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Why games can be so dangerous for kids

John Birmingham | March 1, 2011
Here's a hard truth from someone who loves his gaming. I'm coming to the conclusion that games can be very, very bad for kids. Not that they have to be bad for kids. Just that they can be.


I was going to write about DRM today, but decided to save that sucker for another day. It struck me that since I had the e-mail addresses of about 800 novelists on my system, it might be worth doing some actual work for this blog and surveying them about their opinions. So look forward to that sometime in the next couple of weeks.

I wanted to write about Digital Rights Management–the sneaky little software tricks that stop you downloading a copy of Falafel from Amazon and immediately making about 1000 copies to send to your friends, among other things – because it's been on my mind since the collapse of the Borders book chain.

The ability to make virtually infinite copies of a work once it's stored in a digital format is, of course, perceived as one of the great threats to the old media industries. That's why I wanted to do some thinking about DRM.

While I do have issues with the self-serving nihilism of the whole “information wants to be free” jihad, I don't know that it's the main threat looming over my personal event horizon. In the end, if people want to read, I have a naïve faith that they'll pay some of us to write for them. What sometimes worries me in the darkest hours is the idea that reading itself might die.

I don't often draw on the literary insights of my friend Matthew Reilly when thinking about the future of publishing, but Matthew has argued a couple of times over the years that books such as the ones he writes–hyper accelerated action stories unencumbered by too many inconvenient layers of meaning–are not the enemy of literature. (I'd actually argue that Matthew is a great friend of literature because the sales of his books subsidise the cost of publishing widely unread, dialogue-driven character studies, in which not much happens, and almost nothing blows up).

The enemy of books, are not other books. A sale to Matthew Reilly almost certainly isn't a loss that Tim Winton. But Riley can provide a gateway reading experience that can, many years later, eventually lead to Winton. Very few teenage boys are going to pick up a copy of Cloudstreet. But with a little bit of encouragement they'll jump straight into Ice Station or Area 7.

The question is, how much encouragement do they need to get there in the first place? And increasingly the answer is: more than many people are willing to provide. Big dumb genre books where things blow up and objects move quickly are perfect reading fodder for teenage boys. They can get them used to the idea of sitting still with the written word for hours at a time, possibly even leading them to contemplate reading some words that have been written without quite so many explosions. But they are never going to get there if, as children, they were offered the choice between the written word and the glowing screen.

The hard truth


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