Monday, March 16, 2009

Caution from the Continent

Europeans have expressed some notable criticism recently in both scientific and governmental discourse that is aimed at dissuading young users from common digital practices involving videogame play and the use of social network sites. One would have hoped that other countries would have learned from the moral panics that swept through Congress during the Clinton and Bush administrations, but our NATO allies also seem to bring their own national characters to the debate about media influence.

Raph Koster passed on news from Olivier Mauco from the city of light that the French central government was contemplating more regulation of videogames. As he explains in his blog in French and English, the legislation is tied to a bill for hospital reform. As Mauco points out, authorities in Paris are comparing videogame play to several other dubiously analogous products and practices, such as candy cigarettes and gambling. Mauco notes that the law's wording actually mispells the name of PEGI, the European equivalent of the ESRB U.S. ratings board.

With a similar rhetoric of addiction, Lower Saxony has introduced age limits for playing online games like World of Warcraft. Such uninforceable age barriers were already in existance for store-bought games. As my UC Irvine colleague Gail Hart explains, "they seem to fear a real addiction on the part of the nation's youth (see their figures) and are engaging young players to test these games and advise them on the
introduction of obstacles to playing. "

Across the Channel, British readers of the Daily Mail were told to beware of sites like Facebook and MySpace in an article on how "Social websites harm children's brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist." However, not only does the article not cite a full range of scientific opinion that shows that there might be some debate about the thesis that young brains could be "rewired" by this technology in necessarily damaging ways, but also the paper doesn't acknowledge that their main expert in the news item, Baroness Susan Greenfield, was snubbed by the Royal Society because of her reputation for shoddy science and aggressive self-promotion.

Greenfield's analogies in the article itself should be enough to give one pause:

I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,' she said.

Summary: videogames . . . bad; hunting and butchering . . . good.

For more adult objections to the membership economy of Facebook, check out "Down with Facebook!" from the Weekly Standard.

Update: For more on scientific objections to rapid-fire messaging here at home, see "Scientists warn of rapid -fire media dangers."

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