Play. The opinion piece suggested that men who play video games are dull and lack the social skills to engage in romantic relationships. Kotaku reader, CookingMama, decided to respond.

As I was writing this article, I had to consider carefully why her comments sparked my ire so. Commentators make sweeping generalisations all the time, usually to provoke a response from their readership. I think in this case, however, it was an argument so poorly constructed that I felt the need to share my own experience (and hopefully that of others).

My husband and I have been married for eight years this year, and we’ve been together for 14. He’s a PhD in computer science, works long hours, plays soccer all year round, watches rugby league and cricket with a passion and loves taking our little son to the beach on the weekend. I think he’s quite a catch.

He also plays video games. Lots of video games.

“…video gaming promotes a lifestyle that is socially counter-productive simply because it takes up time that might otherwise be spent out of the lounge-room, socialising…”

According to Ms Feeney, people (and I refuse to say men) who play games are wasting their time, when they could be Out Socialising.

The Digital Australia 2012 Report from Bond University reveals some interesting information about the consumption of video games by Australians, and their attitudes toward them. The average age of people who play video games is now 32. That’s a lot of people who are old enough to be established in their career, have a young family, and value their precious spare time. And yet they choose to play video games. (My husband and I are both 32).

The assumption here is that if you are playing video games then it must be taking something away from the rest of your life. Apart from being a patronising view, the distinction between a hobby and an addiction should be made very clear. A video game addiction will certainly have an impact on your social life and ability to form and maintain relationships. But so will an addiction to anything else. If you have trouble meeting people and forming relationships, playing video games is more likely to be a symptom of an underlying emotional problem than the cause.

As for getting Out and About, I fail to see why playing games in particular are any worse than watching TV, reading a book or staring at the Internet for hours on end. If I had the choice between having my husband at home playing something on the XBox or having him out at a pub getting drunk and Socialising every weekend, I’d choose the game every time. Less vomit to clean up, for starters…

“…the well documented controversies surrounding the portrayal of women in video games as some sort of indication that perhaps the messages aren’t really helping us all be friends and have healthy adult relationships. Healthy adult romantic relationships, that is. Ones built on good communication skills, mutual respect and reasonable expectations.”

Ah. Because some games feature scantily clad women with bouncy boobs, video games are therefore Bad For Society. What utter nonsense. I could list many games that have wonderful female characters, but really, that’s beside the point. Just because I think that The Hangover 2 is an awful movie that no one should ever watch, that doesn’t mean all movies are just the same, or that anyone who watches that movie should be dismissed out of hand. That would be ridiculous.

Video games are not, and should not be, role models for young people. Neither are movies, magazines, TV shows, music videos, books, sports people or anything else for that matter. The most important role models in learning about relationships are your family. Their example (good or bad) is what will most likely shape your relationships in the future. They help you make your first friends, help you deal with bullying, fights and breakups and will (hopefully) help guide you through the maze of your life.

Now that I’m a mum, I wonder what sort of man my little boy will grow up to be. I also know that it’s our responsibility to teach him about how to value others and treat them with respect, how to recognise damaging stereotypes for what they are, and that his behaviour online should be the same as if he was in person. When it comes to unreasonable expectations and forming unhealthy relationships, I see pornography as a far greater threat to young men than video games.

Video games are not just the domain of teenage boys who sit in the dark and can’t get a date. They’re a part of everyday life in Australian households, played by grandparents, mums, dads, kids and their friends. Somehow in the last 30 years people have managed to develop their social skills, find a partner, get married and raise their kids, all while enjoying playing video games.

If you’re not into video games, that’s ok. I really don’t like golf. But if you define people by their hobbies, I feel sorry for you. You’re going to miss out on meeting some very interesting people.

[Image courtesy of NeatoShop]