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April 27, 2007
Here's the line-up for this last week of April:
- Fresh videogame findings: Columbine revisited; Cartoony vs. explicit violent; Negative news sells games; Gamer parents' rules; Pathological game use
- Web News Briefs: 'Twitter' traits; Social sites beat porn traffic?; Predator in phone chat; Moving to Vista; AIM's buddy tracking; 5,000 calls to his cellphone....
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Notable fresh videogame findings
Though eclipsed by the terrible news of violence in Virginia and Iraq last week, there has been some notable news in the videogame space of late, including findings from research on both sides of the Pond.
But before we look at the research, don't miss these insights from a psychiatrist - Dr. Jerald Block, who has seen a lot of avid gamers, including "numerous players who have logged over 3,000 hours in a year on just one game [that's 57+ hours/week, 52 weeks/year]," he writes in a recent commentary....
- Columbine revisited: A psychiatrist's view
Having researched the mass shooting in Columbine, Colo., he wrote an oped piece for the Rocky Mountain News protesting a recent court decision to block access to the statements made to the police by [shooters] Eric Harris's and Dylan Klebold's parents. Dr. Block writes that the decision could delay much-needed further research for 20 years. Note, however, what he has learned so far: "Starting in their sophomore year, Klebold and Harris began getting into trouble at home and school.... One way they were punished was to ban them from using computers. Unfortunately, doing so also cut them off from the most important relationship in the two adolescents' lives. In addition to being the best of companions, their computers also served another purpose. The computer games they played defended others from the two teenagers' anger. Initially, rather than hurting others, they killed virtually.... After getting banned from their computers, the two teenagers' rage erupted.... Why is this important? Since the attack on Columbine, computer games have become vastly more popular and immersive. Tens of millions of people play computer games each day.... Like Harris and Klebold, many people play games, much to the exclusion of other activities.... The real risk of computer gaming has little to do with the content. Instead, we need to worry about how gratifying the virtual can be. Abruptly prohibiting or discontinuing someone's computer use may inadvertently release unanticipated emotions that might result in tragedy, as happened at Columbine." [More from Dr. Block on game use in both pathological and therapeutic forms below.]
- Cartoon vs. explicit violence: Same impact?
New research from Iowa State University found that playing "cartoonish" violent videogames that display no blood "had the same short-term effect [on 9-to-12-year-olds and college students] of increasing aggressive behavior as the more graphic teen (T-rated) violent games." This was a finding in the first of three studies by the ISU researchers in a book just released by Oxford University Press. I guess all that exposure to Popeye and Tom & Jerry some of us had only had short-term impact. But look at this interesting finding about the player's intention vs. the game's gore (the reason why cartoon characters can have as much impact as explicit depiction of violence): "What seems to matter is whether the players are practicing intentional harm to another character in the game. That's what increases immediate aggression - more than how graphic or gory the game is," said one of the authors, ISU psychology Prof. Douglas Gentile.
- Negative news sells games: UK study
Responding to UK public concerns, the British Board of Film Classification recently commissioned a survey about videogame use in that country, and the results are in. It found that "players of violent videogames believe they are just 'exhilarating' escapism which does not desensitize them to real-life mayhem... However, gamers do concede that people 'who are already unhinged in some way' may be pushed over the edge if they play violent games obsessively," Reuters reports. Note this interesting take-away from the study by Finnish game news site AfterDawn.com: "The negative reporting that surrounds violent video games leads many gamers to try them out. The study suggested that violent games that frequently made the headlines were the most attractive."
- Gamer parents' rules for their kids
For the first time ever, videogamers are becoming parents, and "whoops, now we've got to make sober calls about what sort of entertainment is good or bad for our children," wrote gamer and columnist Clive Thompson in Wired. What sorts of calls are they making? Clive called members of his "gamer posse" to find out. "As you'd expect, I found that joystick-wielding parents are much better than Hillary Clinton at parsing the nuances in various types of combat games." One uses "the Lego rule" at his house: no toys or games "that replicate 20th century weapons." That's actually the Lego company's rule. "So his four children can play games like Halo, since it contains only futuristic, fantasy war, where you're killing only green- or blue-blooded aliens. The same goes for Roman swordplay titles," Clive writes of his fellow gamer dad's rules. That rules out Grand Theft Auto. As for game addiction: "Most gamer parents told me they don't allow more than an hour a day, and some only allow gaming only on weekends."
- Pathological videogame use
This is not about child videogamers. But a psychiatrist's stories of three adult gamers he's worked with offer parents (and everyone else) important insights into a little-understood world. For one of these gamers, Dr. Jerald Block writes in Psychiatric Times, a sort of addiction to World of Warcraft (WoW, a multiplayer online role-playing game) has been a serious problem. For the two others, gaming has apparently been a stabilizing factor (for a man with a 16-year history of schizophrenia) and an aid in recovery from drug addiction. Dr. Block concludes: "Our patients are using computer games in ever greater numbers, for hours on end [he mentions that US videogame software sales reached $7 billion last year]. It is time that we take a much closer look at what makes the games so compelling and what characterizes normalcy and pathology in this new realm of human experience."
