Let me give one other example of what I mean by "catastrophe." There is a relatively new world of pay-to-play Internet gaming where players can win (or lose) cash. Chris Grove, director of YouPlayGames (http://www.YouPlayGames.com), claims that the novelty of playing for money is attracting many people who were never interested in video games. "We're taking gaming into adulthood." That quote is from a New York Times story, which describes the games this way:
The rules are fairly simple: kill and make money, or be killed and lose it. YouPlayGames awards money (usually less than $1) for each kill and charges a similar [but slightly higher] amount for each "life" a player buys. Ultimate Arena charges entry fees for games or tournaments, in which first-place fighters win the largest share of money (and prizes like game consoles) from a pool that can be worth as much as $1000.
"Playing on the site can definitely be more exciting once you get over the fear of losing a few bucks a match," said Vadim Zingman, 25, of Trumbull, Conn., who said he had won about $1800 at Ultimate Arena by playing about ten matches a week since the site started up last spring. (Lubell 2003)
The gaming sites are designed to keep minors out, but everyone acknowledges that the barriers to admission for minors are less than perfect.
Now, I have no intention of climbing onto a moral high horse to denounce gambling. I know full well that gaming activity will appear largely innocuous to many and will be debated and defended forever, just as the effects of television upon children are. The more dramatic, potentially catastrophic point, for me, is not the gambling as such, but rather the fact that we will have so easily and casually invited young people around the world into this new activity and no actual community will have done anything at all of the sort that was once required to create a place, the conditions, the cultural surroundings, the human context within which the activity occurs. The young people will have been lifted out of their communities and into this new recreation, not because some sort of rooted and coherent evolution of the communities is taking place, but simply because a worldless world is now at our fingertips and someone sitting alone in front of a screen came up with a workable combination of digital bits. The levity of it all the ease and thoughtlessness and disconnection and vapidity and grave cultural consequence these are what worry me. We have gotten ourselves into a situation where a teenager, with no real sense for what he is doing, can to one degree or another reprogram every community in our society.