Pathological Media Misuse

Let’s take down this latest rubbish from News Ltd, which it put online in various formats and places online. Related coverage included Kids are digital but not that savvy, addictive dangers no game, games ruining young mined blah blah, the usual run down of the internet and games, my favourite was the Herald Sun, who’s screenshot was of a middle aged man using a circa 1998 beige PC in an office, viewing Wotif.com. Or you can read the other version with a different image in which the story changes to “Preschoolers becoming addicted to M-rated video and internet “. Which of course isn’t even about games.

Welcome to the mind of journalist Bruce McDougall, who appears to have several stories. I liked this one “Cairns boy’s video game addiction is ruining his family’s life” as it almost mentions Dr Tam at the bottom and is a suburb piece of bad writing, I love the “are considering adding internet addiction” line here. Of course clinicians are considering forms of addiction, that is what research is about. They are also considering addiction to all manner of other things (not listed) for effect. But Mr McDougall loves this stuff. It’s easy link-bait. However, a quick trip to Google and you find he’s often reporting on Internet violence, porn and addiction. Ideally making claims that these things are all related. This is then chopped around with several headlines and various hacks at copy.

In all these pieces, Mr McDougal lanches into “one Sydney mother (no date) claiming her son now punches walls because of World of Warcraft”.

This falls under the widely used news’ tactic of “what every parent needs to know” type moral panic. And why not, just make up the headline, link it to fear, uncertainty and denial and a quick phone quote from an academic which you then quote in any context your like – as long as it grabs attention (and therefore sells advertising).

Cleverly (lol), these pieces appear to be the view of Dr. Tam, and not Mr McDougal. So this isn’t responsible journalism or meid use, yet it has received a lot of response in social media. As I’ll discuss here, I don’t think that this Dr Tam’s view at all.

In a Minecraft forum, where amazingly, these addicted youths took time out from falling asleep and punching walls, they responsed to the post in a brief discussion.

“Many older people seem to not really understand all this new “technology”. What humans don’t understand, they tend to fear and despise, and blame for other problems.”

“Dude thats just what kids do in this generation. This is like the same thing as when people were protesting to make santa clause skinny because they said he was promoting bad eating habits.”

“It’s really just this simple: Anything can become an addiction. No matter what the object of discussion is–games, sex, drugs,tv, plastic surgery–it can become an addiction. This had nothing to do with the thing itself.”

“I think in the future the regular–almost constant–use of technology will become the norm. People that don’t use it will be the ones we give the concerned looks to.”

“Its a behavioural problem or just bad parenting”

Next, let’s also not forget the research ‘interest’ here is the potential of their being such a thing as an ‘internet addication’ disorder – not games addiction or violance in games leading to violence in the streets – or punching walls – or porn. (Sorry Bruce).

No, this is another specific attempt to give the public the same message that runs though all the posts I could find from Mr McDougal. There were some on right wing religious websites, but I’m sure it’s the same person (see I can do it to).

So, let’s put the media to work and look at comments made online from the blog of Dawn Barker – psychiatrist and writer. In her blog, in which the comments reveal a quite different story from that reported by News Ltd.

I suspect this is because it was originally posted on November 1, 2010. OMG a repost? A cynic might suggest this is simply a beat-up resulting from a ‘googlewhack’ on the part of Mr McDougal. In the Waynes World ending, it might well be that Dr Tam and this piece are no more connected than that – and indeed Dr Tam appears to have been promoting a new website that talks about possible internet addiction – no more than that in the News Ltd piece.

On the blog, Dr Tam comments to readers.

“I think that the nerdy, socially awkward type is not true; typical users are greagarious, fun-loving, have stable jobs and a high disposable income. More work needs to be done about what factors within that group make one ‘vulnerable’ to developing PIU ( the focus of my planned research).”

Planned research? I am taking it that this New Ltd report is based on zero hours of game play, game data, or any analysis using any game? It strikes me that the origins of this piece had nothing to do with games at all –  judging by the poorly chosen image (no credit given) and sub-editing, the piece probably mis-represents Dr Tam’s work too.

Perhaps recent research from Bond University would help answer who is and why are people playing more video-games now than ever (as if you need to think about that too long). There are links between playing and learning, and learning is therefore addictive if we follow Mr McDougal’s report. However, any link to game addition and violence appears as fictional as Skyrim in this piece and from what I can gather from looking at Dr. Tam’s published works … it’s just not what he’s working on by about 10,000 miles.

It appears News Ltd simply ‘buffed’ up the comments on ‘internet addiction’ and presented it as  games-addiction on no basis of evidence that would stand more than a bar-stool analysis. Yet, it was syndicated it to all sorts of media with minor text changes.

I’d go so far as to say this would make a great high school project – to analyze it as a hyper-text using the digital-journalism courseware from Harold Rheingold as the kind of bias and re-shaping of fact that appears in traditional media. This is exactly why kids must learn about digital media, citizenship and information fluency from primary school onwards. The web is quite simply awash with this type of information.

So having taken down News Ltd, and I hope offering some respite for Dr. Tam who I’d think would not be over the moon with this ‘report’, I might move on to suggest a few positive – evidence based – resources and information that are relevant to games. Firstly, there is no demonstrated link between video games and addiction, that isn’t debated with claims and counter claims. Certainly not the depth of evidence that has emerged from drugs, alcohol, sex etc., Television is far more likely to be finally declared addictive than video-games in all reality – and adults are happy to watch it and let their kids watch it. Games are simply less well understood in the popular culture and to traditional media – are a clear and present threat to their existence and revenue.

I suggest taking a look at further academic studies about games – particularly the assertion in this bar-stool report that “games make children violent”. In particular I recommend the work of Dr. Cheryl Olson, who conducted a $1.5 million dollar research project into violence and games, though the Harvard Medical School (see works below). If you don’t want to read it – watch this video.

If you are a parent, I highly suggest you don’t listen to New Ltd reports, perhaps ask a passing cat, or use any one of the informative online sites such as http://www.getgamesmart.com/ or perhaps download some advice from the Industry (who also funds and conducts research) such as this Ten Tip Guide for families with games in their houses.

Finally, don’t assume games are either bad for learning or addictive – but instead find out if your school knows anything about games. For example, could your academic child actually take part in, enjoy and put their game knowledge to use in something like http://www.stemchallenge.org/ – because right now most schools ban games entirely, and that has nothing to do with the Internet or addiction.

Further Reading.

Olson, C.K. Children’s motivations for video game play in the context of normal development. Review of General Psychology, June 2010.

Olson, C.K., Kutner, L.A., Baer, L., Beresin, E.V., Warner, D.E., & Nicholi, A.M. Jr. (2009). M-rated video games and aggressive or problem behavior among young adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 13(4), 188-198.

Olson, C.K. The electronic friend? Video games and children’s friendships. SITAR newsletter, October 2008. (Free full text available; starts on page 2.)

Olson, C.K., Kutner, L.A., & Beresin, E.V. Children and video games: How much do we know? Psychiatric Times, October 2007. (Free full text.)

Olson, C.K., Kutner, L.A., Warner, D.E., Almerigi, J.B., Baer, L., Nicholi, A.M. Jr., & Beresin, E.V.

Factors correlated with violent video game use by adolescent boys and girls. Journal of Adolescent Health, July 2007, pages 77-83.

Olson, C.K., Kutner, L.A., & Warner, D.E. The role of violent video game content in adolescent development: Boys’ perspectives. Journal of Adolescent Research, January 2008, pages 55-75.