How hard is being a game-kids parent?

Technology is produced faster — and with less ‘need’ than society can resolve what to do with it — beyond what marketing companies tell them. We are bomarded with media messages. Whether parents like it or not, the largest form of media which makes more money today than last week is the game-entertainment industry – and it’s made it very easy to purchase and keep purchasing it’s products (also called games).

Teachers who “like” technology have bought into the marketing circus with such enthusiasm for the same reason. Those “selling the future” online via Twitter — for profit — tell them what to buy and make it easy for them to buy it.

Let me be really clear about why this is a growing problem for parents. Educational technology is saturated with brands, and people seeking to improve their status though brands. To do that they need your children. Most of them operate on dogma and rhetoric, few know the first thing about games as a media form.

As parents, we know the BIGGEST area of  anxiety and conflict in the home is VIDEO GAME USE. At school – the solution is to ban them. This is what I’m calling “the Vegas solution” — you simply move things you don’t like off the strip. The main aim is to keep teachers buying into the same crap that people have peddling for a decade — which has no evidentiary positive impact on kids or society so far. But it keeps the Casino boss happy.

So back to games. Why are they more of a problem now that a few years ago?

No longer stuck with the burden of physical delivery or tethered to permanent power-outlets, the game-entertainment industry (don’t separate them) — has worked out not only what people like to do most with technology — interact with media socially using romantic fantasy — but how to keep them paying attention, and spending money. If they are not doing that, they are watching NetFlix or YouTube according to the statistics.

Game-kids do a tremendous amount of emotional work both in the game as a player, and in the home as consumer being bombarded with messages to consume more. When many parents themselves lack the kind of mental executive function to PUT THE SMARTPHONE AWAY for more than a few minutes (they certainly can’t ride a bus or train without one) why on earth would they think kids can manage it? When kids see one rule for them and another for adults — then lines are drawn and the war begins.

It is hard being a game-kid parent because we don’t have mental models of what to do (from their parents). We have media models of what good and bad parents are, related to commercial interests. Our friends are also conflicted on what to do — leaving mass media tell us don’t use that, but this!

Then there is the false journalism which tells them they are bad parent. For example, the ABC News yesterday said “video games were named as a factor in the Sandy Hook Shootings” … then moved on with no explanation — to another story. In case you missed the actual report, video games were explicitly ruled OUT as a factor — and indeed the shooter played Dance Dance Revolution for 4 plus hours a day when and if he could play games. When the main public-funded news can’t bother to fact check, it’s no shock that parents get false messages, and no real advice.

Games are hard to live with if you treat them as though they are akin to TV or watching a DVD. But when going for a bike ride involves putting 4 bikes the Toyota, driving 30 miles to find a decent parkway … then there’s something wrong with how we live which can’t be solved by trying to work out which are the good and bad games — they good and bad kids — or how to extract the games-entertainment agenda from our media saturated society.

How hard is it — VERY hard. What is happening in public education — nothing, unless you could the dubious claims of clinical psychologists that games are addictive – which is also a marketing message.

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.

Mumbai – Twitter Feeds

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I am sure everyone, as they wake up or get in the car to go home will have heard about the events in Mumbai today. It was a hot topic on Twitter Search all day. About 6 months ago, Will Richardson was telling a story about Wikipedia and how it reported new on the Bharpour more efficiently than new channels. It was interesting to note that as I hit Twitter Search for the first time and used the #mumbai tag, there were 20 more results each time I pressed refresh. Some reporting the news, some reporting on the mass media’s interpretation of events, and local sources posting emergency phone numbers. At one point, people talked about how the mass media had gone soft on it’s coverage – but at the same time talking about how the authorities were attempting to remove the #mumbai tag from Twitter.

It is amazing to me, that in only a few months, we can once again talk about another news vector being more efficient (I’m not saying accurate) at publishing that even the ‘masses’ that edit Wikipedia.

Perhaps Twitter isn’t a news outlet. If not then it’s the worlds biggest ‘rubber necking’ event for sure.

During the same day, I read Annabel’s post about the situation of internet access in rural cities – talking about her recent professional development event in Mildura, Victoria. It is amazing to think how dis-connected even Australian society is in terms of access to information, and at the same time how important we don’t dis-connect our society.

Given the changes in just 6 months, it really makes me wonder how we will be reading the news in the next 6. Hopefully the news will be better than this though.