Online Games cause Students to drop out of US Universities. Maybe.

In the best tradition of ignoring 100 years of the Scientific Method and the concept of a Control Group, the FCC Commissioner has been talking about American students dropping out because of computer games, MMOs especially.

Although *you* “might find it alarming” that people drop-out citing “online game addiction”, I’d be more interested in questioning what the base rate of drop-outs was pre-WoW (University Professors have been bemoaning it to me for more than *10 years*, which predates WoW by a long long way). I’m particularly suspicious because I remember similar hand-wringing in the mid 1990’s when MUD’s caused people to do badly at University (and what a storm in a teacup that turned out to be).

No. University causes people to do badly at University. For most children, more so now than ever before in history, it’s the first time they experience true “independence” and “full responsibility for their own stupid actions”. Developing addictions – any addiction – and succumbing to them for the first time is, from what I recall, pretty common as one of the learning experiences many go through.

IMHO, the FCC Commissioner really ought to be *celebrating* the fact that students today learn how to integrate addictive entertainments with their daily lives on something as benign and social as a computer game. MMO’s such as WoW have some great things to help people learn to understand and deal with addcition, such as the social support of in-built human social/friends networks (largely comprised of people who aren’t addicted, or who have found ways of getting a decent workable balance between their game-playing and their life).

Maybe the World Has Suddenly Changed, and the FCC Commissioner’s statements and scaremongering are both reasonable and an excellent warning. The balance of probability suggests that’s not the case, and that instead it was a foolish, ill-considered statement from someone in a position of public attention who really ought to know better.

Normally, I’d shrug and not care; there’s lots of public personalities who make silly statements every minute of every day (that then get leapt-on by news outlets eager to do some trouble-stirring). But in this case, she was using it to prop-up her argument in favour of forcing telecomms carriers to “adopt initiatives to provide curriculum and education regarding safe use of their products – including internet safety”. In the process of trying to promote something worthy, she stamped on the face of one of the most effective tools for doing precisely what she was aiming for. Sigh.

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