bq. This article was written for ‘Spider Magazine’:http://spider.tm, published July 04. The following is the unedited version:
Computer gaming in Pakistan is a strange two headed beast. Gaming is a great pastime, enjoyed by millions all over the world, yet somehow that’s not the impression one gets in Pakistan. Walk into any of the numerous gaming cafe’s in Karachi – they all seem seedy, with the dim lighting and the funky furniture topped with large second hand monitors failing miserably to make the place seem ‘cool and happening’. The very same faces are visible day in and day out at these places – hey, don’t these people have other things to do? How is it that they can spend so much time at these places?
A familiar complaint of all, rich and the middle-class, is that there is nothing to do in this city. _(The less well off are too busy dealing with more pressing issues to have the luxury of such thoughts)._ One hears this echoed all over Pakistan, over and over again.
So is there really nothing to do in the urban centers of Pakistan? This is nothing new – the same is said in many other countries all over the world. It’s more a question of apathy then of running out of things to do and places to visit. For a generation brought up on TV, gaming is considered a sport, and activities involving more effort are just that. Theirs elders disagree, but then what do they know?
Gaming is addictive, and many gamers are as addicted to it as a drug addict on drugs. The facts bear this out: an informal survey revealed that the proportion of ‘hardcore’ gamers to the ‘casual’ ones seems to be unhealthily high. This was an extremely unscientific survey, but it did cover a wide range of people going to many different places for their gaming fixes. The main idea was to get a sense of the ‘gaming scene’, and I think it adequately served for that purpose.
There are many alternatives to gaming: hobbies, sports, travel, work, love… the entire spectrum of one’s life beckons. The problem with gaming is not that there’s something wrong with it, but the fact that it doesn’t add anything to one’s self. While most, if not all sports, are pointless, they serve a vital need – that of exercise and fresh air. Gaming is not so much a sport as a pastime – it can be argued that it exercise’s ones brain, but only to a certain extent. Gaming is not intellectual – for one is stuck in the confines of a very limited artificial world as defined by a bunch of programmers working in a committee under a deadline. Even in the best of games, the thinking involved is hardly creative or challenging. The most commonly played games in gaming cafes all over the world are FPS games – which are not exactly mentally challenging. Even strategy games like Starcraft, Generals, and whatever the latest one is, are hardly mentally challenging – sure one has to plan and play according to certain factors but all the games tend to follow the same patterns, with a lot of mindless mouse clicking.
Does one gain anything at all from computer gaming? I play computer games now and then in my free time, and have been doing so for 15 odd years now, and I can honestly say that no, they haven’t positively contributed to me in any way. The infantile argument often made is that you gain quick reflexes – but scientific studies have shown that these reflexes are primarily limited to motor nerves in the hands and arms, and there is not a corresponding increase in muscle mass to make these slightly improved reflexes of much use in the real world. Visual acuity is the most improved, ironically at the expense of one’s eyesight.
The majority of faces seen at the arena’s are quite young, mostly school going kids predominantly male.
Some parents use these gaming arena’s as babysitting places – they drop their child off and pick him up whenever, assured that he will still be there whenever they get back. You can’t blame them either – in today’s world there aren’t many alternatives, and those kids who love gaming will avidly play for as long as possible. Regardless of the practicality, gaming arena’s are completely unsuitable places to leave children.
Yaseen, a casual gamer: “Young kids pick up bad habits from the local gaming arenas, bad habits like fights, drugs, porn, smoking, they basically fall into bad company which leads to all the rest… also, If you play too much, it gives you a nasty headache and you get bored of it.”
Unfortunately, children all over the world show no signs of getting bored with their playstations, xboxes and computer games.
At the end of the day, I would cast gaming into the same slot as watching sitcoms on TV. You learn even less while gaming, and it’s just as time wasting as being a couch potato. The biggest issue with gaming (or watching TV for that matter) is that one is not involved in any creative process whatsoever. Instead, one becomes a consumer of prepackaged entertainment dependant on the next hit release for enjoyment.
Alternatives? Look around you – there is so much to do. Life is chaotic – it’s not a process of picking up a menu and deciding what one wants to do today, or what game one wants to play. This article was initially titled ‘Real life calling – alternatives to gaming’, but no one can make such a list – the possibilities are endless.
*Update:* The August issue of Spider magazine has a rebuttal to this article. It basically consisted of flat out denying all the points above.
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