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I’m a cynical bugger at the best of times. But when @emmajell blogged about an Xbox event aimed at mums, I couldn’t help but think of an Xbox marketeer, all pasty faced, wide-eyed and big ears (no sunlight for hard-core gamers you see) rubbing his (definitely a ‘he’) hands at all these mums he was converting to the Xbox. Or more precisely, all these mums who would now let their children play on it, willy nilly.

Let’s start with the Kinect – surely a pernicious threat to household harmony. Now, by using cuddly, friendly Wii-like stealth, every single previously-charming family will have a blood lusting pre-teen foaming at the mouth when they hear that a new map has been launched in MW2. Microsoft does not make its money out of a family pretending to do athletics in the front room. It makes millions out of ‘serious’ games, the 300,000 people who are online *right now* playing Modern Warfare. These living room party pieces are just ‘gateway’ games. Like a harmless sniff of glue turning into a serious crack problem – in no time, little Tarquin will be throwing grenades, not javelins. Possibly. (I have no evidence to support the notion of gateway drugs, let alone gateway games)

As one comment says, the level of violence in gaming is mind-blowing. Not purely the goriness, but the rate at which you become desensitised. I was terrified when I started playing Rainbow Six. Now, to me, it looks like the Mr Men. This hit is addictive too. Every release has more stomach churning noises, more cruel ways of inflicting pain and death, more insane car crashes. They simply wouldn’t sell without that adrenalin rush.

Stereotyping of women in games is an interesting one, too. Given that, sadly, most characters in games are male, the pressure is also on the male stereotype. Ruthless, muscle-bound, aggressive, foul-mouthed to a man. If you see a woman in-game, at least she is rarely trying to slot you. Women are stereotyped in games, as are men. Both, again, make me want to keep the Xbox ‘adult only’.

Parental controls? This I’d love to see in action. Have you tried switching off a game in mid flow? Not only do you lose ranking points, but you risk losing gamer friends as you suddenly weaken a team and they all lose points. It’s not as simple as an auto switch off. I’d be furious and I’m a fairly rational adult. You are completely caught up in the moment. Bursting that bubble is like throwing cold water over a sunbather. You should expect screwface.

Can we solve some of the world’s big problems through collaboration in games? Possibly. As long as those big problems involve ‘What is the best way to blow up an Apache Helicopter when you only have Flashbangs and a pistol?’ Apologies if that sounds flippant, but I just can’t see anyone playing (let alone paying) for a game that solves real-life problems. I’d love to be proved wrong (please!), but I want to escape the real world and it’s complex problems when I game. The only problem I can tolerate is how to get a Wotsit in my mouth while simultaneously aiming a sniper rifle.

I don’t mean to make light of it, but 10,000 hours in-game does not an expert make. (I’m not convinced that it works in real life either, having invested far more than 10,000 hours in preparing meals, I still make some stinkers) I have just totted up my Xbox hours -1500ish – around two months’ solid gaming. Nothing compared to ‘serious’ gamer friends. I go for weeks at a time without playing. Looking at the stats, one has got 27 days solid on MW2. That’s a lot of hours, on just one game. He’s pretty handy with an assault rifle, but he’s nowhere near some, and he’s hardly a world beater. It would be an interesting experiment to try to learn something useful in that time. But one of the key reasons for those hours is very late nights, long sessions and highly addictive games where points and ranking really matter. Hardly what we’re trying to create.

I have had an Xbox for 7 years. It is now a key piece of tech in the house, a portal for films, social media and music. But when it comes to gaming, it is adult-only tech. I think it’s fantastic that the games industry is reaching out to women and children more. There is a lot of fun to be had. But don’t think it’s some sort of panacea for society’s ills. Don’t think that thanks to 10,000 hours in a mind gym that a double first in PPE from Oxford is a dead cert. And don’t think that you will have the one teenage boy who doesn’t think sanitised, deathless war is a great idea.

My son will not play games on the Xbox until I’m absolutely sure that he can cope with the worst that is out there. You think the games are bad? You should hear some of the conversations in the ‘live’ environment. If you think gaming can pollute a young mind, don’t get these rooms started on politics, religion, you name it. More terrifying than any war game. I’m kidding myself if I think he will experience anything short of that.

  • Andrew Baxter Jul 13, 2011 Reply

    When you said that you are up to 1500 hours online, it made me think that Microsoft are not making the most of in-game advertising. They could sell real estate on the maps. Imagine blowing Starbucks to bits with a rocket launcher!

  • Swissss Jul 13, 2011 Reply

    Yes. I've done some in-game ads, but not nearly enough. I just don't think the ad networks get it, cos it's not the 'traditional' online audience and I guess it's harder to track without click throughs. It can be measured though. Product placement is getting bigger all the time. It won't be long before we're supping Red Bull on our way into Vegas….

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