May 13, 2012

Technology can be double-edged sword

The main title immediately caught my eye: "The Hyperaddictive, Time-Sucking, Relationship-Busting, Mind-Crushing Power and Allure of Silly Digital Games." But the alternate title, "Just One More Game ... Angry Birds, Farmville and Other Hyperaddictive 'Stupid Games'" clinched the deal.

I had to read the article in the April 4, 2012, edition of the New York Times Magazine by Sam Anderson (

I was hooked because I've always had this love/fear relationship with games, and especially computer games. The attraction came from the addiction, and so did the fear.

In 1982, I presented a paper at the National Education Computer Conference in Kansas City entitled "A Call for the Study of Computer Games," in which I attempted to make a positive case for them — they improve eye-hand coordination, thus improving the chances of your son growing up to be a fighter pilot — and to try to categorize them according to their structure (learning games for teaching, reading or math; board games like chess and checkers; adventure games like Dungeons and Dragons, etc.). Nowadays, there are games and simulations that are smarter, faster and prettier.

Back then, the most interesting and exciting computer games existed in video arcades in malls. I fed many a quarter into single-purpose computing machines that allowed me to play Space Invaders and Asteroids (Pac Man never grabbed me). As computer technology improved and became less costly, these and newer games migrated to personal computers made by IBM, Radio Shack, Apple and Microsoft.

By this time, I was wary of the seductive power of computer games. As a graduate student in the mid-'70s at the University of Massachusetts, I designed and developed a Computer Managed Instruction system pretentiously named "ACCOLADE" — An Alternative Curriculum for Computer Literacy Development. Definitions of "computer literacy" can range from "the ability to tell a computer from a horse" to "highly developed skills in the art of programming, plus broad and deep knowledge in the areas of history, applications, social issues, hardware and software." I chose the latter.

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