It's rare we find reporting on virtual worlds that is so backwards as to be almost comical. We attribute the declining trend of online gaming fear to increasing exposure to and understanding of both virtual worlds and their players. Heck, some schools are even using them to teach.
Then there's the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and their intrepid writer Peter McKay. Not only does Mr. McKay think virtual worlds are the pathway to destruction for one and all, but he urges parents to take all measures to keep kids as far from online gaming as possible.
Pixels and Policy descends into the murk.
Virtual Worlds and the Threat to Children
Unlike earlier critics of online gaming and video gaming in general, McKay doesn't make the argument that online gaming exposes kids to a sea of sexual deviants and age-inappropriate content. In fact, it's difficult to see just what threat McKay sees in playing video games other than a long-debunked fear of raising a "45-year-old unemployed person."
Yeah, he actually says that in the article:
We want the boys to be happy, and we don't want to be mean parents. But we also are afraid of raising blithering idiots who can do nothing except fight pretend battles on virtual worlds, and who will never acquire any kind of usable skill and will live with us forever. I am deathly afraid of discovering an unemployed 45-year-old in my basement.
So we've worked out a system of hide and seek. When we wanted the boys to play video games, we gave them the controllers, and when we wanted them to stop, we collected the controllers and hid them somewhere in the house.
This extreme method of gaming control works about as well as you'd expect, and even McKay admits his family has been fighting this battle "for years." But what can be expected from a writer who views the whole of console and online gaming as "running through fake landscapes shooting high-powered weapons" like an idiot?
From where does this stereotypical view of online gaming come? Certainly it's less prevalent than it was even two years ago, due in no small part to the wide adoption of online gaming as a core educational tool in primary schools and colleges worldwide. Americans watching television coverage of Iran's most recent election and the ensuing chaos even saw pro-democracy activists using online gaming to promote democratic change.
Ignoring all of this, McKay chronicles his multi-decade struggle to keep his children away from gaming of any kind:
Somewhere in the corner of our basement are the carcasses of video games past — Nintendo NES, Nintendo 64 and PS2. There might even be a Pong in there. All were the subject of prolonged parental warfare.
Our middle son, now in college, got sick of our restrictions when he lived at home and moved on to the computer, playing online games and corresponding with other people who played online games. We couldn't take away his controller, but we did take his keyboard, giving it back only when he needed his computer for homework.
If only McKay had known that the kids playing online games through their childhood would become the next virtual world and online games innovators. Just look at game fanatic Spencer Zuzulo, founder of the Texas Game Camp and a major force for updating Louisiana's technology in education standards. He proudly points out that early exposure to gaming was a motivator for the creation of the virtual education firm 3D Squared.
It's disconcerting that, in a time when virtual worlds are finding uses in all aspects of international business, education, politics and government, there remain voices like McKay's that fail to see any purpose in gaming beyond mindless entertainment. We invite Mr. McKay to browse the archives of Pixels and Policy to see the wide spectrum of applications emerging for gaming, social media, and virtual entertainment.
In short: Play on, kids. You never known which XBox Live champion may be tomorrow's Philip Rosedale. There are worse things in the world than having your name linked with some of Time Magazine's most powerful and influential innovators – and it's better than spending years hiding controllers and game consoles in a digital War of the Roses.