Auntie BBC attacks videogame addiction in tonight's Panorama

Sometimes the BBC’s Panorama acts as a positive force – exposing the murky world of fearful spin in the “church” of Scientology, for example – but often it could be suggested that the programme scaremongers Middle England, the places that are lampooned by  Little Britain’s opening narrative.

Tonight will see the BBC give a prime time slot to an expose, if you can call it that, on the addictive nature of video games. Many addictions that don’t cause physical withdrawal can be partially explained away by underlying problems and a videogaming addiction is no different. Heck you can get addicted to anything if you try hard enough – Alan Partridge managed Toblerones. 

The trailer looks at a Stoke-on-Trent geek called Chris Dando. “We didn’t worry about computer games at first,” says mum Alice, “there was nothing that particularly alarmed us.”

But Chris had been “playing World of Warcraft through the night” reads a stern narrator with that typical level of curious worry that only Panorama and Dispatches voiceovers can pin down to a tee. “You could be what you wanted to be,” said Chris – or more likely, where you want to be, probably a natural reaction to going to school in Barlaston.

He reveals that when his mum cut off access to the internet, he went berserk. The producers cheekily slip in a shot of a raging Warcraft orc, but the reality is more disturbing according to Panorama. When Chris realised he couldn’t play WoW anymore, he reacted “violently,” put on a boot, just one boot, and kicked a hole in his sister’s bedroom door.  He was sweating because he couldn’t get his fix.

We have absolutely no doubt that there are people across the country and indeed across the world who are addicted to gaming. Japan even has a special word for sufferers: Not the innocent Otaku, but Hikikomori, who shut themselves away from real life, locked in their rooms and rarely seeing daylight. But a quick Google search will tell you that there’s more than videogames behind it. Social phobia, avoidant personality disorder, extreme shyness and agoraphobia. Games don’t cause it, they’re a happenstance result. Causation and correlation are not the same.

Every now and then the UK needs a good gaming scare. For example, the release of Manhunt all those years ago kick-started tabloid sensationalism about copycat murders. Again, the tragedy was the result of an ill individual, not a fictionalised world with tedious stealth segments. 

It’s the same as those video nasties scares. Upsetting, grotesque and gratuitous though they were, it could be argued it’s easier for the human psyche to pin unnerving crimes on a scapegoat rather than accept that people can be so affected or different that they carry out crimes in the real world.

It doesn’t seem that’s the angle this Panorama documentary is taking. But when Tetris was launched with Nintendo’s Gameboy there was something called the “Tetris Effect,” described by Wikipedia as something that happens when “people devote sufficient time and attention to an activity that it begins to overshadow their thoughts, mental images, and dreams”. That means playing a lot of Tetris.

Whether Panorama will dedicate a segment to that remains to be seen but it’s not as sexed up, and certainly doesn’t make good television, as suggesting a wave of addicted, violent cyber junkies who rely on Blizzard servers to get through the day.

Can this really be responsible broadcasting?