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Electronic sports: A word of caution for parents!

Vandana Kohli

Updated: August 17, 2013, 1:05 PM IST
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Our world has changed too quickly, and as in all situations of change, some people are profiteering from our ignorance of what's going on.

We are bombarded with new applications of technology - some empowering, some weakening. Because of the pace at which they've coming at us, we don't have the time or mind-space to evaluate their effects on our lives and those of our children. We trust, naively and sometimes out of convenience, that if something is out there in the market, then it must be okay.

That isn't necessarily true.

Electronic Sports:

As the name suggests, electronic sports is a fancy and misleading term for video gaming. "Electronic sports organisations" as some companies call themselves, hold virtual gaming tournaments with players from across the world. These tournaments have been broadcast on TV in the US and on the net. They have live commentators and experts to give tips. And they've created a new term for the full-time video game player - "Cyber-athlete".Full-time video game player, in case you missed.

Does the "cyber-athlete" earn a living out of cyber-athletics? Yes, he does. Big bucks, at that. Enough for gaming companies to suggest to young kids and their parents that if they continue to game and become good at it, they could put themselves through college.

More than that, a "cyber-athlete" makes public appearances and endorses products as well. Just like any other athlete, he can be rich and famous.

Also, he's a super-hero, no kidding. A"cyber-athlete" usually can make up to five moves in one second. As a co-founder of one such gaming company suggests, making those many moves requires skill, visual acuity and agility that even the best non-cyber athletes may not have!

Are you buying? If you are, then take a moment to make an informed choice.

Addictive::

Video games are addictive, more so now, than ever before. Technology has created such powerful virtual imagery that people get sucked into an unreal world, expending good energy and effort towards an activity of no real value.

It usually starts off as a distraction, to keep children busy, teenagers from roaming outside or for young professionals to indulge in after a mentally exhaustive day at work. Then, like gambling, one gets hooked to 'one more game', a tendency that ultimately keeps one at it for several hours.

The effect:

In several of these games you're shooting things down, trying to hold on to a base on a distant planet, or fighting an opponent and his myriad forces. So either you're killing things or you're trying to survive. Each such plot is stimulating reactive circuits in the brain that are aggressive or anxiety-ridden.

Studies indicate to how in the case of younger children and teenagers, such games make them insensitive and even immune to different forms of violence. "Those exposed to violent imagery are less empathetic in their response when they see violence happening to others," says media psychologist Karen E Shackleford, "and are more likely to slap, kick and choke other kids than children who have not been so exposed."

For older consumers, while the notion is that these games are relaxing, they are actually exhausting. They stimulate an already over-loaded and sometimes over-worked mind, to a point of exhaustion with their jarring images and noise, which remains imprinted on the mind for long. They thus take one away from restful sleep and add to one's restlessness instead.

Pat, a friend's son visiting from England confesses on how he feels when he finds himself hooked for hours playing virtual games. "When I finally break away, I feel an overwhelming sense of emptiness, and a sense of frustration for loss of time", he reveals.

In effect, such 'activity' is wasteful, antagonistic and quite worthless - for the user that is, not for those who produce this stuff.

Big Money:

Video games are big money. It is an industry that has probably grown beyond its own expectations. It is bigger than Hollywood. While the global estimate for Hollywood was between 35-45 billion dollars in 2012, revenues for the gaming industry went over 60 billion.

Better software, more capable engineers to design, bigger screens, more real space-sound technology, 3D - all have made gaming alluring.It's a cycle. The more money they pull in, the more they innovate to pull you in. That includes big tournaments, big prize money and making a splash.

With such huge revenues, there's more at stake, making marketing more manipulative.

Marketing strategies:

Every couple of months, articles on how video games are good for those who play them, continue to appear in journals across the world. They will cite studies on increased hand-eye co-ordination, better motor co-ordination, more dexterity and such. Its justification to prevent you from understanding that you or your kids are wasting away time, energy and health pressing buttons to perform in a virtual world on a screen.

The use of the words 'Electronic sport'or 'e-sport' is one such gimmick.While the word 'sport' stands for athletic pastime, physical activity, competition, contest etcetera, it also includes fun, recreation, distraction and hobby in its definition. These companies are therefore within their legal rights to use the word.

However, at a subtler level, the use of the word sport inherently lends meaning to an activity. That's probably because even till a decade ago, sport meant mainly physical activity or exercise, something that was played outdoors in a field or on a court, and was therefore good for you.

To use the word e-sport for video gaming is thus a clever ploy,as is the increasing use of the word 'learning'. Through sessions of'coaching', commentators on gaming emphasize the word 'learning' time and again - "its good to keep learning", "you're learning something here", and so "keep on practicing"!

But in what could yet be their most astute stint in marketing the concept, the video gaming lobby has gotten an unlikely,and probably unsuspecting, ally - US immigration officials. Immigration officials have recently classified video-game players from across the world as "professional athletes", ostensibly to makevisas easier for competitors from abroad when they arrive to play tournaments.

It's a coup really, and a dangerous one at that.

The danger:

Such strategies in course of time make a product or a concept seem authentic. We stop questioning the validity of the concept or product. We think that since this is such a big thing globally, it must truly be something to pursue. It's a trap we fall for, gullibly, innocently.

With discretion abandoned, "electronic sports" may soon become accepted as the next big cool thing, if it isn't already. Parents may begin to compare their children's skills at it over dinner conversations. While you do that, the promoters may well laugh their way to your bank.

Unfortunately, money will not be the only thing lost.

"E-Sports" Vs exercise:

Digital games have been useful for people with disabilities, or older people, who'd much rather play virtual ping-pong and the like for the mild exercise they need.

However the audience and participants for such games are mostly men, from their teens till their mid thirties. These are perfectly able-bodied men, at the prime of their vital and physical energy. Instead of playing real sport, they spend time pressing buttons on a keyboard or a console.

What's the fallout? Physical ailments in course of time (bad posture, increased pressure on the spine, cervical spondylosis, weakness in the limbs, sluggish digestion and acidity to name a few), as well as mental problems from pent up and even increased combativeness and frustration.

Since video gaming doesn't exercise your body in a real way, aggression remains trapped within, and in fact is fed by the very content of some of these games.

Shubhinder Shergill, consultant psychiatrist at one of the world's leading healthcare centers for people who've committed violent crime, emphasizes the importance of physical exercise. "We know that exercise helps people with depression, it helps people to think more clearly, increases the blood flow in the brain,and metabolizes a lot of stress," he says.

"I challenge you to go for a six-mile run and try and get aggressive and angry. You won't be able to do it. You just calm down, the exercise relaxes us, it makes us release stress, and release hormones and dopamine, which make us feel good."

"It gives one a real feeling of hard work and accomplishment," says James Rauten, a physical education coach, of his own sports routine.

Fitness - an investment:

We inhabit a physical realm. A healthy body is the foundation for a balanced mind and temperament. Catching a ball exercises more muscles and gives better eye-hand co-ordination than a virtual game. Cycling, running or walking need little or no infrastructure.

We invest much in our children. Were we to make the time and effort for them to play real sport, in whatever form, it would be an investment that would go a long way.

For them, and for us.

First Published: August 17, 2013, 1:05 PM IST