The Demise of Mankind

Some time ago, I wrote about gaming addiction – its a topic that spans the gap between online and real world and hence of interest to me.  I did some soul searching whether I was “addicted” or not and decided that I was close but not quite at danger.  The proof of it came last week when I started a new job and was slammed with work from the first day.  Its one of those tech companies that assumes that if you need to eat or shower you are weak and pathetic.  And I love it.  Do I think about EVE Online?  Yes and no.  I think of the friends I made in the game many times during the day and wonder what they are doing.  I really do want to spend time with them but I don’t actually miss the spaceships all that much.  So, my diagnosis: Not addicted.  But of course, some people are and the mechanisms are well published in the academic press.

And of course in the popular press.  Every once in a while, some teary-eyed woman appears on Oprah and recants how she lost her boyfriend to World of Warcraft.  A phony expert (preferably white, male, 50 ish, in a white coat and with stethoscope) spews obvious nonsense and more teary eyed women comiserate and call their local congressman to ban all games.  Forever.  And the so called expert press isn’t any better.  In the game of publish or perish, nobody wants to go out there and say that games are good for children, that they enhance spatial /temporal acuity,  interaction with people from all walks of life, increase reading and math skills and promote problem-solving abilities. Oh no.  Dire warnings that humankind is doomed will generate more research dollars.

Programmed for DemiseAnd so I was not surprised when I was approached by someone representing Online Graduate Program a website whose purpose I don’t actually understand – the “About” section is as nebulous as the mission statement of the US Government.  This person asked if I was willing to share “the graphic”. They even gave me html code and because I am nice, I include it on the left.  Ain’t it pretty?  Certainly, more time went into the design than the study itself.  Its sources are some random links from the internet and the entire thing is one big text-book example for selection bias, i.e. someone searched the internet for sources that support the hypothesis that the world is coming to an end because kids play computer games.  And they presumably then wrote an RO1 or SBIR.  I won’t dignify this scientific hack-job with the obvious statistical question of correlation != causation or go further, why can Korean Children who spend vastly more hours than US children on computer games out-compete them so thoroughly in math skills?

I could happily go on like this and debunk this “graphic” line by line but I don’t want to waste my time on this nonsense.

Let me cut to the more important topic, what is going on here on a deeper level?

A.  Scaremongering is of course not new.  All technological developments were accompanied by scores of old-wise-men who prophesied  doom over mankind.  I am sure (no data) that Gutenberg’s printing press caused an outrage among the learned who felt their monopoly challenged.  And they were right.  The same story repeats for radio, TV, the internet, facebook and so on.  Heck, I remember in the 80’s when sneakers with Velcro came out and “experts” warned that children would suffer because they would not learn how to tie knots (true story).  In all of these examples, the older generation displays total and utter ignorance of the younger one.

So, this graphic isn’t new. Its just the outcry of a generation that feels they lost control over their children as they spend more time online in an environment they don’t understand.

B. Holier than thou.  Warnings of the online behavior of children inevitably comes from the older generation.  This is the generation that spent vast numbers of hours vegetated in front of Alley McBeal, Sex in the City and Star Trek (ok, ok, Star Trek was worth it).  But this the generation that now – as adults – is responsible for the abomination of  Reality Shows?   Please, this generation has the audacity to criticize brain-engaging computer games?

C.  Games are not all evil.  I agree, First Person Shooters (FPS) don’t need a lot of brains and are often quite graphic and violent.  I guess, when I grew up, we played Cowboys and Indians and that was not of great intellectual depth either but the typical FPS game requires lightning reflexes and nothing else.  Some of these games (Arma, for example) have gone scarily good at fostering collaboration and teamplay, so, there are exceptions.  But other games require a heck of a lot of social skills, math, organizational talent, leadership and – yes – language acumen.  EVE Online – the game I play exclusively is one of those. It lives and breathes teamwork, in order to become good, you have to team up with others, be humble and learn, learn, learn.  I have written about this plenty but the social aspect of this game brings people together and friendships are made that are deeper and longer lasting than some family ties.  Oh, and lets not talk about the meta game.  I sit here, writing a blog about a game, honing my skills as creative writer in a language that is not my first.

D.  What else is there to do? Those who look down on video games should offer alternatives.  Have they lived in the bland US suburbia?  I happen to live there and by God, I am glad I didn’t grow up here.  To get to the nearest Safeway its a 10 minute drive.  There is nothing at all where a child could go to on his own or where he can challenge himself.  Children in my neighborhood rarely are seen outside and if they actually have a bicycle, they ride it in more armor than a Marine wears in a combat zone.  Oh and parents are never more than 10 seconds away and ready and eager to protect their spawn from all evil – germs included.  This is such a sterile world that children have no freedom despite having it all. Computer games at least let them take risks, challenges and mental freedom that they can not have in their real lives.

E.  And what are you going to do about this? Games are educational – maybe not in the traditional sense but they educate children. The fact that this graphic on the left exist is proof that the educational system has failed to capture their attention.  In the free market that the US worships like no other nation, I’d say  “tough cheese, schools, if you can’t compete for children’s attention, you should at least face your inevitable creative destruction with some dignity”.  Or, get on it.  Bind the games into your curriculum.  Learn why children prefer the online games over your teaching style.  Let them develop their own games, stimulate their fantasy let them set achievements and milestones based on bragging rights.  Or, as a proud Darwinian I suggest you adapt or prepare for death.

