Nayland scheme puts gaming under control

23:57, Jan 06 2013

A Nelson high school has taken on the problem of gaming addiction head-on, with the creation of a club to help gamers come out of their shell and develop social skills.

Nayland College IT teacher Craig Nicholl, together with English teacher Duncan McKinley, started a gaming club last year to help those addicted to video games.

The club meets at the school at the weekend once a fortnight, and plays competitive, team-based games in the same room as each other.

Mr Nicholl said the club, which had been a dream of his for three years, was not a solution to the problem, but a start.

"This is, I think, a way to take kids who could possibly form a gaming addiction and turn it into something that's normal and social."

His strategy was to look at what was happening with gaming, determine what were the negative aspects of the activity, and look at how it could be made better.

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Students were referred to the club through the school's counselling service or by teachers, when they were identified as "not as active socially as they could be".

"A lot are using video games to get their social needs met," he said.

Senior students run the sessions, working with their younger counterparts and teaching them strategy and tactics, and the results had been amazing, he said.

"I can't even begin to tell you how blown away I am by the students who are running it."

One aim is to stop the students from playing "stupid video games", such as violent single-player shooters, and into team-based games playing with people sitting in the same room.

They play the open-source first-person shooter game Warsow, set in a cyberpunk world, and rated E for everyone.

Mr Nicholl said he wanted to be the ambulance at the top of the cliff to stop the teens developing issues with socialisation.

The players often stopped their games to talk about which game they wanted to play, often getting lost in that discussion, or "talking shop", he said.

"The age drops out of the room when they start talking to each other."

Parents needed to understand the place of video games in their children's lives.

In some cases taking away the means to play games was the wrong thing to do, as it took away the child's sense of belonging.

"People try to fix it by removing the things that they don't like. That's not fixing it, it's just trying to hide it.

"That's why you get the extreme behaviour that you have."

The question was: "How can we create a sense of belonging with real kids?"

If their child wanted to play video games all day, parents should make sure they had a friend coming around as well, and make sure they took breaks.

He said his children had to make a decision between watching television and playing video games, and they had chosen games, so the family did not have a TV aerial.

Gaming was an active pastime, and was not resting, he said.

Mr Nicholl moves this year to Motueka High School, where he will start up another gaming club, but said he wanted the Nayland club to continue. Eventually he hoped the club would expand to gaining sponsorship and holding tournaments.

A Nelson business hopes to research the effects of Nayland College's gaming club.

Nelson's Business Development Company (BDC) director Julie Varney said the negative effects of gaming were often covered in the media, but researchers had found that gaming could have a positive impact on players, including increasing decision-making skills.

She said the club's approach to mainstreaming gaming had seen senior students take on leadership roles and junior students became more social.

She said that gaming was a reality and it was not all bad.

Research should help concerned parents or partners of gamers understand what is a safe level of gaming and what is seen as addictive.

She said it really aims to be helpful, tackling questions like: "How can we encourage social interaction so they are not isolated while they are doing it, and what are the safe guidelines for use?"

BDC's Dr Linda Liddicoat had written a proposal and the company now was looking for funding to carry out the research. It hoped to start the research this year.

She said she was a mother and her children were not into gaming, but they faced difficulty with Facebook and social media and had to look at setting safe guidelines for use.

"I think gaming is just the next step. The kids are into it, so as parents or as partners, you have to really say: ‘OK, how are we going to manage this?'. I think that's the reality and that's where Nayland College is really good. They have acknowledged that, instead of trying to put it under the carpet."

The Nelson Mail