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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Video Games Don't Harm Childhood

An epidemic is raging among Moscow's teenagers. Kirill Dyomin, 14, and his friends Mikhail Rubin and Dmitry Semyonov cheerfully admit to having caught the bug for playing video games. They drive their parents mad with the constant sound of blip-blip-blip as they eliminate their enemies, collect points, lose their lives and immediately rise to play again.

The boys gathered on Sunday at Kirill's apartment. He had been up half the previous night playing "Donkey Kong." At first his dad had wanted him to go to bed but then he relented and allowed him to move the television into the kitchen so the sound of the video game would not disturb the rest of the family. Kirill's nocturnal session had not, however, dampened his enthusiasm for "Killer Instinct" and "Super Metroid-3" when Misha and Mitya came round.

"Grownups say video games rot our brains, damage our eyes," said Kirill. "Okay, about eyesight they may have a point, but they should be glad that we are playing at home. We are not on the street taking drugs, we are not drinking alcohol. We are not harming our bodies or our minds or our souls."

In Britain, a group of concerned teachers has just launched a project to remind children of traditional games. This is necessary, they say, because video games leave no room for fantasy and rob children of childhood.

But the young Russians vigorously deny this. "Video games are like contemporary fairy tales," said Kirill. "Except that you can take an active part in them. You escape into another reality."

And he invites me to enter the world of "Killer Instinct." Kirill is Orchid, while Misha takes the other joystick and plays Thunder. The characters kick-box back and forth on the screen but Kirill's reactions are quicker than Misha's and soon Thunder has been knocked out.

"It's rather violent," said Misha, "but there are also gentler games. Actually, I prefer the more humanistic one."

They load another cartridge with a cartoon game about a stork that accidentally drops two babies. Baby Mario lands on the island of Yoshi the Dinosaur and together the two friends go in search of the other baby who has fallen into the hands of bad guys. The jingly music is fun. "The sound effects are at least 50 percent of the pleasure," comments Kirill.

For teenagers, playing video games is an expensive hobby -- the cartridges cost from 25,000 rubles to 100,000 rubles depending on the system. But the boys beg money from their parents and swap cartridges with friends to extend their range.

"We would work to earn more money," said Kirill, "but we don't fancy washing car windshields at crossroads. That's dangerous." In the long run, the boys are thinking of careers, possibly in computing.

Most of the games are imported from the West or Japan although a few Russian computer games are starting to appear on the market. Why didn't the boys write their own game and become millionaires as American youngsters had done? Their eyes lit up at this suggestion, and they were not short of ideas.

A good Russian game could involve drivers trying to avoid dangers on the road such as potholes and bribe-taking GAI officers. Or you could have a game revolving around Kremlin intrigue. "Yes," said Misha, "you could call it 'I am the president.'"