Posted by: Rob Hof on June 22, 2006
As I mentioned in my recent story about virtual worlds, I’ve never been a gamer. The main reason is that I could immediately see how addictive Myst, World of Warcraft and so many others would be, and I just didn’t want to get started and find all those hours vaporized before I knew it.
As it turns out, I’m not the only person with this fear. A member of the audience during a gaming panel at the Supernova conference had this very same reaction, and wondered what impact these games would have on “real” life. It made me finally realize why I’ve been uneasy when I hear so much talk about how young people who play online games are learning valuable multitasking and team-building skills, how people are getting jobs because they lead a World of Warcraft clan, and even how their brains are even getting rewired to work better than those of us nongamers. It just strikes me as too convenient and self-serving when this claim comes from folks who make games and who are trying to apply the same addictive qualities of games to a lot of other endeavors, from software to work in general.
Now, I don’t doubt that these games do teach some valuable skills. But I also don’t think manipulating our brains in this way should be undertaken lightly. Maybe I’m just thinking too much of that Star Trek: Next Generation episode where an addictive game turns out to be an alien mind control ploy.
Still, even the Supernova panelists, gaming enthusiasts all, weren’t entirely comforting in their responses to questioners in the audience. USC professor Michael Zyda noted that “at USC, when kids buy World of Warcraft, we see it in their grades.” Even worse, ShuffleBrain’s Amy Jo Kim conceded that “games can hamper kids’ ability to enjoy slower-paced things in real life,” noting that when her son plays too many video games, he tends to find real life boring.
So, I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to introduce my young daughter to these games. She still enjoys going on quiet hikes, playing with insects in the backyard, and tossing pebbles into the creek down the street. And I don’t especially want to see that change anytime soon.