Casual games bring families together. Whilst it sounds disgustingly like an insidious marketing slogan, that’s what PopCap are telling us after revealing the results of a recent survey of casual gamers – the largest survey of it’s type ever conducted, according to their claims. However, upon closer scrutiny of the figures, the conclusions drawn could prove to be misleading.
Without regurgitating the figures from the survey or the Gamasutra article that caught my attention in the first place, the results of the survey and the way they are presented are questionable. Whilst there are most definitely many positives to be highlighted in the results – such as almost half of casual gamer parents feeling that playing casual games improved their children’s vocabulary, language and history skills and 92% of parents stating they felt that casual gaming helped them bond with their children – what people aren’t commenting on is the fact that, despite all the warm, fuzzy feelings being shared by families that play video games together, all this ‘family bonding’ and ‘quality time’ is being enjoyed staring at screens, indoors. What about away from the computer?
Playing For Keeps, a non-profit organization focused on child development through play, had some less optimistic statistics available regarding how kids are spending their time these days. According to them, ‘unstructured’ outdoor activities have declined 50% over the last generation, and, perhaps more sobering, the average American two-year old spends more than four hours a day in front of a screen, whether that be a television or computer. Of course, in the interests of impartiality, it’s not immediately clear where they got this information – just like PopCap. Anyone can manipulate statistical information for their own evil machinations, but even if these figures are remotely true, then perhaps it’s about time we sat up and took notice.
Ordinarily, my advocacy of all things game is not called into question. However, whilst the results of PopCap’s survey indicate that casual gaming has it’s bonuses, the overall situation is somewhat less picturesque than we may be led to believe. Whilst I’m not suggesting anything as radical as destroying televisions en masse and a return to communal living in the mountains, isn’t anyone else a little concerned that maybe – just maybe – we’re becoming way too reliant on electronics in our homes? I’m most definitely in favor of families spending time gaming together – but not at the expense of time spent away from screens, out of the house, in the glorious sunshine. If we get to the point where electronic intermediaries become vital to our relationships with our children, then we’ve got a serious problem.
I think it’s great that so many families are using gaming as a way to spend time together, advance their language and numeric abilities and to learn to cooperate with each other towards common goals – but let’s not forget that tossing a frisbee around can be fun, too.