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Make video games worthwhile by shifting their focus

Ever since their escape from the arcades, electronic video games have claimed increasing shares of "leisure time" for teens and tweens (11-12 years old) from the tedium of homework, parental control and unfulfilling daily life. These children may well be the 21st-century version of the droogie gangs depicted in the novel "A Clockwork Orange." Sadly, these teens and tweens (mostly boys) are soaking up dangerous lessons rooted in the social pathology of ultraviolence and addictive behaviors.

Nourishing such behaviors are different genres of video games. One of the most common is the role playing game in which the sole player is on a quest to save the world. Many of these games are medieval-themed, because in these Dark Age games it is easy to introduce every kind of fantastic magical element and demonic creatures as obstacles to a quest. What kid can refuse a quest?

Unfortunately, these quests usually pass through ultraviolent challenges like tar pits, death holes, ax and sword combat and catapulted stones, with enough blood and gore to spare. To paraphrase Little Alex, the protagonist of "A Clockwork Orange," why is it that blood and guts seem most colorful and real on the TV screen?

Indeed, players are deliberately placed in situations where only fighting can solve the problems. What does this teach the player?

The answer to all problems is violence. Both humans and their society are demonized and therefore worthy targets of wrathful destruction from burning the homeless to slaughtering the cops. The efficiency of these enterprises might have raised both eyebrows of Little Alex and his droogs.

In this connection, we recall the horror of Columbine High School. Both Columbine shooters were drenched in the play of ultraviolent video games. At the time, the murders caused a backlash against violent video games, but nowadays, the old ultraviolence has returned like an old friend.

Graphic violence is not the only reason video games are a social problem. Video games are an obsession with many people. It's OK to play a game once in a while, but when the play is for hours on end, that is not healthy. Players become addicted, living to beat the game.

Recently there have been a number of deaths in Asia from playing video games for days at a time. Some kids even dress up as characters for Halloween, but often players do it just to look like or be the character. Is this healthy?

Moreover, the addictive quality of video games also encourages kids to stay inside and play in virtual reality. But kids need to be out in the world to become socially capable as well as physically fit.

How many of our youths have become emotionally stunted from years of seclusion, unable to relate in normal fashion to demands of ordinary social relationships? Psychologists will be doing a brisk business.

Eventually, the reclusive video-head must go to college, join the Army or get a job. But the only skill he or she possesses is the ability to rule a world littered with death and destruction — and perhaps a warped appreciation of classical music.

To be sure, not all video games peddle violence. Recently manufacturers have been making learning consoles that teach kids math, English, science and other subjects. These games reinforce education in fun ways that a classroom might not be able to provide. Even subtweeners can use some of them. If parents enforce rules that children should play educational video games, we can mitigate the scourge of video ultraviolence.

There is plenty of room to design quests that involve strategic thinking toward moral, just and peaceful ends through concepts such as mutual understanding, negotiation, compromise and peacemaking.

It is hoped such games will attract more girl players.

The MMORPG genre of games offers some hope. These games are played solely on the Internet with possibly hundreds of people simultaneously working through the same story line. When virtual social contacts and friendships are possible, variables are endless.

Say, how about developing an Internet game called Peace in the Middle East. Let's project the energies of teens and tweens the world over in solving the most intractable problem of our age. Now that's a quest!