My own leisure snobbery

Over the weekend I was forced to confront my own snobbery about what is a good use of leisure time. As I mentioned, we have a Nintendo Wii, and given the adverse weather at the weekend (overseas readers – it snowed in the UK, causing national hysteria), we stayed in quite a bit. My daughter played with the Wii for a while, and then I asked her to stop and switch to board games (which she did happily enough). It made me think about why I have a mental equation which goes something like ‘computer games = mildly bad, board games = good’. Why did I feel that the computer games needed to be rationed in some way? I accept the claim about sedentary lifestyles and obesity (although anyone who thinks a Wii is sedentary has never played one, I am currently suffering from ‘wii shoulder’ brought on by some over-energetic stretching during a tennis match), but given that my daughter does ballet, horse-riding, gymnastics, swimming as well as playing a lot with her peers, she is far from sedentary. And board games are hardly active, yet they don’t come in for the criticism computer games receive. No, it’s more about other pursuits being deemed more worthy.

As many have pointed out, including Steven Johnson (who has also blogged about the Wii) in ‘Everything Bad is Good for you’, there are a lot of intellectual and social benefits to computer games. I’m probably the last generation to have this snobbery (I wonder what my daughter will be snobbish about? She’ll probably tell her children to stop confusing the android and go and play some virtual reality games). I remember being admonished by my parents for reading too much as a child, so maybe it’s just the old parental adage that whatever you’re doing you should be doing something else.

5 Comments

  1. “I’m probably the last generation to have this snobbery” – I’m not sure about this.
    I grew up playing lots of computer games but for the past few years, me and various other people I know (without really discussing it) have come to the conclusion or at least indicated that playing computer games is a waste of time. Confusingly, I sometimes find myself looking into new games (like Zelda) in an effort to avoid becoming a snob. But I still can’t help feeling that long periods of time staring at a screen and immersing yourself in an imaginary world would be better spent doing something else.
    Board games have a more communal/family feel to them – I re-discovered this over Christmas. Playing games like “Monopoly”, “Risk”, etc. was really fun compared with the frustrating feelings I always got when “stuck on a certain bit” in a game and playing something to basically “complete” it.
    As you indicate, what I’ve just said about computer games could be said about books – hardly communal experiences (except for people talking about them which happens with games too, probably). However, the hours you spend reading seem to pay off more – with many books, you get unique viewpoints on the world and relationships and people and articulations of theories or feelings which you may not previously have been able to express. I guess it depends on the kind of book you read but I can’t see that computer games offer nearly as much.
    (I am twenty-two years old.)

  2. This reminds me of the Mill/Bentham Pushpin v Poetry debate. It’s easy to get caught up in an either/or false dichotomy when obviously, playing computer games and reading Wordsworth are both OK in moderation.
    As a librarian running a homework club, I used to stop children from playing shoot-em-up games during the sessions. This wasn’t any moral judgement on the games themselves — although I sometimes wondered how good it was for eight-year olds to practice mass-murder — but simply a way of ensuring that limited time and resources were put to best use. I let them play educational games and there are lots of good ones on the bbc website ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/games/ ) and if they didn’t want to do that they could always read a book. Sadly, unlike you, they were never very keen to do this.

  3. I suppose in some ways this snobbery may help computer games – books are usually associated with learning, knowledge and authoritative voices. (Look at this Susan Sontag essay – http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,,2035899,00.html – on how authority is at the heart of books and why we need it…)
    Computer games on the other hand – depending on the kind of games – might enable kids to learn without realising its what they’re doing. Even if the only thing they are learning is how to use a computer…
    Not that these are ground-breaking ideas or anything. I’m just thinking out loud 🙂
    Guy

  4. Have you read “Got Game – how the gamer generation is changing the workplace ” – by John c. Beck and Mitchell Wade? See http://www.gotgamebook.com/. The OU Library has a copy.
    It’s about the skills that people get and the lessons that they learn through gaming and how they use these skills/behave in the workplace. So far I’ve only bought ‘educational games’ (eg. Dorling Kindersley CDs) and for the PC only for my 5 year-old daughter. But having read this book I’m on the look out for anything that may appeal to her idea of fun. I’m no longer going to worry that gaming will turn her into a social outcast although I do still think that it’s important to have a balance between computer and non-computer play.

  5. Hi Anne,
    no I haven’t read it – sounds similar to ‘Everything bad is good for you’ in a way. I agree that doing non-computer play is important still, but yes, like you I’ve come over to thinking that just having games that are fun is okay – there doesn’t have to be an educational message every time.
    Martin

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