Permission to Indulge

Another new post on the CGP website. This one about the backlash against Abby Heppe. Here’s the lead-in:

The top shared story on NY Times today is Thomas Friedman’s “We’re No.1(1)!”, in which he argues that America is suffering from “a values breakdown.” He frames the argument as a response to Robert Samuelson’s piece on the decline of the American educational system, which Samuelson attributes, not to failed schools or bad teachers, but to “shrunken student motivation” . Friedman extrapolates from this a culture-wide “national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism.” The merits of this perspective are debatable, but what I’m principlely interested in here is that he sites specifically as a symptom of this epidemic, “bad parents who don’t read to their kids and do indulge them with video games.”

Now, I’d like to believe that Friedman’s point is about a more general attitude toward parenting and not specifically about the medium of gaming; that indulging kids in video games would be equivalent to plopping them in front of the ol’ television babysitter.
kid watching television The way he actually phrases the point, however, indicts gaming itself. Here we have again the old claim that established media forms, like books, are educational, while the unestablished forms, like gaming, are indulgent. Friedman ignores the fact that the same accusations were levied toward the novel, that reading fiction was an unproductive dalliance, when it was a budding medium. Of course, the relative value of particular media is not the course of Friedman’s argument; even so, it bears repeating that those qualities are not inherent in the media form, but are the consequence of attitudes toward and cultural practices surrounding those forms. As we at CGP continue to prove in our classes, video games are just as worthy and rewarding of rigorous study than any other media. All it takes is the right, critical posture toward the subject.But then again, as evidenced by the reaction this month to Abbie Heppe’s critical review of Metroid: Other M, the gaming community has not done particularly well to demonstrate its willingness to take this posture.

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