Instead of blaming the Internet and computer games for violent behaviour, society should be doing more research, said Don Tapscott, chairman of the new media think tank Alliance for Converging Technology, during the opening keynote at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. In Los Angeles.
Video games, the Internet and "geek culture" have been the main targets of societal scorn since the April tragedy in Littleton that left 15 people dead. "Kids can tell the difference between what's in a game and what is real," said Tapscott. "When I asked my kid if he thought games were making him more aggressive, he said, 'It's only a game, Dad.'"
Looking for scapegoats for societal ills is not new, he said. "In 1977, 70 percent of a Gallup poll said TV caused crime," Tapscott said. "Today, schools are banning Goths, suspending students that express feelings of self isolation. They are banning what they don't understand."
Tapscott, who has written several books on the effects of the Internet and new media on society, told the game industry that youth violence has actually decreased since 1995, around the time that video games really became big. After Littleton became the latest in a two-year spate in school shootings, violent entertainment has become a hot button issue for politicians and the news media.
On Monday, President Clinton hosted a summit to discuss the causes of adolescent violence and how to combat it. But Tapscott contended that healthy people can tell the difference between what is real and what is not. "Falling from a 20-story building and jumping from the same height using a bungie cord are physically exactly the same," he said. "However, the participant has a completely different experience." Instead of focusing on "draconian" legislation to censor or ban video games, Congress's time would be better spent on more research, said Tapscott. "It is time to step back and attack the real cause of violence. We know there is a violence cocktail," he said, listing poverty, family violence, drug abuse, untreated mental illness, parenting practice and youth alienation as the main factors in driving adolescents to commit violent acts.
"If my kid is going online with my credit card and charging up $2,000 to buy video games, games are not to blame -- that family has a problem," he said. "If you kid is going out the door with a swastika on his arm, it is time to talk about values."
Tapscott, pointing out the dangers of censoring content, even wandered into dangerous territory. "For years, we have had religious-based killings," he said, "but we should not try and ban the Bible." The game industry may change itself as well, the researcher pointed out.
Looking to the future, Tapscott predicted that like ultra-violent movies today, ultra-violent games would only appeal to a niche market. Instead, game companies should look to making interactive learning experiences for children. Already, several studies have reported that kids are leaving behind the passive experience of TV and moving over to the interactive experience of computers.
"TV took away 24 hours a week for the average baby boomer child," said Tapscott. "And now they are taking it back."
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