Thursday, February 18

Why Video Game Timers are the Worst Idea of the 21st Century

Gaming on the Clock? Game Over!

As long ago as 2007 the concept of limiting time playing video games was introduced by Microsoft, with the Xbox Family Timer. This "innovation" was even recognized by the UK government in it's Foresight Strategy for public health. While the idea of shutting a games console off after a period of time appeals to some, the idea has fundamental flaws which in reality have a negative effect on health.

Firstly the system timers for the major consoles and the third party system timers for generic "game over" experiences fail to address a simple problem. If a parent can't limit the time a child spends on a computer game then how does parental control of a timer help? The kids know who's setting the rules and parental conflict cannot be avoided. Kids are not so limited in their intelligence to realize that "the computer says no" is actually parental proxy.

Say, for example, a system timer is set for an hour and the child starts playing at 6pm. What happens at 7pm? Gaming is over, so will the child instantly go outside and play basketball or run around the yard playing soccer? No. They will most probably replace the games console for the TV that (unlike gaming) gives them a better opportunity to snack on unhealthy food. If a parent can't limit gaming time without a crude off timer, then what chance do they have to limit snacks?

The most important reason game timers are utterly stupid ideas is that they have been designed by people who do not understand gaming at all. Can you shut a game down at a predetermined time? No. How many times have the cries of "I'll just save the game" been heard by parents (and spouses!) to the demand to stop playing? How about "when this match is over" when playing online? You can't shut a game down in an instant, its just not helpful and makes the player resent the timer even more.

What can we do about this? Well how about using Gamercize instead. This device makes all games (online or offline) active with enough exercise to count as a competitive sport. So if you child (or husband!) wants to play an extra 15 minutes to get to a save point or the end of a match, you can let them... knowing it's another 160+ kcals burnt or another quarter of an hour towards the 60 min a day exercise target.

Sometimes you have to admit that the most simple solutions are the best, and if gaming is inactive, make it active. Don't change the rules, change the game or reduce the experience... make a smarter choice with a simpler solution.