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Obama Warns Of 'Distractions' Of PlayStation, Xbox Era
Obama Warns Of 'Distractions' Of PlayStation, Xbox Era
May 10, 2010 | By Kris Graft

May 10, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

President Barack Obama explained Sunday how he thinks technology, including video games, has become a distraction to more important issues in life, such as education.

Speaking in a commencement address at Hampton University, Virginia, he said, as relayed by an AP report, "With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation."

It's not the first time that Obama has mentioned video games in public addresses. During presidential campaign, in light of Grand Theft Auto's April 2008 release, he told parents, "those video games are raising our kids. Across the board … kids are spending a huge amount of time, not on their studies, but on entertainment."

In 2007, Obama had also told youths, "It's time for you to turn off the TV and stop playing GameBoy. … We've got work to do."

But in the past, Obama also used video games' popularity to reach the video gamer demographic by placing campaign ads in video games such as Madden NFL and Burnout Paradise.

And The New York Times also reported in January 2009 that his daughters received a Wii for the family's first Christmas in the White House following Obama's election.

Obama encouraged the graduates at Hampton University to adapt to changes in media, adding that education can help cut through the noise of blogs and talk radio.

"Education... can fortify you, as it did earlier generations, to meet the tests of your own time," he said.

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Anthony Clay
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As much as some people here may not agree - there is some truth to his argument.

Granted, I was "raised" on gaming - it's darn fun. But my parents did do their job of keeping me from going overboard with it. Also, I didn't have a dedicated console - I had a PC. My interest in gaming eventually (or rather, quickly) led to an interest in programming - BASIC was already installed on my PC - and the computer came with a book showing me how to use it. One thing led to another, and this ultimately resulted in the career I have today as a software engineer.

Current generations don't have that opportunity sitting right in front of them. Instead it's CoD XX: Viet-Germany Black-Ops, Chicken and Egg development programs (unless you like .NET). There's no learning involved, or (unbounded) space for curiosity and experimentation on closed consoles....just a steady stream of (distracting) paid content.

Matthew Mouras
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Agreed... It's a good message.

Just have to take issue with this statement though: "With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation." Not true! His iPod track listing was the subject of numerous "it's a slow news day" reports during the 2008 campaign. He also notoriously gave the Queen an iPod during he and the first lady's visit to England.

Jen Bauer
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Aren't movies, books, and comics equally distracting? Some kids play sports with reckless abandon for homework. This is just bunk PR.

Mark Harris
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So, kids are seeking forms of entertainment instead of studying? Profound.

@ Jen - some adults as well. I'm still addicted to playing baseball and my honey-do list is suffering terribly. :-)

Evan Salas
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people have the right to play video games. Its not the kids, its the parents. I'm a parent but I don't allow my kids to play games all day everyday. I'm also a Game Designer for a small independent game studio in South Florida for Angry Martin . And the kids love coming into work and seeing the games develop but homework and sports/activities come first. So parents out there can control this issue and not allow kids to run their lives.

Also I love how he gave the Queen of England an iPod for a gift, and the PM of Britain a stack of American DVD movies as a gift. And he has used in-game ads with Madden and Burnout. And he calls all of this "technology" a big distraction? Love how he thinks he can tell Americans what to do and how to run our lives with pretty much very speech he gives.

But don't blame I voted for McCain. lol :)

Matthew Mouras
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Well... something doesn't have to be profound to be good public policy, does it? Sure, telling kids to study is pretty timeless, but I appreciate the angle Obama is taking. I've been an educator and if kids aren't texting under their desks, they're finding a way to bring video games into the classroom. It's easy to form a habit in playing them without good direction from parents. I would hope that's who is addressing with this message.

Aaron Casillas
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Dear Pres Obama (I voted for you)...think on the bright side, kids playing games are not out on the streets causing problems. It kept some of us out of trouble, gave us a want to work so we can buy more games and actually make a career out of making games.

