Thursday, February 22 2024

We have had the pleasure of meeting Professor Giuseppe Romano, one of the
leading experts on video games in Italy to guide us through the fascinating
world of virtuality in continual evolution full of unknown risks and
pitfalls.

We aim to examine this delicate issue to try to understand what drives
millions of children and adults to spend hours a day on the game console.
What is so captivating and fascinating about video games? What are the
potential risks? Can we consider video games as a new opportunity for
growth or do they present an actual threat to our children?


We all agree that children spend more time on video games than ever
before. In the past children would play ‘real’ games like playing
football with friends or a walk in the park. Is this just a phase or a
commercial trend of the day or are we facing a social revolution and a
culture destined to radically change not only our way we use our
leisure time but also of socializing and relating with others?

I think the answer lies in the assumption made in the question, We
mistakenly think that playing in the park is a ‘real’ game whereas playing
on the game console is not.

What then are video games? They involve real people, occupy real time and
take you into imaginary scenarios thought up by men. If they weren’t real,
then neither would novels or films be considered real. A soccer game would
not be considered real if you considered the fact that the rules of the
games have been invented by men. For most (if not everyone) football is
something real!


Some recent studies suggest that a prolonged use of the console can
lead to serious neurological disturbances particularly in children and
that in some cases can trigger epilepsy. In addition, prolonged use can
even lead to depression. Are we running the risk of being brainwashed
or are we taking these statements too far?

I think there are a number of aspects we need to take into consideration
here. It has been proved through medical research that excessive use of
video games does lead to certain health problems. Numerous pathologies have
been found such as eye complaints and severe osteoarthritis found in hands.
There are also psychological and social problems which are more and more
common today. I think the most serious problem stems from the feeling of
abandonment. If a child or a young adult feels lonely or finds himself
confined to little space or simply lacks in self-esteem then he is more
likely to feel comfort in escaping into another world. Video games in fact,
provide a visual, audible, narrative and even tactile immersion that really
takes you into another world.

However, the problem is at its source. The key term here is a “balanced
use” and the family constitutes a unique place where balance can be
learned. Any activity can be harmful and can cause physical, emotional and
social damage if a balance is not reached.


Are there any Observers in Italy that conduct studies on these issues
who can offer help and guidance to parents?

There exists a few. The European Evaluation System PEGI ( www.pegi.info) certifies titles
according to age and content in the game and shows symbols on the back
covers to describe the nature of the content i.e. violence, sex, drug or
alcohol etc. This requirement is important because game producers are
obliged to observe by law certain regulations and are the first in person
to urge for them as they risk heavy penalties. The downside to this system
is that it gives an indication of what to avoid but it cannot substitute
the parental judgment nor can it assess the cultural quality. If reliable
indications are not shown, then it is advisable to consider the recommended
age.

Fundamentally, there exists few guidelines for parents regarding the world
of video games in Italy. There is a blog ‘Family Game’ on www.famigliacristiana.it
which discusses these aspects.

The Fiuggi Family Festival (

www.fiuggifamilyfestival.org

) is another opportunity for families to reflect on the videogames in the
family and for some years now, the Festival has organized talks and
interactive workshops on this theme.

Censorship, in my opinion, creates preconceptions in adults. Their fear and
mistrust often arise from something they are not familiar with and in some
cases this can lead to a total rejection. On the contrary, indifference or
over enthusiasm can result in accepting videogames and the Internet without
questioning or evaluating what they are using. Many teenagers and children
have total freedom in the use of both. Such attitudes are inappropriate but
unfortunately they are becoming more and more common. Statistics say that 1
out of 2 families in Italy own video games and that children play not only
in the home but also at friend’s houses or in the street.


Adults play videogames as well as children. What is it that adults like
so much about videogames? Are the adults who use them adult-lescents?

Videogames are simply a new category of human expression. They are like
television, the cinema, novels and clubs in other words they are personal
and social spheres in which people interact with others through ideas,
fantasies, images and relationships.

Furthermore, videogames can be well made or poorly made. They can be
interesting or boring. They can be high or low quality. They can provide
educational or destructive content. They can be adapted to children or to
adults. If we choose a good product, we have a fascinating device in our
hands which can be both interesting and valuable at the same time.

Videogames are interactive, multimedia, digital inventions. They
communicate in an unusual and innovative way respect to earlier products.
They have a sophisticated language capable of communicating big and small
human realities. They are challenging or entertaining and come in different
sizes and formats just like you find with books.

The language of interactivity is part or with us and has won us over by
force of convention. It is impossible not to be dependent on it. The Web
touches every activity we are involved in. It is necessary to remember that
the Internet is not the sum of machinery involved moreover, the sum of the
people and relationships that are involved. In the cultural challenge we
face the problem of being and remaining human, videogames could also play a
role.


Are there any positive effects of playing videogames? Is there a right
way to create dynamics between parents and children and contribute to
their growth?

Videogames can be both positive and valuable resources in the family but
parents need to bear in mind that they should be present when they are in
use. There are games where more than one person can play at the same time
and parents could get directly involved in this way. However, in my opinion
a parent should take a genuine interest in their children and what they
play with even if at times they seem banal or harmless. Taking an interest
in our children is a form of love and affection that runs through an
intergenerational relationship of paternity, maternity and filiation.

