British news outlets misattributed quotes in articles about the potential risks of gaming to children, implicating a pro-gaming charity worker in anti-gaming comments. [UPDATED]
Update: The BBC story in which the erroneous quotes were published has been updated to thinly acknowledge its mistake. “This story has been amended to make clear that comments initially attributed to another source were actually made by Paul Bowser,” reads the update. ‘Make it clear’ seems to underplay the mistake slightly. Anyway. Let’s hope other sources update too. Here’s the original story:
Several British news outlets have published a story warning of the dangers of gaming to children, but quotes to support the argument appear to have been made-up.
Robert Hart-Fletcher, of charity Kids and Media, told BeefJack that quotes attributed to him were ‘completely fabricated’ across a range of British media, most prominently the BBC and the Daily Mail. In fact, he says, gaming can be an extremely beneficial activity for children to partake in.
In a story entitled ‘Stoned with tiredness: Generation of children are becoming zombies because of late-night gaming sessions, claims charity’, the Mail claims that games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and FIFA 12 have resulted in troublingly long gaming sessions for children.
In both this story, and one published on the BBC yesterday, Hart-Fletcher is quoted as saying: “Gaming is a phenomenon that’s been around quite a while. Now we are starting to see the effects in behaviour of young people.
“In the past people had genuine relationships with empathy and compassion which has been replaced by this virtual relationship where they are not necessarily having to show empathy or compassion. That’s starting perhaps to change the way they interact on a day to day basis.”
But none of these words were actually uttered, says Hart-Fletcher – who is in fact a proponent of gaming for children, providing games are suitable and played in moderation. Kids and Media even goes as far as to publish reviews of appropriate videogames on its website, and to provide advice for parents on how to ensure their kids are safe when gaming.
The story appears to have been spun from a debate on local radio station BBC Radio Devon, in which an unsettlingly aggressive presenter pressed Hart-Fletcher for comments about how gaming, instead of playing outside with friends, may be damaging children’s social skills.
Instead, Mr. Hart-Fletcher reeled off a list of positive effects that gaming can have on children. Acknowledging that parents need to be aware of what their kids are playing, and agreeing that it’s not healthy to spend all day on a games console, he told of how children in rural areas may be connected with other like-minded individuals as a result of online gaming, and how videogames can give children something safe and trouble-free to engage with in rural and deprived areas.
Mr. Hart-Fletcher provided BeefJack with an MP3 of the entire interview, and we can confirm that the offending quotes did not appear anywhere within it.
Another quote used by the BBC, the Mail and other sources, from ironically named Christian youth charity worker Paul Bowser, did appear in the Radio Devon piece. The Daily Mail snipped some of it out, however.
“We have a number of young people who most of the time look almost stoned, not necessarily on drugs, but just with sleep deprivation because they’re gaming all the time,” Bowser is quoted as saying. “Whether it’s an obsession or an addiction, I don’t know.”
In the original interview, Bowser – from Wings South West – applied these comments not just to gaming, but also to mobile phone and internet use. “It’s certainly a different trend to a few years ago, partly because the technology wasn’t there,” he added.
The Daily Mail even implicates Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and FIFA 12 in the article, saying these games have ‘kept children playing for hours’, though again it is not clear what the paper’s source is. These two games might illustrate the Mail’s story, but they appear to not be mentioned by either Robert Hart-Fletcher or Paul Bowser in the source material.
Hart-Fletcher and Kids and Media have an entire web page dedicated to advice to parents regarding Call of Duty. While praising the graphics and the immersive realism, the page goes on to recommend that children are not permitted to play these adults-only games.
As well as images of Modern Warfare 3 and FIFA 12, the Mail’s article is tastefully illustrated by a picture of a man dressed as a zombie, captioned: “Fears are growing that hours playing video games are making children like zombies.”
Both the Daily Mail and the BBC have been approached for comment.
“Our stance is that gaming, being in constant contact with friends and playing with other gamers around the world, is good for most kids most of the time,” Mr. Hart-Fletcher told BeefJack this afternoon.
“While people can over-use games or smartphones, they can over-use anything – and that’s no reflection of the value of the activity.”
This story was updated at 15:51 on 30th January 2012, to reflect the fact that several media outlets have published the same quotes. We apologise for any inaccuracies in our original story.