Train2Game feature: Why Baroness Susan Greenfield’s views on video games are ill-informed

Train2Game students may have seen this BBC debate last week, based around Neuroscientist Baroness Greenfield’s theory that people who play a lot of video games can have an increase in “aggression and recklessness”

Appearing on the BBC’s Daily Politics show, Greenfield was given a platform to air her views, which she herself admitted could be construed as biased…not a good way to start the basis of an argument.

“There’s an increase in aggression, increase in recklessness, high levels of arousal, decreases in pro-social behaviour. Of course this paper itself has been critiqued as biased, but that is the nature of scientific evidence, it’s very rarely the killer paper, the conclusive paper.” said the Baroness.

“As a neuroscientist, it is a given that the brain adapts to the environment, the human brain is exquisitely evolved, more than any other species, to adapt to wherever it is placed.” she continued.

“It is a given that if the environment shifts to a two dimension world, with only hearing and vision being accessed, it is a given that the brain will change. Most people accept this. The big question is it good or bad? What do we want to do about it? Lets try and unpack the important issues that come from that. But no one will dispute the plastivity of the brain.”

It’s certainly a strange point the Baroness makes. Her argument is that people change when left in a ‘two dimensional world,’ which despite here being applied to playing video games, could count towards anything: watching TV, watching a film, or even reading a book. The implication is that people who spend all their time alone playing video games will have their brains altered. If this did indeed turn out to be the case, then why isn’t Greenfield focusing the same attention on other entertainment mediums?

It was at this point in the debate that The Telegraph’s Tom Chivers attempted to add balance to the debate, but he was, arguably unfairly, cut off before Baroness Greenfield went back to speaking.

“Let’s think of two separate things. One is the anecdotal evidence, and frankly, I’ve yet to meet a parent that says ‘Do you know, it’s great that my kid spends so much time on the computer’ that’s the first thing.” she said on the BBC.  

Firstly, the use of anecdotes is hardly the sort of evidence a scientist should be using to draw conclusions, and secondly, it’s a real shame that Greenfield appears to use the debate to jump on the ‘video games are no good for children’ bandwagon.

As previously reported by the Train2Game blog, there’s evidence out there that games do help children with learning.  In this video presentation, Gabe Zichermann discusses how the use of video games and game mechanics can improve everyday life, be it learning in schools, or training in the work place.  Indeed, just lack week the Train2Game blog examined games as a learning tool in this post about the Serious Games Expo.  One particular game, Ludomedic, is an educational game for children in hospital. It’s unlikely that it’s going to cause children to become aggressive.

Of course, Ludomedic is hardly Call of Duty, but if game ratings were properly adhered to my parents, children wouldn’t be playing the 18 rated Modern Warfare 3.

Moving on from anecdotal ‘evidence’, Greenfield goes onto state that children are spending more time in front of screens. This doesn’t just include video games, but also watching TV, surfing the internet and so on.

“Second, are the statistics that are coming out. For example, a recent study in the states showed that between a child’s thirteenth and seventeenth birthdays, over half of them were spending 30 plus hours in front of a screen outside of school.” said the Baroness.

“That’s at least five hours a day not giving someone a hug, not looking someone in the eye, not talking to friends, not walking along a beach, not feeling the sun on your face. That’s the first thing.”

For starters, spending time playing games is far from the old stereotype of someone locked away in a darkened room not talking to anyone. People speak to each other online, be it talking to friends over a Call of Duty session on Xbox Live, chatting with a World of Warcraft guild, or even Train2Game students communicating with each other on the Train2Game forum.

Secondly, Greenfield’s argument that it’s time not doing other things doesn’t make much sense. No matter what a person does, it’ll be taking time away from doing something else. Going to the cinema? Well, you won’t have the sun on your face then. Are you driving somewhere? Well, you’re not giving anyone a hug.  Coming from a scientist, who we already know has an agenda against video games, it just doesn’t make sense.

Chivers once again tried to stick up for video games and the people who played them before once again being cut off by Greenfield, shortly before the debate finished. If you can call it a debate, because it hardly seemed balanced with Baroness Greenfield getting plenty of time to talk about her views while Mr. Chivers seemingly was a second thought throughout the debate.

The piece generally perceives video games and the people who play them in a negative light, something that Train2Game students and those in the wider games industry will surely object to because despite her scientific background, Baroness Greenfield doesn’t actually offer any conclusive evidence here. She doesn’t cite sources, she uses anecdotes and makes crass generalisations about the lives of people who play games.

As evident on the Train2Game forum, and throughout the Train2Game blog, the games industry is full of dynamic, creative, social people, none of whom appear to be made reckless or aggressive by the games they help produce.

Perhaps one day there will be a debate on the BBC about the benefits of playing computer games, but so long as people like Baroness Greenfield are producing reports with an anti-games agenda, it seems it won’t happen.

Stick to the Train2Game blog for more positive news about video games.

What are your thoughts? Leave them here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

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