So now gamers are autistic?

Well no, actually, but according to new research from Dr John Charlton of the University of Bolton and Ian Danforth of Whitman College, USA people who are addicted to playing computer games (and I’m not suggesting you are) show “some of the same personality traits as people with Aspergers syndrome”.

I expect that the media will jump all over this as another example of why computer games are evil, so I thought I would try and throw a little water of rationality on the fire of hysteria before it really gets going.

As my day job is as a secondary school teacher here in merry old England I have some experience of people with Aspergers, the main thing you notice is, well, nothing. In most cases you wouldn’t even know unless you were told.

Some background info:- Aspergers is found on the larger Autistic Spectrum. ALL of us are somewhere on the Autistic spectrum, most of us are down towards the “normal” end of the spectrum but there is quite a spread. As you move along the spectrum you tend to find more engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists (though of course not all), as you move on further still you enter the Aspergers part of the spectrum and then finally, much further down is full Autism.

So to suggest that some people have some of the traits of Aspergers is not actually saying much at all. I am not concerned at all if I am to be counted in the group that Dr Charlton and Mr Danforth describe. To be fair I am sure that they in no way intended this to be a dramatic condemnation of gaming, and were merely publishing the findings of their research. My fear it that it will be spun by the sensationalist mainstream media into another rod to reinforce the opinion that gaming is bad and should be blamed for a number of societies ills.

Actually there are a number of recent reports that contradict the negative view of gaming. Miss Jane Barnett of Middlesex Universtiy recently published findings that after playing World of Warcraft for two hours gamers, whose ages ranged from 12 to 83 years, actually felt “more relaxed and less angry”. The BBC website carried a story recently of children in Scotland using Nintendo’s Brain Training for the first 20 minutes of every school day and finding that this had a positive effect on their learning. Of course you won’t hear about any of that on the six o’clock news. They would prefer to tell us that children playing online games are sometimes verbally abused and exposed to swearing as was one of the leading stories on a national news programme a few months ago. Like there is a kid anywhere in any school that doesn’t experience that on a daily basis anyway.

Playing videogames is the same as everything else. In the end it comes down to two things, responsible parenting and the age old wisdom of “everything in moderation”. As long as 8 year olds are not playing GTA IV and they are limited to a couple of hours at at time then there is no provable reason why they won’t be fine. You can overdose on water for goodness sake!

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