Computer Games Rewire Kids for Changing Culture

By De Kerckhove, Derrick | Insight on the News, January 22, 1996 | Go to article overview

Computer Games Rewire Kids for Changing Culture


De Kerckhove, Derrick, Insight on the News


'Neurosports' tune the nervous system by rewiring the mind and body for better performance. What electronic versions of these activities do for the individual they also do for the culture at large. More handheld video-game sets are sold each year than television sets. This simple economic indicator underlines a major sociocultural change: We are graduating from a passive, one-way relationship with televisions to an interactive one with computers and their spin-offs.

Because computer games--neurosports--require physical contact with a keyboard, mouse or other interface, they retrain the nervous system, accelerating reaction time and hand-eye-ear coordination. Computer games work the body and mind into new configurations. The video screen becomes an intermediary not only for imagination but for thoughts.

The new generation of biofeedback systems exemplifies this technological trend toward direct interaction between thought and screen. The Interactive Brainwave Visual Analyzer System, for example, allows people to identify, select and control some of their own brain waves. Two artists, Ulrike Gabriel and Keisuke Oki, have adapted the system to create semidirect interactions between thought and electronic or mechanical tools.

Gabriel's Terrain 0/1 is a unique art installation involving a complex series of interactions moving from thought to light to photosensors to computerized robots. Oki's Digital Therapy, ready to be marketed as a video game, allows users to create sights, sounds and vibrations in the form of feedback loops generated by their own brain waves.

Video games have been condemned as narcissistic devices that turn nice kids into withdrawn morons. Solitary handheld toys do act as bioaccelerators --adrenaline-boosting, computer-assisted neurotransmitters that send players into artificial alert modes--and there are indeed a plethora of solipsistic video toys on the market. But other computer games bring together children from all over the world via telephone, cable or wireless transmissions. Cyberculture is best expressed by gamers who play together on-line.

In this scenario, connection is the key word. Though many computer games are of the old-fashioned, aggression-based variety, others, such as Carl Loeffler's Virtual Polis or Habitat, are based upon meeting and relating--on cooperation rather than competition. …

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