While other countries are funding starts ups, fostering their video game and interactive industry, we seem to be falling behind, I'd go out on a limb and say we haven't even moved towards the starting gate. The Pres, in my opinion should be addressing the sheer number of unemployed devs in the past couple of years.

Personally, it was comic books and video games that opened up my mind, they gave me an extra interest in mythology, scifi, science and art.

As far as parenting goes, its up to the parents to put guidelines and restrictions on their family.

[I hope the President never critiques a book he's never read.]

Joshua Sterns
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Education needs to adapt to the technological development in this country. This is seen in most colleges, but is lacking in high schools or middle schools. Eventually I would love to see Ipads replace text books, and that is just one tech tool. I also wouldn't mind seeing educational games released for consoles.

Parents need to do their job as parents. Take away the console if studies aren't being accomplished. Teach the wee one to balance fun and priorities.

"...adding that education can help cut through the noise of blogs and talk radio."

What happens when you read Steven Hawkins blog, or listen to talk radio about how the Gulf oil spill is threatening local fish markets?

My point from all the above is technology can be a valuable educational tool, and should not be demonized because of popular culture. Pres. Obama has his heart in the right place. I understand his fear of the people knowing more about video games then academics. (This happens anyway with traditional print media--see sales of Inquior, Cosmo, and Maxium vs. Time, Newsweek, and Newspapers.) This popular median, however, is not going anywhere.

Don't fight popularity. Use it to your advantage.

Ted Brown
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If entertainment had a sort of "nutritional index" including stuff like vicarious thrills and educational content, the first would be consistently pegged high, the other would usually rest near zero. There are exceptions. But if, as a discriminating adult, you take an honest look at the market, it's pretty much "bang bang bang" as a digital drug. I'm OK with that, but many parents don't recognize how engrossing such a vapid entertainment experience can be. These broad statements are needed to spark conversation.

Franklin Brown
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HAHAHAHAHA! The crackberry addict wants us to not be so tethered to our digital distractions.

Curtis Cooper
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I enjoy games, but I don't disagree with Obama's message. Sometimes, I have fallen into the trap of doing them too much, to the detriment of getting enough exercise or socializing. In moderation, they're fine, probably even healthy. I worry for myself, though, when it gets over 2 hours a day.

Eric Slick
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My special needs son learned how to read and write playing online games while the educational system, that I presume was meant to "empower" (BS) my son, kicked him out when his disability became too much for them to deal with.

BS, Mr President. BS.

Jonathan Gilmore
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I don't think it's ever a good idea to promote onesself as being technologically illiterate-the economic future of our country depends on people being able to not only operate but engineer dohickeys like iPods and XBOXes.

Ian Morrison
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Say what you will about him liking to harp on video games, I find it hard to disagree with the statement. The prevailing culture these days seems to treat even serious news as entertainment instead of... well, news! It's not about facts, it's not about "knowledge is power", it's about entertainment value. In terms of a healthy democracy, that's not a good sign.

Mark Harris
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It's ironic that he's telling this to a group of Information Age college graduates. These people have obviously torn themselves away from their Xboxes and iPods long enough to earn a diploma.

Sheridan Layman
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There are several areas in modern society where technology may never be fully engaged, text books is the first example that comes to my mind. Unless publishers could convince you to download a textbook onto your iPad for $100-300 dollars, they will fight it tooth and nail. The business of writting, publishing, and printing text book generates billions of dollars. They are not going to give that up easily.

I think the point is being missed here. The point is not that we play games, read books, watch movies, read books. The point is that we attempt to do all of those at the same time and sometimes while trying to become educated. Our society is on information overload, and information is not education. One does not become educated by learning lots of things. One becomes educated by learning how to collect, collate, analyze, experiment with, re-arrange, extrapolate, and summerize information. To do that takes focus. The multitasking of our media, our careers, and our culture "distracts" from that need to focus and develop our intellectual muscle. If you were able to download the specifics of a black-belt in karate to your brain you would still not be a martial artist. Why? Because your muscles, tendons, bones, lung capacity, optical and auditor centers are not developed and trained to work together to produce those moves.