Furthermore, new technological advances give promising prospects for
schools and education. The touch finger tablet has various applications to
read and interact with. By Italian Law, an interactive component will be
included in every school textbook next year. We shall see…..


What should we do about the portrayal of violence in videogames? Do you
think it can be dangerous or incite violent reactions? What criteria
should game designers follow in order to prevent users from absorbing
the ‘make-believe violence’?

I have already answered this question in part earlier. Videogames simply
mirror and stress the already existing problems. An angry child will throw
himself into a violent videogame to find meaning in his state of mind. He
will either find a way of venting his anger or the game will simply
exacerbate his state of mind.

Therefore, it is important to understand the question of violence. We tend
to put a label on everything and similarly, we put the label ‘violent’ onto
realities that are actually quite complex. If we do this, we risk
condemning a large part of our culture. Take Shakespeare or the Divine
Comedy or the Bible or the Gospel. Is Lord of the Rings a violent story?
Certainly, there are scenes of aggression, massacres and fighting in the
story yet the message is not destruction, quite the contrary, it teaches us
to love and defend peace and justice.

The distinctive characteristic of videogames consists in identification;
you play in first person and as a consequence there can be harm in
impersonating inappropriate roles if they lack the critical detachment and
maturity necessary to assume an ironic awareness. This is the reason why I
strongly discourage children and young people to play games such as Grand
Theft Auto where you take on the role of a criminal or games like The Sims
where human relationships are made trivial and banal.


What are the red flags for a parent who sees their child spend too much
time on videogames? When should a parent be worried or not ?

What are the red flags for a parent who does not see his child come home in
the evening or who sees him reading bad literature? The answer is obvious.
The same red flags should go up for a child who reads day and night but
never socializes.

One of the many roles of parents is to administer the time and duration of
children’s activities. It is useful to know that some videogames can absorb
you for literally hours (even days and weeks!) before you pass from one
world to another. They are rich, complex and crowded worlds. The question
is in deciding how much time should they spend on them. A

parent should spend some time with their children and give them
well-defined boundaries regarding time and priorities. It is the best way
to appreciate the positive aspects without exaggerating. An hour’s play for
example poses no danger in itself. In addition, it is equally important to
learn to end the game (without tears and tantrums) as well as learning how
to begin it.


How can one recognize a high quality game apart from relying on reading
certifications, reviews or sales charts?

One can seek advice, ask other parents’ opinions or read reliable reviews.
If you do not have any of these, respect the age-group recommendation on
the cover.

Broadly speaking, most videos today are high quality from an industrial and
commercial point of view. Professional and experts dedicate time to
producing a highly polished product. In Italy, the turnover of videogames
is double that of home videos; it is more than music productions and almost
matches the sales of books.

Notwithstanding this, videogames are not all recommendable and neither
should they be underrated.


One last question. There is an unexpected boom in 3D films at the
cinema such as Avatar. Will this be the new frontier for videogames as
well? What consequences and effects should we take into account using
3D technology since it is certainly more intrusive than previous
technologies.

3D technology has been part of videogames for a long time but it has been
in the film industry since 1920.

The reason why it is so popular at the moment is not just the apparent
advanced technology in the film industry but also the use of projected
television devices adapted to re-watch (and resell) these types of films.
The same thing has happened with many videogames. In some cases, they
require additional, expensive technology while in others, like the portable
Nintendo 3DS, the effect is instant because they do not need glasses.

In almost all cases today, watching a 3D film with glasses is quite a
tiring experience but with new technology this difficulty will be overcome.

If we take aside for a moment the technological aspect, it is important to
distinguish if we are simply dealing with special effects which in time we
will be accustomed to like everything else or if 3D will be used as a new
expressive and linguistic resource (Avatar, ,Hugo Cabret) , a new tool
which will involve and lock into all our senses.

(*) Giuseppe Romano, journalist and partner of UniOne at Architetture di
comunicazione srl- a business communication consulting firm. Leads a blog
“Family Game” in “Famiglia Cristiana” magazine web edition dedicated to the
relationship between videogames and the family.

Giuseppe Romano teaches Reading and the Creation of Interactive Texts, a
specialist degree course subject at the Università Cattolica del Sacro
Cuore in Milan – The Catholic university of the Sacred Heart.

Vice artistic director at Fiuggi Family Festival, dedicated to
relationships between the family and the cinema and TV.

President of Digital Kids association, dedicated to the educative
perspectives of new languages in the family and in school.

Multimedia Consultant for the Thematic Structure Programmes for the Ragazzi
della Rai.

Some publications:

La città che non c’è (L’Internet frontiera di uomini)
– The city that does not exist (The Internet, the frontier of man)
(Edizioni Lavoro, Roma 2004) – a study based on the social and
communication implications of the Internet.


Digital Kids. Guida ai migliori siti web, cd-rom e videogiochi per
bambini

(Digital Kids. A guide to the best websites, cd-roms and videogames for
children) – vol edn. by Giuseppe Romano and Stefania Garassini (Raffaello
Cortina Editore, Milano 2001).

A multimedia adaptation of the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope
written by Pope John Paul II– 2 CD-Rom format.(Arnoldo Mondatori Editore,
1996). Translated in various languages.

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