WGN Stumbles on Video Game Addiction

(Thanks to Amped IGO’s Anthony Perez for first alerting me to this story.)

Update, 1:05 p.m., 2/24/06 — Fixed some grammar and spelling errors. For more on this, check out Kotaku’s take (which covers a lot of familiar ground) and some comments from the guy who posted the video, courtesy of his 1up blog.

I try not to get too worked up when local news outlets takes an overly sensationalistic look at video games. After all, taking overly sensationalistic looks at things is what local news does best, and their main reach is usually limited to a small metropolitan area in any case.

For instance, when Philadelphia’s Channel 6 misleadingly characterized the Nintendo DS as a tool for sexual predators recently (despite apparently knowing exactly how wrong they were) I tried to keep things in perspective. New technology can be confusing, the piece brought up some good points about general Internet safety, yada yada yada.

But when I saw this story on “video game addiction” on Chicago’s WGN, I felt I had to say something.

The segment starts by calling video games the “new drug for kids,” a statement I see at least three problems with (hint… look for the nouns and adjectives). They quickly clarify that it’s “not an actual drug” but stress that doctors say it “acts just like one.” WGN is either unwillnig or unable to name any of these doctors, much less talk to them on camera (The best and only outside source they could get, apparently was a clinical social worker who is pointedly not referred to as a doctor).

According to the story, kids are becoming “addicted to their own adrenaline” through the “speed, sex and violence in the games.” Video games turn “otherwise fun-loving, family-focused children” into hellions who “become impulsive and hot tempered” and “tend to act less respectfully to their parents,” the story asserts.

Sorry, but isn’t this how rebellious teenagers have been acting for generations? I’d challenge the reporter to find a adolescent child whose hormones don’t make them act this way at some point. I’d also like them to explain how playing fun games fails to make a child “fun-loving” (or show some evidence that any of these children were “family-focused” and “totally different kids” before being exposed to the evil of games). And while it’s regretful that the mother of these children says “it felt like I really couldn’t connect with them” it seems a bit much to blame video game for the generation gap that inevitably develops once a child passes the age of, oh, eight.

But the worst part of the story, I feel, is the total lack of respect for the socializing influence of video games.

At one point, the reporter asserts that “while [the three brothers] sat in the same room, they wouldn’t make connections with one another.” Take the following into account when evaluating that statement.

  • The quote is accompanied by a dramatic video of two of the brothers playing one of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games.
  • The players are playing in a two-player, simultaneous, split-screen mode
  • They are talking as they play (thought the reporters relentless voice-over makes it hard to make out what they say).
  • The third brother is inspired to say “that was awesome!” about some unseen action on screen…
  • … leading the reporter to say that “the little ones learn from their older brothers” in a sinister tone.

Talking, learning, interacting, respectful exclamations… sounds like a pretty strong connection to me. But these clues can be hard to pick up on among the endless shots of the brothers caught in vacant-eyed stares. (At no point does the reporter ask the kids about their “addiction.” I wonder how they would react to questions about their apparently extreme disfunction).

At various points, the report also tells parents that video games make children “forget about their friends” and has led to colleges full of “students who don’t know how to relate to each other.” The reporter would probably be shocked to hear about how many college students connect over late night games of Halo 2, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Madden 2006, and countless other games every night on campuses across the country. Not that she asked any of these college students, or anyone who might know if social problems on campuses are really statistically on the rise.

The only valid complaint that I can suss out of this report is that video games are “not so awesome for man’s best friend — no free hands to play since all fingers are on the controls and all focus is on the screen.” Yes, I will admit, it is hard to play with a dog (a real dog) and play a video game at the same time. “Nations puppies have to wait for Billy to save before getting their kibble. Bulletin at 11.”

For all my grousing, the story isn’t all bad. It does stress at the end that there’s no need for parents to ban games outright, and simple common sense tips about limiting play time and making children do their homework before playing games could conceivably be helpful for parents who need a television reporter to tell them how to raise their children.

But when this report finishes by encouraging kids to “think about what they’re doing an why, instead of just responding to the stimulus on screen,” I can’t help but feel that parents should take the same approach when watching the local news.

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