Jet Set Willy. New Zealand Story. Chuckie Egg. All sources of great pleasure for me. For many, these words are nonsense, but for some, they bring back great memories. They are, of course, classic computer games.
Correction: WERE computer games. And, more specifically, impossibly difficult computer games from the ’80s. I have been a gamer myself ever since my dad brought home an Amiga 500 computer in the late ’80s and I am still one today, even as I slip inexorably towards my elderly 40s.
Evidently I am not one of those who believes that gaming is just for kids and, although there is criticism leveled at the hobby (from normalising violence to simply being a waste of time), it is an activity that brings pleasure to millions every day. That said – like much that is fun in this world – it is important to enjoy it in moderation.
Despite the gamer stereotype of being someone hermit-like, shunning both companionship and natural light, gaming can be a very social activity. Groups of friends can get in a room and band together to take down virtual armies or compete in football tournaments (once they’ve argued endlessly over who gets to be Barcelona).
Whether you do it solo, against online competitors or in a group of mates, there is a lot of appeal to the gaming life. And that appeal is broadening too. Gone are the days of it being predominantly a male pursuit. Many more women and girls are playing (some stats suggest they outnumber men now) and the advent of mobile gaming has extended that reach further, with a game to suit almost any taste or time frame.
So, good news then? Well, yes, for the gaming industry certainly and for gamers themselves, who can enjoy a vast array of console or phone-based fun. Got a few hours at home to spare? Or five minutes on a bus? There’s a game at your fingertips if you want one. But I must steer this rambling towards a semblance of a point. And that is about the potential muddying of the waters between gaming and sport.
E-sports is becoming really big business. The top players and teams compete in competitions around the world and are well rewarded for their efforts. Not only that, but millions more watch their travails online, following their wins and losses on a global stage. What we have is millions of fans watching teams, who are sponsored by international brands, playing games. Sounds in many ways very much like football or other traditional sports.
But, for all the fun to be had gaming (or watching others gaming), it is still a sedentary activity. That’s why moderation is important. A balance needs to be struck between engaging in gaming and sports/physical activity, to keep those ever-widening waistbands in check. But is a grey area is developing?
BT Sport recently announced it will be broadcasting a hugely popular FIFA gaming/eSports competition. There’s nothing new about broadcasting gaming competitions, but it’s normally online and this is not only on a mainstream broadcast channel, but one that is dedicated solely to sport. If this was to prove popular then e-sports could get further coverage, and it would certainly be cheaper to show than many existing sports.
My concern is that if gaming is seen as a sport in a traditional sense, then there is a danger of diluting and damaging the physical activity message. In the US, eSports are already overtaking traditional sport in terms of viewing figures (one eSports final outranked both the NBA Finals and the World Series in 2014). And this is backed up by player numbers too. That same year, in the US, there were 67m monthly players of popular game ‘League of Legends’, compared to 24m playing basketball regularly.
If we as a society want children to engage in more sport to live healthier lives, then it doesn’t help to have any confusion over definitions. I realise that not all sports are very physical, but gaming is already extremely popular and the issue of children being stuck to screens needs to be mitigated, not made worse.
Unfortunately this move to bring gaming onto a sport channel strikes me as the thin end of the wedge. I can see it happening more and gaming becoming seen in the same ‘sport’ category as the physical activity we seek to advocate so strongly. Would you have a section on full fat cream cakes on a TV show about slimming?
As I said, I am an avid gamer, but I do some exercise as well. But then, I grew up in a world where video games weren’t omnipresent and there was a greater emphasis on active play. It is the popularity of gaming that has propelled it into the same league as sport and led to it being on the same bill, but it is very different beast. Watching football on TV won’t necessarily inspire a child to play the game for real, but it might. Watching someone playing a football video game however, will, I fear, only ever serve to inspire a child to sit on their sofa for hours and hours on end.