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Video games – ‘moral panic’? January 25, 2007

Posted by mark in : Games, General , trackback

This week’s Economist editorial (subscription required) is the subject of an article at “Communities Dominate Brands”, both putting the ‘popular media’ dislike of ‘violent’ video games in a proper historical context. For example…

They poison the mind and corrupt the morals of the young, who waste their time sitting on sofas immersed in dangerous fantasy worlds. That, at least was the charge levelled against novels during the 18th century by critics worried about the impact of a new medium on young people.

Steven Johnson covered this theme many times, in media discussions about his book “Everything Bad Is Good For You”. His open letter to Hillary Clinton (Jul-05) is no longer available at the L.A. Times site, but I referenced part of it in a strategy paper (Jan-06); and I think it reinforces the point.

Your current concern is over explicit sex in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” Yet there’s not much to investigate, is there? It should get rated appropriately, and that’s that. But there’s more to your proposed study: You want to examine how video games shape children’s values and cognitive development.

The great secret of today’s video games that has been lost in the moral panic over “Grand Theft Auto” is how difficult the games have become. That difficulty is not merely a question of hand-eye coordination; most of today’s games force kids to learn complex rule systems, master challenging new interfaces, follow dozens of shifting variables in real time and prioritize between multiple objectives. In short, precisely the sorts of skills that they’re going to need in the digital workplace of tomorrow.

Math SAT scores have never been higher; verbal scores have been climbing steadily for the last five years; nearly every indicator in the Department of Education study known as the Nation’s Report Card is higher now than when the study was implemented in 1971. The last 10 years have seen the most dramatic drop in violent crime in recent memory and the national carjacking rate has dropped substantially since “Grand Theft Auto” came out.


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