Does that mean that technology has no place in education? Of course not. But it does not replace education. You can't prove a theory just because you site 300,000 occurances of a certain word string via Google. The purpose of eduation is to give you the cognitive tools to think and create for yourself. Not become the equivalent of a tall blade of grass blown by the wind of massive information and electronic stimulants.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the world became dominated by consumers (both material and electronic) and the lowest paid jobs in the least developed part of the world were knowledge workers, scientists, and creatives?

Mark Harris
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I'm assuming that's either pure trolling or an attempt at sarcasm, but just in case : let's keep the ad hominems to a minimum and debate the message, not the person. Regardless of your feelings for a given individual this is still a professional site for reasonable discussion.

Fiore Iantosca
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He needs to worry about more important things.

Greg Hatfield Jr
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Yes kids do play games more than study, but that is not the industries fault. That I am afraid is the parents fault. Parents to day would rather they not have to contend with there children, but what is horrible is that those same parent are the ones who blame games for there child's behavior. Now Mr Obama should be more concerned with our national debt, unemployment, our out of control foreign policies, and illegal immigration and leave Technology which increases jobs and foreign trade alone. Mr Obama is out of line for making the comment since stated by him self "none of which I know how to work" Remember the statement was about Technology and games

Jason Wilson
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He has a point -- playing games can become chronic. For procrastinators, games can be used to waste day after day. You can do other things (read/write/study) while music, movies & TV play in the background. Even if you get tired of playing a game, you can switch to a different one and continue the cycle.

Achilles de Flandres
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how can our kids compete if they can't get double-kills in Halo 3?!


If I ever have a kid, I certainly wouldn't want them playing video games while neglecting their schoolwork. But, that's just me.

Daniel Biesiada
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To be consequent he should start bitching at Facebook too.

Jonathan Rush
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I agree with Pres Obama. I actually see a lot of parents more distracted than their kids. If you;re going to take your little ones to the neighborhood playground, spend some time playing with them, rather than playing Farmville on your iPhone.

Matti Bogdan
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"To be consequent he should start bitching at Facebook too. "

Took the words right off my keyboard, Daniel.

Hopefully there will be parents as good as ours in the future.

*holds breath*

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if my kids want to play some games that shoot monsters, explore weird-layout worlds, fire outrageously powerful ammo at enemies, without showing me the knowledge of USA history, where the country of Angola or other nations is, where lake Michigan is located, who the founding fathers of America are, how to do calculus, read the Declaration of Independence from his head, play a full score of piano music, kick some asses in the soccor game in school, do trash every night, and go to bed at the latest 10:00 PM, I will dump all his game gears and stuffs into trash bin.

This is how my brother did to his kids.

I totally agree.

Taure Anthony
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I absolutely agree with Obama's statement I see more and more people glues to their cell phones texting while driving these devices have become a "hobby" meaning something to do even if it's to kill time 5 minutes here 3 minutes there. I love my video games though.

Ruslan Shestopalyuk
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I am surprised that there are so few people here suggesting that such a rich medium could indeed be effectively used for educational purposes.

Playing the games and learning are driven by the same psychological devices (remember Raph Koster?..)

Why not "exploiting" that in a socially useful way?

There is a long way to go, sure. Can we walk this way?

Yes, we can.

Jonathan Osment
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Partisanship and this growing debt is "distracting". In fact, I would argue if the government wasnt messing up so bad, people wouldnt be so depressed and angered, that they would want to escape into the distraction that is video games. It is a historical fact that in times of crisis and depression, the populace tends to look to entertainment for that escape and or coping mechanism.

Bart Stewart
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The impression I have is that the gaming aspect of the president’s comments was really tangential to his real point, which was simply to complain again about his critics on blogs and talk radio and other independent information sources.

