The upcoming release of Sony PlayStation 4 has created plenty of buzz among video gaming enthusiasts. With the release of this latest video gaming console from Sony the company hopes to claim leadership position both in terms of technology and market share. A set of new technological frontiers are set to be breached through the launch. The console has incorporated advanced motion capture features. It also offers new real-time networking and data sharing capabilities, which is set to enhance the gaming experience. On the marketing side, Sony aims to avoid the mistakes it did with the previous version of the console, which was introduced too late into the market, when, by then, Microsoft’s Xbox had firmly established its presence.
Apart from the apparent allure of an entertainment gadget, one can look at the upcoming product launch from critical angles. The foremost is the social implication of video games in general and PlayStation in particular. It is a proven fact that teenage addiction to video games has an adverse effect on their personality development and social skills. Moreover, games that involve shooting and killing make young people insensitive to violence. It makes them prone to act out in anti-social ways that are demonstrated in the games.
Spending hours in stretch in front of the PlayStation console makes youngsters lazy and deprives them of physical activity. Modern day endemics like obesity, depression and a few psychosomatic illnesses are partly attributable to video games. The escapist fare of video games, when coupled with ever mounting academic competitive pressures, creates a recipe for burnout and psychological breakdown. In some acute cases some of them even resort to suicide out of sheer desperation. Hence, what at first begins as an avenue for relaxation and entertainment can potentially turn addictive and psychologically affective. The upcoming launch of PlayStation 4 will have to be viewed in light of this reality. It has an adversarial impact on the social capital of the country. So video games cannot merely be treated as commercial and entertainment enterprises. Their immediate and far reaching effects will have to be taken into account by policy makers, regulators and educators.
PlayStation 4 is also likely to diminish the reading and literacy skills of American youth. Several studies have shown that American students lag behind their European counterparts in reading and math skills at comparable age-groups. If curricula and standardized tests are part of the problem, culture also plays a major role. It has become a rite of passage among American youth, especially boys, to pass through a stage of video game addiction. So, PlayStation 4 is unlikely to do educators any favor. To the contrary it will add to a considerable list of distractions that compete for adolescent attention.
In sum, while admitting to the purported sophistication and technological innovation of the product, the launch of PlayStation 4 is not a merely commercial event. So the product’s introduction into the American socio-cultural milieu will have to be weighed against all its negative consequences.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. makes a cogent case for pluralism in the American cultural context. In the American academia of today the formation of curricula is largely dependent on the ethnic composition of the enrolled students. This implies that courses that come under the purview of liberal arts are seldom offered in colleges with a high ethnic/racial diversity. Gates Jr. sees this practice as discriminatory and divisive. He alerts us to how “political representation has been confused with ‘representation’ of various ethnic identities in the curriculum”. (214) Hereby, instead of real diversity in the classroom, what we have is notional diversity of perspectives in the course content. The effect of this trend is one of promoting a concocted common American identity where none such exists. Political conservatives have tried to justify this practice by citing fears of ‘tribalism’ and ‘fragmentation’ in society. But considering that plurality is at the very core of American history and culture, the conservative view point does not hold up. Gates’ allusions to W.E.B. Dubois and Herman Melville add weight to his argument. He sums up the issue aptly by saying “it’s only when we’re free to explore the complexities of our hyphenated culture that we can discover what a genuinely common American culture might actually look like” (215) To realize this goal we must first achieve a degree of separation of political influence in the education system. More broadly, we as Americans will have to develop tolerance and understanding toward cultures of color, in order to develop a “truly common public culture”. (215)
“Whose Culture Is It Anyway?” by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Chapter 7, pp. 213-215, originally published in The New York Times, Copyright 1991.