Why boys need to get out of their bedrooms

They are more prone to solitary pursuits, which accounts for their addiction to video games

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So now that we're all agreed that we are shocked, appalled and saddened by this recent survey about kids having no friends because they spend so much time sitting in their rooms playing video games, what are we actually going to do about it?

So now that we're all agreed that we are shocked, appalled and saddened by this recent survey about kids having no friends because they spend so much time sitting in their rooms playing video games, what are we actually going to do about it?

If we were Maoists in China we'd confiscate all PlayStations and smash them into tiny pieces in the same way as they destroyed pianos and violins. Or maybe we should pile every video game we could lay our hands on into heaps at street corners and make spectacular bonfires reminiscent of the 20,000 so-called degenerate books the Nazis burnt in Berlin in 1933. "That's better," we'd say fanning the flames with our much-thumbed copies of Hobbies magazine or the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Quarterly including a free twitcher's cap and cassette of dawn choruses. "That's got rid of all that wicked, degenerate nonsense that stops children playing with each other as we used to do. Or doing nice, sensible things like collecting stamps or making model aeroplanes, or building castles with empty yoghurt cartons as demonstrated on Blue Peter." Why, without the pernicious influence of video games kids might even go outside and climb trees as we used to do.

No they wouldn't. My youngest is 14 so I'm a little out of touch and cannot speak for the modern primary-school generation featured largely in the survey. But I have friends with small boys who looked at me blankly when I suggested they might like to go out and play in the woods. Play what, they said. Well, they could dam the steam or make a camp. "But I might get my trainers dirty," said eight-year-old Barnaby. His brother Casper, 10 going on 30, said he would prefer to stay inside and try out new ring tones on his mobile phone.

I hope I'm not being sexist by suggesting that boys are more prone to solitary pursuits, which accounts for their addiction to video games. Girls in my experience (I have three daughters) are far more sociable. When they were at school my girls brought friends over and disappeared into the playroom which, by the way, did not have a television, to do each other's hair or try on each other's clothes. OK, it doesn't have the same status as collecting Penny Blacks or gluing wings on to miniature Spitfires but at least it's better than blowing people's brains out in the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto.

I heard the assistant police chief of some godforsaken Alaskan township on a World Service phone-in the other day complaining that the only people in his patch that didn't carry guns were the police. Everyone else did - up there hunting is the same as shopping - but whereas the adults were all pretty responsible about handling firearms and observed the time-honoured code about never ever pointing a gun at anyone, loaded or otherwise, their kids brought up on Terminator and Lethal Weapon remakes shot at anything, and preferably anyone, on sight.

This wasn't intended as a Mary Whitehouse rant against video game violence. It was the medium rather than the message I set out to castigate, though I doubt boys would be quite as addicted to their PlayStations if the games were based on Bambi. The trouble with technology is that even if Mr Blair's nanny state proscribed video games tomorrow, quicker than you could say Mario, they would be available on mobile phones and watches.

The sad truth is that we are becoming more solitary and antisocial by the minute. I was talking to an architect student the other day whose final-year project was to design the ideal living unit for the year 2104 based on a single room with single occupancy. Hang on, I said. What about married couples and families? There won't be any, he said, or at least not enough to warrant an architect's plan. He showed me his design. The focal point was not, as it always used to be, a fireplace or a view. It was a giant plasma screen on which the occupant conducted his business, found his entertainment and communicated with his friends sitting on a chair that converted into a bed and from which without getting up he could reach both his fridge and his microwave. With an Orwellian vision like that there doesn't seem much point in my suggestion that children re-learn the art of friendship by playing skipping games or jacks or dressing up or going carol singing. Besides, skipping ropes are dangerous; jacks aren't biodegradable; dressing up isn't PC and carols do not take non-Christian faiths into account. The future definitely isn't orange. It's black.

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