x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The games teenagers play will never change, unless technology does

Our teen life columnist talks about the games teens play.

People find it difficult to fathom why we teenagers actually take pleasure in spending our free time sitting in front of a screen, pressing buttons with the purpose of shooting down fictitious characters. A large proportion of my class, when not engaged in taxing activities such as homework, eating and sleeping, is only too happy to play games on their PSPs or Xboxes and other gaming devices with forgettable abbreviations and strings of numbers for names.

The games usually have very clear objectives: shoot anyone in sight. Plunder and loot virtual cities. Try to punch the opponent wrestler on the nose as many times as you possibly can. Gun down the clouds or the bubbles or the enemy artillerymen or whatever emanating from either the top or the bottom of the screen. Shoot anyone in sight- yup, we've gone round full circle; that appears to be the extent of the rules, roughly the same across all games available on the market.

It says something about us as a species that although we may not delight in actual mediaeval warfare anymore, we still like to fight battles on screen - not for wealth, fame or glory, but for leisure. The name of the game says it all: you are hardly likely to envisage the human as an evolutionarily advanced intellectual if it amuses itself by indulging in a spot of the ubiquitous Warhammer every night before bed. The aim of this particular game is to capture cities and characters, including such delights as the Greenskins, who are part of the Bloody Sun Boyz, led by the Black Orc Grumlok and his Goblin Shaman Gazbag.

I'd never quite realised what a big phenomenon the art of online gaming was. Recently, trawling through my Facebook news-feed as I was pretending to research homework on the internet, I came across a question posed by a Matt Wragg a few weeks ago. The question was: "Which is better? Let's settle this... >D" followed by a number of options: Xbox 360, PlayStation3, Xbox live and PlayStation Network. When I last checked, the Xbox 360 was the most popular weapon of choice.

A couple of my Facebook friends had responded, which was why it was showing up on my news-feed, but in the time span of a few days, about a hundred thousand around the world had not only seen it, but selected an option. And that's obviously just a small percentage of who actually use Facebook, happened to log in during the past few days, saw the question, were inspired to respond, and who use one of the mentioned gaming devices - and it still adds up to a lot of people.

It's usually the boys who see war games as a particularly enjoyable form of entertainment - generally, us girls have always settled for more peaceful pursuits. I've had my fair share of brushing dolls' hair and hosting make-believe tea parties with my make-believe children, whose role was taken up by all my teddy bears and stuffed dogs, cats, birds and other assorted toys. While we girls use gaming devices, it is more often to improve fitness and health rather than raise our score on "Kill the Zoggsters". Devices such as the Wii let you have a round of tennis in your air-conditioned living room, giving you a workout without the sweat.

Technology has certainly progressed by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years. Trying out an Xbox Kinect at a friend's house was a surreal experience. You stand in front of the screen and have to kick down piles of bricks. The catch is that it isn't hand-held; the Xbox detects your presence and a virtual mini-you comes to life on the screen. It's pretty cool, in retrospect, but I don't suppose the creators thought about the social consequences the idea of having the gamers kick and punch thin air may have. It all seems very realistic when you're watching the virtual you smash up bricks, but there's a bit of an awkward moment when the hapless you, caught up in the excitement of the game, aims an energetic kick at the expensive vase in the corner of the living room. And your friend's mum walks in.

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai