VIRTUAL GUNS VS A REAL ONE

A sad and tragic shooting has brought the debate about violent video games back into the news. The event itself, the murder of a 90-year-old relative at the hands of an 8-year-old boy whom she was babysitting, has grabbed a lot of headlines in the last few days, in part because police report that the young boy was playing the video game Grand Theft Auto right before the killing. A good survey of the media’s take on the event is available at the website Kotaku.com. While the online article is a great source for media reaction to the story, as well as a good overview on the research about violent video games influence on those who play them, the final commentary from the writer is even more important to check out:

[T]there’s one issue that needs no research: eight-year-olds should not have unsupervised access to loaded guns. Period. End of discussion. This debate over video game violence needs to be secondary to the debate over real violence. When Louisiana police imply that Grand Theft Auto IVcaused this tragedy—and when the news amplifies that conversation with hyperbolic analogies and catchy soundbites—it distracts from the terrifying reality that an eight-year-old was able to pick up and fire a handgun…. He sure didn’t use a video game.

 

 

VIDEO GAMES: THE GOOD, THE RAD AND THE UGLY (LEGISLATION)

It’s unBAD FOR YOU day, as we present the latest positive news on computer gaming. We begin with “Eye Soccer,” which looks like it could become a tool for understanding the optical impairments of schizophrenics. Scientists at the University of BC discovered that schizophrenics had a tough time tracking the little digital soccer ball on screen, as well as anticipating its future movements. This “broken connection” between what schizophrenics see and how visual information is processed may lead to new theraputic approaches in the future. Dr. Miriam Spering, who led the research team, sees “a lot of potential,” in the new study’s results: “I think we are some years away from actually making this a standard therapy, but it could become a tool.” All from a simple video game about soccer.

Ain’t that a kick in the pants!

Next up is a video game that helped scientists find brain cells (instead of destroying them, as some parents believe). Professor Michael Kahana and a team of researchers from UCLA and Thomas Jefferson University, have found a group of brand new brain cells which “helps humans navigate in unfamiliar territory.” The discovery was made thanks, in part, to a bike riding computer game. Epilepsy patients, with electrodes already implanted in their noggins, provided researchers with the ability to map what was happening, brain-wise, as the patients did a little virtual bicycling. By focusing on the connection between navigating the video space and the parts of their brains that were activated, researchers surmised that without these newly identified “grid cells, it is likely that humans would frequently get lost or have to navigate based only on landmarks.”

Now that scientists have discovered these “grid cells,” let’s hope they don’t lose track of them.

Speaking of tracks, after taking the top trophy at the Nationwide Series race track in Watkins Glen, Brad Keselowski asserts that it was video games which helped him master the course. “I remember I spent a whole summer when I was kind of locked in my parent’s shop,” Keselowski recalled of his childhood. “And I remember…sitting on the computer in the office area running Watkins Glen as a video game.”

Wow — can you beat that?!

Well, if you can’t (beat ’em, that is) then join ’em. At least, that’s the attitude the usually book-centric libraries of America has adopted — like in Baltimore County’s Sollers Point, where every Wednesday they let kids compete on an array of computer games, with a weekly Xbox afterschool program for teens. And Sollers Point library is but one of many using video games to lure in teens: “According to a study published in Library Journal last year, about 15 percent of libraries in the U.S. currently lend games to cardholders to take home. But other research shows that gaming in the library is far more prevalent — and teenagers game the most.” Part of the libraries’ reasoning for embracing Xbox is that teens may also bump into a real book or two, inbetween battling it out in a virtual world. There’s real evidence to back that up, too. According to Sandy Farmer, manager of Central Youth Services for the Houston Public Library, they’ve seen an increase of 15- to 20-percent in the number of books being checked out as a result of the Nintendo Wiis, DSs, Xboxes, iPads and PlayStations the library also offers.

Looks like video games not only help race car drivers, schizophrenics, and brain-cell researchers, it also helps with general circulation!

Too BAD (you just knew we’d have to use that word again) that New Jersey thinks video games are so potentially dangerous that they deserve a special pamphlet to WARN students about them. In June, the NJ Legislature passed a proposal requiring that the Department of Education must give out to incoming students “research and statistics on how violent behavior increases after exposure to violent [media]” and “scientific findings that show children who play violent games are more likely to be involved in physical altercations.” The only problem is the data on the negative influence of violent video games is highly debatable.

If you want to find out more about that, you can pick up a copy of BAD FOR YOU this November.

Link to the Jersey bill here.

 

Deluge of Digital Distraction

There’s no app for parents struggling with managing the digital generation but there are a pile of old-fashioned books coming out (these ARE for parents after all).  A rundown in the New York Times highlights three of them. Surprisingly, only one has the word ‘Addiction” in it and none are foolish enough to recommend parents try the “the Full Amish” digital blackout for any significant length of time. Perhaps most surprisingly, one even recommends that parents look at THEIR digital habits before bringing the hammer down and another advises one to “tweet mindfully”. But what’s the fun in THAT?

64g

 

TO BE OR NOT TO BE…BANNED

While the internet offers kids (heck – ALL people) the ability to access an unbelievable amount of info these days, it has also broken down some of the barriers that once stood between children and material that they might find disturbing if exposed to at too young an age. Policing these borders of knowledge is of special concern in places where the internet is accessed by kids: schools and libraries, in particular. To control this, filtering software has been added to computers at those locations to block content deemed as “unsuitable”. Unfortunately, this filtering technology has proved to be far from perfect, as a blogger from England has pointed out in a recent post.

“On Monday, I was sitting in the British Library frantically trying to write my new book…[and] I had to quickly check a particular line in Hamlet, so I Googled Hamlet MIT, because the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has put the entire works of Shakespeare up on the Internet. (It takes 70 mins to order a physical book). I clicked on the link and…

A message came up from the British Library telling me that access to site was blocked due to ‘violent content.’”

hamlet-and-skull[1]

The Bard barred for “violent content”?! Why, that’s bloody crazy!!!

SKATER KILLED FOR GRAFFITI

Israel Hernandez-Llach was an acclaimed graffiti artist and an avid skateboarder who, according to his sister, “wanted to change the world somehow through art.”

The reason why the word was is used to describe the 18-year-old is because Hernandez is now dead, following a confrontation with Miami Beach police.

Cop skater

When cops spotted the artist tagging a defunct McDonald’s early in the morning, “more than half a dozen” officers gave chase: “During the foot pursuit, the subject encountered officers face to face…and ignored officers’ commands to stop,” MBPD Chief Raymond Martinez explained in a public statement on the killing. “In order to affect his arrest, an officer deployed his conducted electrical weapon.” Or, put another way: he shot the kid point blank in the chest with a Taser. After being electro-shocked, Hernandez began to show “signs of medical distress,” Chief Martinez continued. Emergency responders arrived and rushed the teen to Mount Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

“The City of Miami Beach would like to extend their condolences to the family of Israel Hernandez,” Chief Martinez concluded.

Two of Hernandez’s friends, who were acting as lookouts for him as he spray painted the abandoned building, claim they witnessed the whole encounter with police, and that officers “shoved Hernandez against a wall, then high-fived” each other as the teen lay motionless after being Tasered. “He was on the ground and the cops were making jokes,” 19-year-old Thiago Souza told The Miami Herald.

Best friend, Rafael Lynch, who used to hang out at local skateboarding shops with his pal, talked of Hernandez’s “passion for skating and art…. He taught me a lot. I still have his hat and his board. They still smell like him. It’s crazy.”

Hernandez “had recently launched his own line of skateboards, and had also shown his work in local galleries,” reports the Herald.

According to Amnesty International, between 2001 and 2008, 351 people in the United States died after being shocked by police Tasers. The blog Electric Village has documented another 191 Taser-related deaths in America from 2009-2013. That means the total of documented Taser-related deaths in the US are a shocking  542 in 12 years!

 

Narcissism Face Off

“Narcissism Epidemic” promoter Dr. Jean Twenge is once again in the media spotlight, claiming (once again) the younger generation is the most self-absorbed in history. But this time, her “Generation Me” theory is put to the test on the pages of the New York Times.

Read the social science smackdown between Twenge and research professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett here.

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