Thursday, February 23, 2006

Culture of Fear - The Nintendo DS

Another installment in the Mew's fear culture analysis:

Asian reporter Nydia Han caused a mini-storm on the internet with an Action News Special Report, entitled "Nintendo DS System Warning: Are unsuspecting kids being lured into dangerous chat rooms using this toy?" (video here, transcript here)
We have an important warning for parents. Today marks the three-month anniversary of the launch of the Nintendo DS Wireless Connection. But Action News has learned this popular gaming system could put kids in harm's way. Parents buy the system so their children can play video games. But we have made an alarming discovery. Strangers can use this toy to lure unsuspecting children to dangerous places.

Nintendo's hot new creation markets primarily to children. It even comes complete with playmates. The handheld gaming system is like a mini computer. It has built-in wireless capability. That allows kids to battle fellow Nintendo DS players across the room or across the world.

[...] Theresa's 11-year-old daughter, Emily, likes to doodle so she's using the Nintendo DS Pictochat feature. Pictochat puts you right into a chatroom and lets you send messages wirelessly, and on this day we are in one of Philadelphia's many Wi-Fi hotspots.

An "Internet Safety Expert" pitches in:
Keith Dunn/Internet Safety Expert: "Predators are using Nintendo DS anywhere in the world. And it's going to be really hard to track down those individuals because of course, they're on a wireless network from a hotspot such as a coffee shop. Or if they're in a wireless environment, say a coffee shop or whatever, they jump on the wireless network so now you have predators who are trying to get at our kids."
Oh no! Will somebody PLEASE think of the children! But hang on a minute; the report does make a one-sentence acknowledgement right at the very end:
Nintendo confirms what happened to Emily is possible but the company claims that person must also be using another DS system and be within 65 feet.
This is backed up by the game expert guy that Tricia contacted during her investigation:
What's not in the story is anything explained by the GamerDad this reporter consulted before going to air. On Monday morning, I received a call from Nydia Han of Channel 6 Action News, asking me about this exact story, the workings of the Nintendo DS, Pictochat and Wi-Fi. I was at first sort of dumbfounded by the idea of a child being contacted by someone through Pictochat because it's not Internet enabled in any way. In order to talk to someone through this application, you must be within 30 to 100 feet of the person (or persons... it supports 16 person chat rooms) you're talking to. When you're in that range, you can either type or draw pictures that are sent line by line to the people in the chat room. The most important point is that you have to be in that range, meaning you could probably see whoever it is you're talking to if you just got up and walked around looking for someone holding a Nintendo DS.

When contacted for the story, I talked for a good fifteen minutes about the possibility of this situation occurring and what might have to take place to facilitate it. I specifically explained that turning on the DS in a public place has never turned up a Pictochatter. Never. I've tried a bunch of times to see if anyone attempts to use it in public. I also said at least three or four times that Pictochat was not Internet enabled, even after I received a call-back asking if it were possible for this to happen at one of Philadelphia's "Wi-Fi hotspots" which are also mentioned in the article. I stated specifically that Pictochat would still not work because it doesn't ever make any connection with a network as it has no means of connecting to an Internet Service Provider (ISP). I thought I did a good job of relaying this information. I went even further and speculated that the child would almost certainly have to have prior contact with a person about where to meet in order to make this possible. Whether that were a relative or someone met through an Internet messageboard on a PC, it just didn't seem likely that this was a random thing.
Paedo-geddon is truly upon us.

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