Q&A  | 

Digital game adiction, prejudice or reality? With Daniel Aranda

"[young people] prefer physical interaction over staying at home and playing online. Perhaps we should reflect on the public spaces available to youngsters and how we adults allow the latter to enjoy them".

Tags: 'Digital transformation' 'Ética'

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Daniel Aranda is Information and Communication Sciences professor and GAME group researcher at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. His research focuses on forms of consumption, cultural practices and social dynamics related to digital entertainment and leisure.

He currently co-directs the "Digital Social Education" project which explores how the Internet and social media allow young people to become political actors as well as involved in social, cultural and economic political life. It also designs the guidelines for a digital social education specific to social education centers for young people.

According to the parental control tool Qustodio, during the confinement, Spanish children doubled the number of hours they spent with online and video games. The same trends can be observed in the use of social networks. What are the consequences of hyperconnectivity among children and how has the pandemic impacted digital habits?

First of all we would have to talk about increased connectivity rather than hyperconnectivity since it can be associated with dysfunctionality or pathologies. 

This increase in connectivity is not just a response to the lockdown but rather a general trend which tries to make up for the lack of social relationships. 

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what would have happened during the lockdown if we all -children as well as adults- had not been able to entertain ourselves, converse and, of course, work or study remotely thanks to technology.

Today's minors not only play but also socialize through electronic games, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic. Their idols are professional gamers. Are online games becoming too important for children?

Digital entertainment is part of the social context in which we live: an increasingly digital society. Online social interactions are becoming increasingly important in areas related to banking, shopping, healthcare and, of course, entertainment. 

This is a reflection of our society. However, in the research we have carried out among minors (12+) results show that they prefer physical interaction (playing in the park or meeting friends) over staying at home and playing online. Perhaps we should reflect on the public spaces available to our young people and how we adults let children and youngsters enjoy them.

It is estimated that gamers spent about $175 billion (Source: The New York Times) on software alone in 2020. Is there a problem of global child addiction to online games and does the gaming industry take any kind of position on this?

There is no global child addiction problem: there is no data that can prove this fact. 

It is, if anyone can think such nonsense, a prejudice, a socially reinforced idea that digital gaming is not a culturally valuable resource. 

What does exist is a certain laxity in the industry and in the legal system towards a certain type of digital game oriented to minors that enhances games of chance through surprise boxes or equivalent.

China - whose government blames online gaming for the increase in childhood myopia, as does the UN, and for poor academic results - has regulated the consumption of online and video games under 18, banning it from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. and limiting it to 90 minutes a day during the week. Do you think that governments should regulate gaming among minors?

I don’t think China is a positive example in terms of regulating the freedoms and entertainment of young people or adults.

In any case, we have to keep in mind that excess of digital gaming boils down to the adults responsible for the minors.

The best policy is good family environments and leisure spaces four children and youngsters. The adults in the family are responsible for the different gaming proposals that enter the home. 

Together they should reflect before deciding on a purchase, so as to contrast interests and values according to the specific circumstances of sons and daughters.

Likewise, Chinese President Xi Jinping is forcing large technology companies to regulate gaming themselves and spread cultural values. Although in the Chinese case there may be political motivations, do you think that gaming is shaping too many aspects of the lives of the children who use them? Should the type of content they disseminate be regulated as well?

The video game industry has already self-imposed a regulation, the PEGI code, which obviously has room for improvement.

 Any cultural resource has implications in the way we see or understand the world: literature, cinema, television, comics, music … To take for granted that regulation simplifies the problem is totally inoperative because it is based on the assumption that our society is defenseless, it has no criteria and the administrations should moderatewhat is seen and how it is seen, what is played and how it is played.

I insist, family values (which are diverse) are the foundations not only for digital leisure obut also any other aspect related to maturity or cultural and social growth. 

Educational institutions (formal or non-formal) should also reflect upon stereotypes, attitudes or commercial models embedded in digital games as well as any other cultural resource.

In addition to entertaining, do electronic games seek to 'seduce' and win the loyalty of users through tactics that are too aggressive for minors?

We have to consider what we are talking about when we talk about video games: is Clash Royal the same as Super Mario? Many voices are currently putting their finger on the sore spot about video slot games or certain slot mechanics in video games. 

I am referring to those video games whose design includes chance after payment (gambling) to obtain more revenues: the famous loot boxes (chests or supplies) that they give away, so that you get to know them and then buy them, and that earn you improvements or advantages in the game. It becomes evident, as I have commented above, that it is a subject to regulate. 

We must start from the premise that video games respond to the desire or need of many minors -also adults- to experience pleasure, to develop motor and instrumental skills, and, above all, to enhance social ties and exercise different aspects of their personality and identity within their group of friends.