Sunday, 19 August 2012

Video games are baaad, m'kay?

This week the Telegraph published this not-at-all alarmist piece about how children who do the most studying, reading, sitting up trees, stargazing, portrait painting and sleeping, grow up unable to throw or catch a ball. For shame! These poor studious mites, slaving behind their desks perfecting their Shakespeare, and then getting in a good extra kip before school the next day, yet unable to perform such a basic game as catch. *sniff*

Okay, I lie. In true let's-put-today's-youth-down fashion, the headline actually screamed "THE COUCH POTATO CHILDREN WHO CANNOT THROW OR CATCH", apparently because they spend "too much time in front of a screen". Interesting. A kindle? A cinema screen? An iPad perhaps? They don't seem to specify, the reason for which becomes abundantly clear as soon as you look at the actual research, which, completely unsurprisingly, the shoddy first-rate Telegraph journalist clearly hasn't even read. Or has read, and decided to bleat out the popular, bandwagon-pleasing "Video games are baaad, m'kay?" anyway. For the research doesn't even measure or record time spent playing video games. Nor time watching TV. Nor time reading a kindle. Nor time playing on an iPhone. Nor actually any other time "in front of a screen", as they so blithely put it. 

What was actually measured was sedentary time, ie time that could incorporate time sitting behind a school desk, sleeping, chilling out, lying in the grass contemplating the stars, sitting up a tree, napping, and any number of 'papertime' activities, which are sister activities to the ridiculously grouped 'screentime' activities, and include writing letters and stories, jotting down to-do lists, devouring books, charcoal drawings, watercolours, reading music, and making paper aeroplanes (out of Telegraph pages that annoy you).

If you read the research in detail, you'll see that this lot of scientists have decided that because another scientist has previously grandly declared, "Sedentary time could include watching TV and playing video games!", then they must do. Scientific! The journalist has then extrapolated this to mean 100% of this time would have been "watching TV or playing video games". Even the time at school. Ooh I love a bit of robust journalism.

If you also have an afternoon with a grumpy baby with a cold who needs feeding every two minutes, and hence have the time and the inclination to sit here and do the maths, you'll find the minimum time covered per child in the research was ten hours per day over two weekdays and one weekend day. And of that 30 hours, likely 11.5 of them were spent at school. Oh yes, because these were, without exception, Portuguese school children. So, taking out time for PE and lunch breaks, after ironically having to sit at a desk for lessons, that would leave, say two hours on each of the school nights and about 7 on the weekend day to sit and chill out, read a book, watch a bit of TV, lie on a tree branch watching the leaves, play a couple of computer games, sit and sketch a landscape... sounds lovely to me, but on those timings, BAM! Suddenly these children are unable to throw a ball!

Oh. Except they're not. Because this bit of the report is fictional too. No balls in the research. (But plenty in the paper apparently).

So the automatic recommendation from these completely fabricated conclusions is - quelle surprise! - less playing video games. Booo to system-based reasoning and discovery of the scientific method! Thumbs down to the gameplay that propelled these people to make unprecedented breakthroughs! Down with Wii-hab! Raise those pitchforks at the things that can be learnt just from a single game!!!

No. I don't agree. It's not what I see from my children every day. And not what other unschooling parents see either.

So I will take my own conclusions from the research. It shows that a significant number of schoolchildren can't balance well on a beam, and it is unknown whether they play video games, which have been shown by previous research to boost cognitive function. So moving forward, my children will unschool and play video games. Wow, look at that, when you're not a broadsheet hack toeing the popular line the research really is in favour of video games!

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