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‘Don’t buy violent video games for Christmas’

Gaming addiction expert Sven Rollenhagen advises parents in Sweden to stay clear of increasingly violent video games as they set off in search of last-minute Christmas presents for their children.

'Don't buy violent video games for Christmas'

Most Swedes received their December paycheck today but I’ve been fielding calls from worried parents for weeks now. They all call to ask me if it’s okay to succumb to pressure from their kids and buy them video games that are increasingly violent.

I tell them “no” every single time, because I firmly believe that violent video games are a ticking bomb.

An increasing number of kids ’love’ video games. Not only the ones with a traditional heroic storyline where a prince sets off to kill the evil dragon.

We’ve left fairy tales far behind.

We’re talking realistic. These games portray war, sometimes even crime. There are guns, rifles, grenades, and good-old fashioned dynamite.

The point is to kill.

Some even lack a significant storyline and the focus is more or less entirely on the killing.

I am a gamer myself, and I find the content of some of these violent games to be grossly unsuitable for younger children. There are, of course, age limits set on many of these extremely violent games but if a parent buys it as a gift for a child, the limits are completely useless.

Parents often feel pressured to buy video games for their young children even though the recommendation is that the gamers be 18 or older.

I’ve seen many cases with children as young as seven.

One thing that strikes me as odd is that many parents would automatically usher their kids out of the room if such brutal violence came up during a film.

In borderline cases, let’s say if you were watching Pulp Fiction with your kids, the parent would step in, contextualize and offer an explanation, even condemnation.

Oddly, with video games, the parent is often not even in the room. And where a film lasts two hours, many children who develop a taste for gaming will be stuck console-in-hand for hours.

But the rules are different in the world of video games. Age recommendations, defined by for example by PEGI, are there to protect underage children against such exposure to violence.

But it’s simply not working.

Christmas is just around the corner and I am contacted by an increasing number of parents that are worried and want guidance. Their intuition is telling them “don’t buy it”, but they feel pressured by their own kids, many of whom resort to the classic “but all my friends have it”.

Then parents give in, acting against their own intuition.

My advice to all parents is: Check and respect the age recommendations. Don’t give your child the violent video game.

Research frpm Karolinska Institutet has shown a correlation between violent video games and a decline in empathy. There is also a correlation with rising aggression.

It seems every year we hear of a new school shooting. It is time for people to question the entertainment industry’s glorification of violence.

So, dare I give my child a violent video game this Christmas?

Please don’t.

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The unmanned supermarkets rescuing Sweden’s rural areas

One after another, grocery stores are shutting down in rural Sweden, leaving villagers to travel miles to buy food. But a new type of shop has sprung up in their wake: unmanned supermarkets in mobile containers.

The unmanned supermarkets rescuing Sweden's rural areas
Store manager Domenica Gerlach enters the Lifvs unmanned supermarket store in Veckholm, 80km outside Stockholm. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand /AFP

In Veckholm, a village of a few hundred people 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Stockholm, the last grocery store closed more than a decade ago. Then, a year-and-a-half ago, even the little convenience store at the only petrol station locked its doors.

Villagers were left with no choice but to travel a half-hour by car to the closest supermarket.

But in July 2020, an automated, unmanned grocery store came to town. In a container dropped in the middle of a field, open 24 hours a day, the 20-square-metre (215-square-foot) supermarket sells hundreds of items — and there’s no cashier in sight.

“Since a while back, there has been nothing in this area and I think most of us living here have really missed that,” said Giulia Ray, a beekeeper in
Veckholm. 

“It’s so convenient to have this in the area,” she told AFP, doing her own shopping and restocking the shop’s shelves with her honey at the same time.

Shoppers unlock the supermarket’s door with an app on their smartphone. “We come here three times a week and buy stuff we need,” Lucas Edman, a technician working in the region for a few weeks, told AFP. “It’s a little bit more expensive but it’s fine. It’s a price I can pay to not go to another store.”

He scanned his pizzas and soda on the app on his phone, which is linked to his bank account and a national identification system — an added anti-theft security, according to the store. And it’s all done under the watchful eye of a single security camera.

Keeping costs down

In Sweden, the number of grocery stores — everything from superstores to small convenience stores — has dropped from 7,169 in 1996 to 5,180 in 2020, according to official statistics.

While the number of superstores has almost tripled in 24 years, many rural shops have closed down, often due, like elsewhere in Europe, to a lack of
profitability.

Daniel Lundh, who co-founded the Lifvs, has opened almost 30 unmanned stores in rural Sweden and in urban areas with no shops in the past two years.

“To be able to keep low prices for the customer, we have to be able to control our operation costs. So that means controlling the rent — that’s why
the stores are quite small — but also controlling the staffing cost,” Lundh said.

He plans to open his first unstaffed supermarkets outside Sweden early next year.

Domenica Gerlach, who manages the Veckholm store, only comes by once a week to receive deliveries. She also manages three other shops, all of them mobile containers.

Peter Book, the mayor of Enkoping, the municipality to which Veckholm belongs, has only good things to say about the three container stores that
have opened in his patch. And he’d like to see more.

“It makes it easier to take a step to move there if you know you have this facility,” he said.

Meeting place and ‘salvation’

In Sweden, one of the most digitalised countries in the world, Lifvs, like its Swedish rivals AutoMat and 24Food which have also popped up in rural
areas, benefits from a very wired population.

In 2019, 92 percent of Swedes had a smartphone. Ironically, the unmanned shops — plopped down in the middle of nowhere — also play a role as a “meeting place” for locals.

“You come here, you get some gas and you go inside and get something, and maybe someone else is here and you can have a chat,” Ray said.
Mayor Book echoed the notion, saying the stores make it possible to connect society”.

The pandemic has also proven the stores’ usefulness, since no contact with other people inside the shop is necessary.

Because of Covid-19, only one person at a time is allowed inside the Veckholm store.

“My mother lives nearby as well and … this has been a shop she could actually enter during all this time. She hasn’t been (able to go) anywhere,”
Ray said of her 75-year-old mother. “This has been a salvation for her.”

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