Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
The Bulletstorm Controversy

Mark J. Kline | 24 Feb 2011 10:00
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I'm not surprised that gamers responded to Dr. Lieberman the way they did. One of the great things about the internet is that people can use it to speak truth to power. I'd like to think she learned a thing or two from the exchange, as I do every time I write a column here and read the reactions. Clearly, angry and disparaging comments do not amount to violence, even if she was frightened by the intense disapprobation. While most gamers are quite capable of angry talk, in my experience, few would resort to action.

Dr. Lieberman isn't wrong that videogames are incredibly violent. This is often emphasized in public dialogue on the issue because it gets lots of headlines and creates great alarm. However, I believe it's a red herring to focus on the risk of rape and violence as the primary adverse impact of gaming. It may well divert us from a clear-minded discussion of more widespread problems.

Gaming is attracting vast millions of players and may well have eclipsed other media like TV as the preferred entertainment for many young people. Some of these players spend hours each day playing. I think we would do better to examine the impact of all this on the psychological development and mental health of gamers, especially those who begin playing as young children.

This is a huge worry for parents and educators. I attend regular meetings with both groups, and concerns about the impact of gaming on social development, educational functioning, mood, family life, concentration, and time management, among others are increasing dramatically. Recently, a parent shared a discussion with her child in which she emphasized that videogames are designed by very smart people who know how to get kids interested, totally engrossed, and even addicted to their product because it's in their interests to do so. She was emphasizing this to help bolster her child against the impulse to play too much at the expense of academics and family time. It's a different spin on the kind of conversations some parents try to have, and given the propensity of many young people to do just the opposite of what their parents expect, it may not have been terribly effective. Others parents aren't even having the conversations.

If we can agree that intensive gaming can create or exacerbate mental health problems for some people, then perhaps the industry ought to take a careful look at its products and their impact. Of course it's about fun and entertainment first, but if the products you make can have adverse effects on intensive users, don't you have some responsibility? The tobacco and alcohol industries have found the answer to be yes.

Dr. Mark Kline wants to believe it is spring in New England in late February because he can see parts of his crumbling driveway pavement. Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to [email protected]. Your identity will remain confidential.

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