- Games as emotional outlet. The Washington Post looks at "flOw," a new game just acquired by Sony and co-created by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago, who describe themselves as "dedicated to expanding the emotional spectrum of video games and making them available for a much wider audience." The Post calls flOw "a soothing title where players guide an aquatic creature as it eats and evolves to the beat of ethereal background music."
- Videogames back in the news. "In the rush to explain massacres like the one at Virginia Tech, experts including popular TV psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw dusted off a familiar scapegoat - violent video games, movies and other media," Reuters reports.
* * * *Web News Briefs
- Facebook's 'Twitter' traits
Facebook users now have all the cellphone-Web "talking points" that the very hot mobile-social-networking service Twitter has, a Wired News blog reports. Users can not only update their profiles via cellphone, they can also have their Facebook friends' pokes and comments sent directly to their phones. Wired News says "the improvements are not simply a case of Facebook copying Twitter since the Status Updates feature has been available to Facebook users for nearly a year, still, with the addition of SMS support, the featureset is now nearly identical to that of Twitter."
- Social sites surpassing porn traffic?
X-rated Web content will probably always be on the Web, but it has some serious competition now, reportedly. "Web traffic attracted by social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook has begun to rival porn sites in recent months," the Toronto Star reports, citing research from traffic measurer Hitwise. But as a blogger at WebProNews suggests, that may not be the good news that it appears to be: "Does the fact that I have 15 social-networking accounts, mean that I represent 15 unique visitors?... Most social-networking sites have free membership. It's also an 'incentive' to create tons of accounts, and only use one or two services. Does the report factor that some spam marketers are creating millions of MySpace and other accounts for spam purposes? Well, if it does, I wouldn't be surprised that social networking is 'overtaking' porn sites!" The Economist suggests that porn has just shifted more to the file-sharing networks and reports that 30% of transactions on Second Life relate to sex or gambling.
- Predator in phone chat
his commentary by Fox News legal specialist Lis Wiehl shows how predation is not restricted to any particular technology, which parents need to know. A Georgia 14-year-old "joined Quest Personals, a phone chat service, after seeing it advertised on television," Wiehl reports in FoxNews.com, adding that the site has a minimum age of 18 but has no security measures that enforce that minimum. So "Julie Doe" signed up and was approached by a number of men. She and a friend went to meet and had sex with one of them on two different nights. The mother found out from phone bills and finally answering the phone one night and hearing a man asking for "Julie." She requested that Quest Personals delete her child's voice-chat profile, and the company refused. The mother sued Quest Personals, and the lawsuit is still pending. Her daughter's assailant was convicted of assault and is serving 20 years.
- Moving to Vista...
...from Windows XP is not exactly plug-'n'-play, reports SafeKids'com's Larry Magid in the New York Times. "Buying a new computer is a lot like buying or renting a new home. First you have to pick it out and pay for it, and then you have to move your stuff." He recommends various kinds of software tools that can help you on "moving day" and suggests what you need to consider before you decide what tools you need. See also "Vista's parental controls."
- AIM's buddy-tracking
It sounds ok, but law enforcement people are concerned about it, Channel 6 in Orlando reports. And to me, upon reading this article, it sounds more risky even than cellphone-based mobile social networking because it can pinpoint where an AIM user is on his or her home computer. AIM users, including kids, can download this feature but its creator, Skyhook, represented in a mobile social networking meeting I attended in Washington this morning, said there are some effective protections in place (local TV news isn't known for in-depth research in tech reporting). I suggest that parents ask kids if they've downloaded this plug-in and, if not, go through the process together, talking about the pros and cons. How the technology works is, it finds the position of an AIM buddy by "using the continuous wireless pulses emitted by all Wi-Fi transmitters and Wi-Fi-enabled computers," according to Channel 6. The Associated Press explains further that, "when an AIM user installs [the service], the application gathers the identifying codes for all access points that are detected by the Wi-Fi card in the computer, then compares those with the database to identify the person's location. When connected via a non-Wi-Fi computer, a user can manually input a location." Here's the AIM Location page.
- 5,000 calls to his cellphone
A young Massachusetts man with some time on his hands thought he'd give some of it to people seeking help. So he posted a video on YouTube.com showing his cellphone number on Friday and - apparently by Monday - had received 5,000 calls and text messages, the Associated Press reports. He said he "was inspired to act by a video of Juan Mann, whose 'Free Hugs' campaign became world famous after video clips of Mann hugging strangers appeared on YouTube," the Boston Globe reports. He may have to do some fund-raising to pay for all those minutes. He heard from people all over the US and Europe. "About 70% of the callers, he said, wanted to shoot the breeze for a few minutes about their plans for the day, and to inquire about his," the Globe adds (maybe they should get Twitter). For free help for established sites focusing on the subject, people might check out: Help.com, CarePlace.com, and SuicidePreventionLifeline.org (the last one helps with a lot more than suicidal tendencies - see "The social Web's 'Lifeline'").
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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