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Tanya Byron addresses addiction, walks a fine line on TV

Samuel Axon

Some members of the gaming community were offended by the content of a BBC TV special written by psychologist Tanya Byron. The special spent a fair amount of time addressing the issue of game addiction. Among other things, it suggested that World of Warcraft addicts have some things in common with heroin or cocaine junkies, and even called WoW "a childish fantasy game."

Gaming addiction is a real problem that needs to be addressed, but it's difficult not to cringe when comparisons like that are made in a society still rampant with misconceptions and prejudices about the medium. That said, don't start demonizing Tanya Byron just yet.

There's an old saying that goes: "the biggest problem with being a bridge is that you get walked on from both sides." Tanya Byron ought to know it by heart by this point. Last year, she headed up a U.K. government investigation into the effects of video games and other media on children. Gaming industry advocates and parent-concern organizations were both concerned about the outcome.

As it turned out, Byron's final report was quite reasonable. She didn't wage a holy war against the industry. Fears of that event were irrational, anyway; she once said she's "very clear that the games industry makes adult games for adults; it doesn't make adult games for children." She has suggested that the primary responsibility lies with parents, who need to become better educated about the medium. She's even denounced the press for running fear-mongering stories that misrepresent gamers and their hobby.

While it's easy to be sensitive about how WoW and other games are represented on TV, it's important to remember that the people most likely to sort this whole mess out are people like Byron who are working right in the middle of the crossfire.

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