Saturday, April 02, 2005


But in the end, they're still nothing more than video games
By: Jewels

I've been discussing the above article with my year 12 and 11 students. It's written by a woman who became "responsibly addicted" to Anarchy Online, a massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), something that became a "dangerous experiment".

One question I raised was, "Is there a real difference between the 'real world' and the virtual world'?"

One student agreed that to exchange email was "real world" but that to be an avatar in a MMORPG was quite different, this was escapism, separate from "real world". I asked would the same apply to preparing and acting in a physical world play and he was stumped for an answer to that.

I also said that I had read somewhere that flight simulators were not only cheaper but also the *best* way to train pilots and so there was an example of a "virtual world" activity being used to prepare for a valuable "real world" activity.

One student raised the question of computer games encouraging behaviour that would be life endangering in the real world but I responded to that by pointing out that that might be an advantage, that risk taking activity could be tested out safely in the virtual world environment.

I asked what they felt was the difference between these three words - addiction, absorption and immersion? Would it be a good comeback to a parent who played the addiction card to respond, "I'm not addicted, I'm just absorbed (or immersed)". The students were amused but handled the distinction easily, they saw that addiction meant to have cravings, to be drawn back in away from other important things that needed to be done.

I asked whether there could be "good addiction" and "bad addiction", why was it that being addicted to playing sport or chess was not seen in the same way as playing computer games? Discussion on this point wasn't resolved, but some students saw addiction to sport as bad, for example, it might lead to muscle damage.

Some students felt that good MMORPG could be dangerous because they had the capability of dragging the players in and making them addicted. They understood that state of becoming totally engaged in an activity to a point where it became also impossible to stop doing it. My response to that was that the same state was entered into by a serious computer programmer and that was seen as a socially valuable activity.

I also shared some half baked knowledge I had about endorphins, that the same chemicals were released in the brain through very different sorts of activities - taking drugs, running a marathon and becoming totally immersed in a problem solving activity.

This is part of the preparation I'm doing for an essay task, for my students to critically discuss the following:

"Computer games are addictive and violent. They should be banned."

As part of the preparation I did an anonymous survey on how many hours a week the spent playing computer games on average. The responses were: 20, 12, 5, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1.


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