If anything, the belief he seemed to want to assert was that a benefit of “education” is that it acts to protect fragile minds against the many and varied sources of information about the world. In other words, smart people ignore mere “entertainment” forms like computer games, blogs, talk radio and Fox News -- the educated elite get all the information they need from the state-approved media outlets.

That sounds to me rather like the opposite of the point of education, which I’d say ought to be more about exposing people to many sources of information so that they can learn how to judge the good sources from the bad and to begin functioning as adults in society with others who may believe different things.

At any rate, I’d say the shot at computer games was just a stray round in this thin-skinned administration’s latest drive-by aimed at information sources that don’t suck up to it. It’s understandable that folks on this site would want to discuss the words about gaming, but I think that’s giving those words more attention than they merit.

“Regardless of your feelings for a given individual this is still a professional site for reasonable discussion.”

Yes, I thought so, too, until I criticized the “copyleft” notion behind the GNU General Public License. I guess some subjects (usually peripheral to actually developing computer games) will always generate a few needlessly hostile responses.

For the most part, though, I agree with you; Gamasutra remains a place where people are capable of disagreeing in a thoughtful and professional way. Here’s hoping it can stay that way even when political or religious subjects marginally related to game development come up.

Wojtek Kawczynski
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Maybe he's not so much attacking gaming as he is promoting education?

He's using gaming as one example (he did also say iPad and iPod which are not exclusively game devices) because some kids spend too much time playing instead of studying. If kids were spending too much time knitting he would have mentioned that.

The message of 'study more, engage in various forms of entertainment less' is not a bad one especially in a country that is going through a severe economic crisis.

Aaron Truehitt
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But what if my education only fuels the creation of more games which causes even more children to stop studying!?

Oh noes!

Jamie Roberts
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If you read the full speech, it's apparent he's talking about a very specific situation. The lesser-privileged can gain access to empowering information and self-taught education through technology, but they can also waste this opportunity by only using them as a distraction. He isn't saying "games are bad mmkay", he's advocating wiser use of technology, and asking that youth don't waste the power of technology by using them ONLY for entertainment.

David Delanty
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"Obama encouraged the graduates at Hampton University to adapt to changes in media, adding that education can help cut through the noise of blogs and talk radio."

To add to the list of things where I see a lot of noise and not a lot of educating: Washington DC as a whole. Whether it be in the form of Congress' incessant bickering over the most trivial of reasons to support/oppose current issues, their adept ability to gridlock the entire process for the whims of their supporting special interest group, or the woefully depressing interpretation of history that inundates our media in their pedantic campaign ads, Washington DC has become nothing but a hub of static hiding behind a veil of faux leadership that's rapidly losing its opacity.

Even in education itself, there's a ton of noise. We see an unending volley of examples in higher education of professors, self-appointed "purveyors of truth," saturating the classroom with conspiracy theories and wild bigoted rhetoric. At the other levels, even as young as Kindergarten, education itself is wrought with noise, and transforming into a veritable battlefield of creationism vs evolution, American history vs Mexican heritage, and abstinence vs sexual precautions.

Video games are a source of noise?

Open your eyes, Obama. The noise is echoing off every wall in every American system. It's everywhere, and don't push the blame solely upon television and video games. It's not the medium that is failing to make best use of the information revolution. It's the partisan fanatics and cronies infiltrating it that are driving it to ruin.

David Delanty
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After reading Jamie's comment, I better understand that Obama wasn't passing blame but instilling a better sense of responsibility. So I recant the last bit of my comment.

But I still feel that it's inappropriate, considering the current approval rating of this Congress and how little work they're actually doing, to press such responsibility upon us when their own field can't get their information clear.

John Trauger
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I DIDN'T vote for Obama. Would choose the other guy/girl in most cases if Obama were up for a vote today.

That said, Obama has a point here. video games of most flavors are addictive and letting a child become or remain addicted to them will make life harder on that child for the missed opportunities. Society is the poorer as a result. This si the same as any other addiction would do.

