Virtual insanity

November 19, 2009

The popularity of video games among young people has been growing for years, and although Generation Y's "successors" have contributed to this, it is doubtful that they have acquired skills making them more suited to the "new economic reality" ("Not just child's play", 1 November). If the popularity of a technical product among the young becomes a criterion for learning, educators should include texting in lesson plans.

Researchers tempted to collect data from gamers should consider the risks. Study participants could be exposed to health hazards: video-game addiction is the most widely reported side-effect. We regard it as juvenile and harmless, but three young men in China, South Korea and Taiwan respectively died after hours of non-stop gaming. Such cases are rare, but that is of little comfort to parents of addicts watching helplessly as their children withdraw from the real world and slip further into the virtual one.

Just as police or military academies train cadets through specialised simulations, commercial video games may work in specific technical fields. In his famous Last Lecture, Randy Pausch, a hero of mine, explained how students learnt electronic arts by making video games. This benefits engineers and artists who want to make such games. For the rest of us, they are fluff.

From students of every generation living in the digital age, I hear a plea for human connection. It's the difference between bonding with a person or a machine, between graduating from college or to the next level of play.

Michael Morgan, Co-ordinator, American Language and Culture Programme, International Services Office, University of Detroit Mercy.

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