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Opinion: Why So Much Mass Media Hysteria Over 3DS Vision Warnings?

Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris looks at recent reports of the 'dangers' of the Nintendo 3DS for the young, and why lack of context and media sensationalism is rife in reporting this particular story.
[In this opinion piece, Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris looks at the reports about the 'dangers' of the Nintendo 3DS for the young that surfaced over the holidays, and why lack of context and media sensationalism is rife in reporting this particular story.] I’ve been a member of the so-called mass media for over 20 years. I logged over nine of those with CNN; have worked for Forbes; and spent more than half a dozen years in Atlanta radio, reporting on subjects including the 1996 Olympics and the ramifications of disastrous plane crashes. I am, in short, a proud member of the Fourth Estate. But sometimes, the idiocy and sensationalism of certain members of my chosen profession drives me up a wall. You’ve probably seen the sensationalist headlines over the last week or so about Nintendo’s warning that 3D games on the 3DS might harm the eyesight of children aged 6 and younger. It’s been pretty hard to miss – running on outlets ranging from the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal to virtually every game weblog on the Internet. Hell, one New York City TV station felt it was of such importance that they used it as the tease for their 11pm news. It was, for producers, the perfect story for the news vacuum that is the holiday season. After all, stranded travelers and snowstorms can only fill so many hours in the beast that is the 24-hour news cycle. What so many of those breathless reports failed to mention, though, was the very similar warning Sony Computer Entertainment America issued earlier this year as it rolled out 3D games on the PS3. “The vision of young children (especially those under six years old) is still under development,” noted the company. “SCEA recommends that you consult your doctor (such as a pediatrician or eye doctor) before allowing young children to watch 3D video images or play stereoscopic 3D games.” And just a few months prior to that, Samsung had rung a similar bell about its 3D TVs. (The company also warned of the possibility of seizures and that you shouldn’t watch 3D TV if you were elderly, sleep-deprived, drunk or pregnant.) Most glaringly, all too few news organizations bothered to check with optometric professionals, who remain quite divided on the effects of 3D on developing eyes. (Since the technology is still so new and really hasn’t seen widespread usage to date, there’s not a lot of information on the long-term effects it has on anyone’s eyes.) Even fewer acknowledged the realities of today’s litigious culture. In a world where cups of coffee carry warnings about severe burns, is a warning about the effects of a relative new technology on young eyes – particularly on a device where some kids might normally be prone to stare at it for long periods of time – surprising? Of course not. But that’s not stopping the media feeding frenzy. What kills me is there were so many other ways to approach this news – which, if we’re being frank about – the company was quietly discussing with media as far back as November, though no one saw fit to push the panic button at that time. For example, will the warning result in older-skewing titles that incorporate 3D into the gameplay? Will concerns about the effects of 3D on young eyes stall initial sales of the device? And given the history of handheld devices being a preferred device among children, does this give Apple an opening to gain market share? Those approaches, though, don’t make for good alarmist headlines – and certainly won’t get viewers to tune in after Hawaii Five-O or click to get a page view and those precious ad impressions. There’s a difference between a good headline (or tease) and one that molds an announcement into something that suits your purposes, though. The number of headlines that were some offshoot of “3D Games Can Ruin Children's Eyes” in this instance was boggling. Look, I’m not advocating letting your toddler play Kid Icarus: Uprising here. I have a young daughter who I’m planning to keep away from the 3D elements of the device – because when you’re talking about your kid’s well being, you always take the safest route. But when even ophthalmologists are noting that the company is simply being overly cautious as a safety precaution, maybe it’s time for writers and editors - whether they work at a national mainstream outlet or a niche blog - to show a little responsibility and dial down the rhetoric. And, by the way, just watch: those same outlets that were screaming that the 3DS will ruin children’s eyesight will be singing its praises and bestowing the title of “must have gadget” upon it when it hits U.S. shelves. After all, by then, these most recent headlines will be long forgotten.

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