The glossy lead page of today's Sunday Times Magazine carries a face-on image of a 14-year-old, Ben, playing the 18-rated GTA IV.
The newspaper likes to think the arresting picture - all inky hair, felonious eyebrows and emotion-less concentration - tells us something about 'what online addiction is doing to our kids'.
It doesn't. What it does tell us, however, is how desperate some pockets of our national press have become to vilify video games in an age when public understanding and appreciation of the medium is at an all-time high.
So desperate, in fact, they'll endorse minors interacting with brutal adult material for the sole purpose of... well, actually, I still can't put my joypad-tapping finger on what exactly the reader reaction is supposed to be. Other than uniform outrage, that is.
How in all of Liberty City is it deemed not only okay but actually cover-worthy by The Sunday Times editors to subject kids to violent games in this way?
If they were running a piece on underage drinking, would they snap an adolescent supping Jack Daniel's in their photo studio? Or for an expose of pornography habits, stick a tweeanger in front of Debbie Does Dallas and record the hilarity that ensues?
Of course not - that would be morally abominable, right? But games? No worries. They're a toy, after all.
Perhaps the Sunday Times wants to frighten Middle England's parents into thinking the video games industry is spoon-feeding their offspring mind-warping filth; that the UK's youth is becoming malignant, joyless and addled by this nefarious plaything.
Heck, with the darkened backdrop and gloomy stare, little Ben looks like he's even transformed into somewhat of a threatening chav. The horror!
But, really, who's the irresponsible one here? The industry which robustly regulates all of its material - and which signs up to potential custodial punishment for any retailer caught selling adult material to kids? Or the honourable broadsheet which sanctions young people being exposed to severe adult media?
If there's one message parents should take away from the image, it's got nothing to do with 'online addiction' - it's 'don't trust The Sunday Times to take pictures of your children'.
In fact, the image comes from UK photographer Robbie Cooper's new exhibition, Immersion. The newspaper also carries Cooper's face-on pictures of 10, 11, and 12-year-olds getting stuck into Rockstar's latest violent escapade - as well as an engrossed Alex Kinch, 12, taking on the blood-splattered Call Of Duty 4.
Now, I'm no connoisseur of the art of the life still-photo - and Newsnight Review may well see things another way. But this doesn't appear 'daring' to me; rather foolish and needlessly close to harmful.
In Cooper's defence, the images form part of a wider work profiling our obsession with the digital screen - which also features plenty of images of adults (and babies) viewing TV programmes, websites and movies.
Except, these non-gaming pictures aren't printed in The Sunday Times. It makes no mention of them.
The paper takes what it needs from Cooper's work to support its unsettlingly one-sided anti-games 'expose' and tacks them on. Bizarrely, the cover story the pics are awkwardly married to - an investigation into teenagers getting hooked on PC MMORPGs - has very little to do with GTA IV or CoD4.
Not that you'd know it if you weren't au fait with the massive differences between these games and the Warcrafts and EVE Onlines picked on in the piece.
Author Anmar Frangoul has it in for games from the start. Two paragraphs in, he's already claiming: 'Kids start by watching CBeebies; a few years later they're playing Call Of Duty.' Yes, Anmar, they are. If they're part of a heavily orchestrated photoshoot. Widely distributed by the newspaper you work for.
And it goes on. 'Next time you see your son, daughter or flatmate glued to a video game, take a keener interest. Have they eaten properly, washed themselves, been to the toilet?'
Quite how one would ascertain if their flatmate had loosened their bowels of late without breaching the most inappropriate of enquiries mid-FIFA is unclear; Frangoul's agenda far less so.
The journalist cites two recent studies on the terrible addictiveness of video games. One is a 2007 study published in the journal of CyberPscyhology and Behavior, by Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, 'which found that one in every nine gamers displayed at least three signs of addictive behaviour'.
Two pages later - ineffectively stuck near the predictably scaremongering denouement of the article - Griffiths clarifies: "I've spent the best part of 22 years studying technological addictions and the people I've met who have been genuinely addicted have been few and far between... TV was demonised when it first came out; the internet is getting the same treatment."
The other study cited is the Government's infamous 2008 Byron Review, from which the piece prints: "It is clear that even in the absence of a diagnosable addiction, many children do show excessive game-playing behaviour."
So, just to be clear: Two studies from two people - one who doesn't believe clinical addiction to games exists, the other who believes very few people suffer from it.
Whether or not compulsive playing of video games is a cause or syndrome of a desperate situation for some teens is still inconclusive, then - making the best course of treatment for those 'hooked' on MMOs still very much open for debate. Unless you need to hang a Sunday Times article on a bit of fabricated certainty, that is.
Pardon me for getting a touch anecdotal, but if games really are the be-all-and-end-all of these kids' problems, may I suggest their parents emulate my own mother - who perennially removed my Atari STE (never forget the E) from my room during school term time. I was grumpy about it, but, you know, she gave me food and that. Problem. Solved.
Do kids really need to go to a cash-gobbling 'games addiction clinic' to achieve the same outcome?
The Sunday Times seems to think they do. It interviews Broadway Lodge in Weston Super-Mare, which last year opened its doors to 'games addicts' - for a hefty price. 'Several gamers have already been treated here,' reports the paper, 'and [Broadway] is convinced that the numbers will increase.'
I should suppose they will, too: Helped particularly by the phoney panic generated by this weekend's Sunday Times Magazine, and the shameful images its creators used to emphasise their assumptions.
News via http://www.computerandvideogames.com....php?id=243175
I believe that to be a stock photo, with a false name.
For some reason, all the news outlets target the Grand Theft Auto titles. But if they really wanted to make an impact and decrease the sales, they wouldn't promote it in the forms of telling people not to buy it, knowing they would do the opposite. The media also promoted the Manhunt series by Rockstar, which they created a small demand for the hard to find PS2 games.
You've got to love these people who spend their days demonizing these games.
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