Cybertrap for the Young: Videogame Consoles

It is my pleasure to welcome Frederick Lane to the EIE Blog. Fred is an author, attorney  educational consultant, expert witness, and lecturer who has appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He has written seven books, including most recently “Cybertraps for the Young” (NTI Uppstream, 2011). All of his books are available on amazon.com or through his website. Fred will be joining us for the next 3 weeks as a guest blogger on the EIE blog sharing excerpts from his book “Cybertraps for the Young.”

It would be difficult to imagine someone less likely to be a video game fan than my

grandfather, a serious and well-respected real estate lawyer who spent more than fifty years

at the forefront of his legal specialty. I remember debating him when I was in law school

about the merits of computer-aided legal research, a development he disdained. But even

Grum could feel the lure of electronic gadgetry: in 1975, he was one of the early purchasers

of Pong, Atari Inc.’s groundbreaking video paddle game. I was ecstatic: I’d never seen

anything like it, and happily spent hours playing the game on my uncle’s ancient, black-andwhite

TV.

Regardless of how long I played Pong, my parents had little reason to worry about what I

was doing—the Pong console played Pong and only Pong. But video game consoles have

gone through a few changes since then. Today, the capabilities of those consoles rival or

exceed the capabilities of most desktop and laptop computers (in fact, law enforcement

agencies use the latest game consoles to help crack passwords). Recent models have

incorporated Blu-Ray disc players, motion-sensing and wireless controllers, and high-end

video processors for increasingly lifelike and immersive game-playing experiences (which

helps explain why 10 percent of teens log more than twenty hours a week playing video

games).

In part because of those new features, the devices are incredibly popular with children (and,

no doubt, with their parents as well). In early 2010, the Pew Internet and American Life

Project reported that 81 percent of children between the ages of twelve and seventeen own

at least one gaming console, while 51 percent own a portable gaming device—a figure that’s

almost certainly risen over the past year, thanks to the popularity of game-capable devices

like the iPhone and other late-generation smartphones. The combined sale of video game

software and hardware generates over $20 billion per year in the United States alone.

The most significant development, however, is the growing connectivity of these gaming

devices. All three major consoles—Sony Corporation’s PlayStation 3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360,

and the Nintendo Co., Ltd.’s Wii—are designed to connect directly to the Internet. Gaming

companies added connectivity to video consoles to encourage gamers to buy new games

online and to compete with opponents playing the same games around the world. Most

contemporary games also have built-in messaging capability, so gamers can communicate

with each other in real time.

Keep in mind that the same connectivity, combined with the rapidly expanding features of

gaming console software, allows gamers to do everything online that they have traditionally

done using a computer—send e-mail, use Internet chat and instant-messaging services, surf

the Web, and send and view photographs. The potential dark side of gaming consoles was

unveiled last year, when a Kentucky man was arrested for using the communication

capabilities of his Sony Playstation 3 to strike up a relationship with an eleven-year-old girl

and solicit nude photos from her online.

Not long ago, a portable gaming device would have been a safer alternative—the only thing

handheld consoles were designed to do was play games. Like so many other types of

technology, however, recent models of handheld consoles—the Nintendo DS, the Sony

PlayStation Portable (PSP), and the Apple iPhone and iPad—are designed to connect to the

Internet for game downloads, interactive play, and messaging. In addition, both the

Nintendo DS and iPhone are equipped with built-in cameras.

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