Thursday, January 24, 2008

Getting to know GameBoy

On Tuesday evening, the night PBS’s Frontline ran a scary “Growing up OnLine program about adolescent cyber-anarchy at 9 p.m., I was a Media Think presenter guiding a group or parents of elementary school children through a discussion about video games and on-line fantasia.

The metaphors the parents used to describe what had happened to their children were troubling. “Kidnapping” and “addiction” topped the list.

I invited them to share their concerns. Several said they thought they had the situation under control. They limited “screen time” and had placed computers in “family areas” where adult surveillance ruled. Their kids were forbidden to have computers in their rooms where they could be free to roam the wild, salacious web with abandon.

Others — nearly all were parents of boys — felt they had lost control. Power struggles had ensued. Gameboys had become addictions. The Penguin Club turned out to be training wheels for “Facebook” and ”MySpace” where hormonal urges eventually would be manipulated and exploited through video cliquishness, flirtation, flaming and even seduction.

Later in the evening, “Growing up OnLine” laid out the terrain.

I interjected advice as the parents recounted their stories. My main point was to take control, but in ways that required considerable tolerance and understanding. Rather than demean a child’s inevitable involvement with electronic media, a parent should venture into the child’s cyberworld. Sit down with your child and have him or her explain it. Get to know the vocabulary, the video landscape of Pokemon, meet the heroes and the villains and learn the rewards of achieving each new “level.”

Once parents have explored with their children this odd and often violent, amoral world of cyberspace, they can raise “adult” questions about good and evil, violence and non-violence, conflict and conciliation, war and peace. The cyberworld is only as alien to us as we adults make it. If we segregate ourselves from it, we become irrelevant.

Video games are the fairy tales of our times. To ignore them results in, yes, ignorance. To demean them is to distance yourself from your child. I know, because I did a long, long time ago and regret it to this day.

The negative metaphors of addiction and kidnapping need to be replaced with those of opportunity and even community. We need to reframe our attitudes toward the cyberworld. If we do that, we can use it as a gateway to the real world of real levels of achievement, of right and wrong, good and evil, peace and war, love and hate.

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