The political Left (of which Obama is a part) has on occasion wrung its hands over the digital violence of many video games and I don't find much in those critiques to agree with. This is different and should not be treated with with same dismissive/couter-attack reflex we often have for "violence" critiques.

Much as we dislike seeing our industry singled out negatively, the addictive product we peoduce is relatively cheap and freely available in US society. We're a bigget target than comics or sports or most other addictive/abusable activities aavilable to kids. Since we're guilty as charged in thise case, the least we can be is graceful when called on it.

Bonus Questions:

Are there design traits that make a game more or less addictive?

Can we design games to be enagaging and immersive while minimizing a game's addictive side-effect?

If and how much would reducing addictinveness in games reduce sales? :)

Jonathan Gilmore
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Based on the fact that the comments are responding to fifteen different arguments, I have concluded that it is difficult to tease out a coherent point to be taken from Obama's statements, other than that he believes academia is the best source of information for young adults. And that he can't operate mainstream technological devices.

Duong Nguyen
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Games being fully interactive and more compelling than a movie/book/TV are a major distraction to academic studies. Parents will be well served to limit game time at the expense of TV time (which kids are watching less of anyways). How many kids actually read books these days for fun? Usually they are forced to read books for class but I've not seen too many kids actually spontaneously read a book, just too many distractions these days. They do read, but its Internet fluff or conspiracy stories or gossip from what I've seen.

Daniel Biesiada
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@Jefferson Soler:

I'd not bet on the whole Internet being disruptive. Take Gamasutra - a distraction or educational? :>

I agree that what Obama has probably meant is to highlight problem in education rather than problem with games, being just an example of switched priorities of up-coming grown-ups.

Funny if there is a real problem with the education or just we're living at the beginning of post-crisis era where kids will probably have to work harder than their parents to achieve similar status quo.

Bart Stewart
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@Robert Allen: Here are the relevant quotes from President Obama’s speech today:

“Meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations, information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment.”

“With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Let’s face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I’ve had some experience with that myself.”

That he follows this dismissal of perspectives he doesn’t like by telling graduates to keep their minds open, and to hold government accountable, is just the usual ironic flourish. Overall, the jab felt out-of-place in what in places was an uplifting speech -- like he just can't help himself.

I think games-as-entertainment got off pretty lightly, all things considered.

Jason Fleischman
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I think SOMEONE'S kids are addicted to the Nintendo!!

Matt Marquez
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@ Jamie Roberts: Thank you! Mainstream media as a whole is a distraction. People will hear/think what they want when are faced with facts and stats, anyway (ie. the comments at gaming sites), so it doesn't matter, least of all to Americans.

The lot of you seem to be missing the underlying message here. Then again, I'M DISTRACTED!

Daniel Biesiada
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@Jeferson Soler:

I agree that Internet is full of rubbish and with the best possible technology for search you can get lost and waste your time often. I agree it's frequently misused. That's all what I find negative about it.

I believe your opinion comes from some conclusions I also have, I'm just not eager to go that far with judgement:

Internet for me, personally is first about networking, then knowledge, then entertainment.

It's because I grew up in 90ties and I have my habits built mostly then.

In those times networking was equal to IRC (Internet Relay Chat).

Knowledge was usually FTP downloaded text files with tutorials, demoscene e-mags and early hypertext PC manuals embedded in some DOS apps, mostly again, downloaded from FTP or early HTTP vertical portals, quite amateur comparing to what we used to see nowadays. Then I discovered Gamasutra, Flipcode and other much more mature sites of the end of 90ties.

As for entertainment back then it was really bad experience mainly because it's early development stage and bad infrastructure in country where I live.

If I was same teenager today I'd probably say priorities have changed to Entertainment/Networking on equal position then Knowledge. Facebook is interesting example of pole position prioritity while it gives a lot of entertainment and cosmic opportunity to network with 400M+ people around the world (theoretically :>).