Bringing it home.  Addiction in children and adults is a very serious infliction and needs to be addressed with utmost medical and scientific attention.  Kids and adults who are addicted to anything require help but they do not require blatant, superficial and cynical exploitation of their situation.


6 responses to “The Demise of Mankind

  1. Wow! Well said. Now I must show my wife because she thinks I have an Eve Online problem. Now she will know how it REALLY is: Eve Online has a Red Neckromonger problem.

    • Thank you for your comments. I hope I conveyed that addiction – in all its forms – is serious and requires more attention than some headline-grabbing scaremongering. But yes, show it to your wife, then sign her up as a buddy account, EVE needs more couples. No better way to decide who is doing the dishes than a 1v1 in T3 strategic cruisers.

  2. • I grew up in the suburbs. Born and raised in a town that isn’t so small anymore, coming close to 100k residents. My parents, being Hispanic, left us to ourselves, both having full time jobs and in a way, to them, it was mission accomplished: their children are growing up in a land of opportunity, full of many conveniences they themselves only dreamed of, including dependable power and running water. They saw the tv a frivolous purchase, but something of a bragging right in itself. But moving on in stride with your observations, I would like to see what you think of my view on them. I have always believed it is far simpler for a child to identify himself through his parents, his uniqueness at least to begin fostered under the impressions of ancestry. Yet, as things are, I understand all too well the generation that rises amidst us, like the saplings of the forest, unknowing of the fires past; they go on reaching for the sun, unrebuked and unmindful of those same stories our own fathers unfailingly reminded us with. The 21st century Icarus flies on, more brazen than the one from which their eponym was derived from, but just as unheeded were the warnings then that today are unspoken, that form themselves between the complacent and the assumption. In a world of walls and emptiness, you either get a shovel or a hammer. No one thinks to look up into the sky. The first time I fired up my first console RPG, I was handed a map in exchange for my clock. The dotted lines were mine, the feet of those who walked them, of my friends. In fan art, I would see the exact depiction of what in my heart I formed, and as I shared these drawings from across the world with my school friends, I saw the same light in their eyes. I too, have an intimate history as a gamer, though I’ve been tested by many things, and find it impossible to walk past a farm without reminiscing on a thing or two, as even brief moments can live long. The fire is always tended. We all have our stepping stones, some so large they are hurdled – but I swear, if it were possible, I’d dig some out of the shallow water and bring them with me, but my road to calvary is already too heavy for me, so in my dreams they remain. My fondness for games, you see, was never trivial, the examples set before me live on to push me towards that which now drags me. Always will I find pleasure in your homage’s, and wish that men would see that what has been done in games can be done in all things, and that the power to mold their immortality in the hearts of men, lies hidden in the hand of their maker. May our young be the first to hear of such wonderful things near the warm night side fire, and not in a maddening dash into the sun.

    • Oreb, as usual when see your prose, I read with interest, study with admiration and close with confusion. But from what I gather – a strong bond between parents and children is important to form values and aspirations. I agree. But for too many children, that bond is replaced by external values. Parenting is replaced by schooling, values are set by “societies” and a good education equals a GPA score. Your experience sounds more like mine, but from I can see in my neighborhood, I feel deeply sorry for the children who grow up around in my utterly boring middle class block. One good thing, we do have quite a bit of racial diversity and it makes for a better world for children to grow up in.

      Having said that, parents in the US seem to aspire to protect their children at all cost until these are 30ish, done with college, swap hair for belly and have offspring on their own. Risk taking is so actively discouraged. I have many friends in my native country with kids who are allowed to explore the world around them to an extent that would land the parents in court in the US. This is not bad parenting but allowing children to find their own boundaries. And if an arm breaks or a knee is bloody, so be it. It sounds awful but it is the only way to learn. I have seen several emergency rooms before I was 12 years old and bear some scars proudly.

      Online games can (and this entire blog site is dedicated to that) replace some elements of the so-called real life. Team play, risk taking, communication, fairness and so on directly translate into EVE Online. I do see games like this as a sign of the things to come, when physical location matters little, race, attitude, schooling even less. What matters are the essential things, such as how I behave towards my peers and they to me.

      And I hope we agree, but I am not sure 😉

      • Who won’t find me disagreeing with any of that. It’s just, that around here there are no forests, no hills. Hell, the only mound of dirt I first jumped with my bike was of a lot under construction for more housing! There is only a freeway and the desert beyond. Though the outdoors could keep our minds occupied and our bodies busy, there has to ultimately be some destination, in the mind or out there – and when all you see is the sweaty wave of heat glistening in the distance, it’s hard to think of adventure. The legend of the wax winged boy is that the two captives escaped confinement, and though the father was always with him, the youth was to dazzled by the shining sun to heed his warning. His freedom, and his fathers purpose, were short-lived. We are known by our pastimes and missed for our work, valued for our efforts. I know my religious prattle ruffles some feathers, but by God, it was a better choice than that desert, and the hollowness’ of the town. Video games only go so far. As much as they’ve let me see, the worlds, the hopes, the passions, I doubt even they can make me look back at the last step.

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