Thing that Web 2.0 era introduced is that networking these days is not only about chat (like I had on IRC and IM back at the beginning) but also about sharing stuff people think is important to their peers while usually it's not. At the same time less and less people care about privacy so all that garbage is public, open to everybody who by definition should not care either.

That's why it's so much a time killer as any other medium that consumes time in addictive way. But I'm still rather curious what next generation will like to propose on their experiences with modern Internet rather than banish bad, bad, bad behavior of wasting time and misusing the medium.

Michael Martin
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I'm in agreement with Bart Stewart. If you read the full text of his speech, he clearly goes beyond the vapid references to video games and singles out information outlets which are frequently critical of him and paints them as being dishonest and intellectually harmful. At it's core, the very phrase "Information becomes a distraction" on it's own merits is downright Orwellian. We are in an era of exponential knowledge growth. I don't think the answer is to tell people to avoid information. I do agree that mental discipline and the ability to focus on long term tasks are important life skills, but what exactly he recommending? Given his administration's history of dismissing and disparaging people and organizations who disagree with him, it's hard not to take this speech in the greater context of what Obama and his representatives have said in the past.

As noted, this is also a man who advertised heavily in these "distracting media". There is more than a hint of hypocrisy in the message.

Jonathan Osment
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It is important to keep in mind that his people want to tighten federal control over the internet. We have seen this recently with the oddly named (and not so) "fairness doctrine", which was struck down in court, and now the bid to claim the internet as a public utility of sorts, which would fall under strict government regulation of information. What I have noticed about Obama, is that he wont out right say it, but rather hints or foreshadows "pleasantly" the direction of these radical pushes for government control. One progressive group "Free Press", which is anything but free, wants to outlaw all non sanctioned speech, including but not limited to opposing viewpoints and inconvenient news. Games a a media will be affected one way or another.

Joshua Sterns
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News has been full of shit for a long time. LA Times was started by a bigot who helped Railroads rule the sunshine state, and encouraged reports that only blamed Hispanics during the Zoot Suite riots. Southern newspapers would post articles praising slavery and the plantation life. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin use chalk boards and tea parties to spread their ignorance.

It's up to the individual to figure it out. It's been that way for a long time. True objectivity does not exist in humans. Get used to it.

William Anderson
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Anything taken to extreme is a bad thing! It really has nothing to do with video games, its just video games make an easy target for politics! Want to earn political points with the parents worried about their kids bad grads? Just blame video games! Go out there and tell parents to get their lazy ass up and help their own kids or tell a teach they must do a better job to keep their job and you lose votes!

Where I do agree, is that the Nintendo Wii, PS3, Microsoft Xbox 360, Apple's iPad are good and un-tapped devices for moving higher education directly into the homes.

It is well-known that some kids learn faster from software than a teacher in a crowded classroom. I personally had my son on the PC at an early age learning from just about ever educational program I could find. He was reading, writing and doing math before he stepped one foot into a classroom.

I think its time to stop point fingers at video games and start looking at the technology we have on hand and totally rethink how we teach our kids! Pard the pun, but the old-school way of doing things is totally broken and its only getting worse!

Victor Boone
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@ Bart Stewart

I don't always agree with you Bart but I've got your back on this one. The Wizard is saying "there is no man behind the curtain". I think I'm mature enough to shift through all the data that's out there and manage the consumption of said data with my kids. Frankly, if I left it to academia to tell my kid what is and isn't important, I'd have teenage morons on my hands. And as far as gamings concerned, it's always been a reward not a right to game in my house. Good grades translate into hassle free summers and hot new titles..... works great for me. If the source of information is suspect I'll deal with it, but to be honest a lot of the suspect data is coming from this administration.

Blinky Comix
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No carrier

David weiss
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yeah thats where education games come into play. Change is here just like you promised, Obama, and it comes in the form of video games.