kids and games and fears

Just before Christmas, on my drive to my parents’ house, I was listening to AM talk radio and ran across a station discussion kids playing poker. There were specifically discussing a 12/20/2004 story by Marco R. della Cava that appeared in USA Today under the title, “Poker at an early age: Not just another teen fad.” According to the article:

Now kids as young as 10 are being dealt hands, often with parents’ approval. Poker paraphernalia is being hawked everywhere from supermarkets to kiddie emporiums such as Toys R Us. All of which rings alarm bells for gambling addiction experts who warn that poker could be a slippery slope into other high-risk activities.

To those of use that play videogames, this sounds awfully familiar. From my experiences with teaching college undergrads, I can attest that among the men Texas Hold ‘Em is very popular, almost as popular as videogames. As someone who worked in a casino for a little over 2 years, I’ve seen first hand the dangers of gambling. (Of course the fact that the article talks about the dangers of gambling doesn’t stop at least the online version from linking to a page on how to play!)

On the radio show almost everyone agreed that there wasn’t much harm in kids playing poker, and I more or less agree. However, it is interesting that there isn’t more of an uproar about the evils of poker. There are a few stories, but I’ve yet to see anything about banning it or anything. It seems odd that a game where losing money is a built in part of the way the game works should raise fewer concerns in parents than a videogame which would have to have negative consequences when you weren’t even playing it to be a danger.

However, if you read the article closely, you will noticed that it places the blame on poker’s popularity squarely on television:

Why now? Flick on your TV. Expanding poker tournament coverage on ESPN, the Travel Channel and Bravo has had two compelling effects.

First, the slickly produced shows (ESPN employs more than 20 cameras, comparable to what’s used on major sporting events) have taught kids the fundamentals of a wildly popular version of the game known as Texas Hold ‘Em, which challenges players to incorporate face-up table cards into their hands.

Second, TV has granted quasi-celebrity status to a hip generation of poker stars who can lose tens of thousands with James Bond-like panache. Hey, why suffer through the indignities of Survivor when you can make a mint with a steely gaze and a bit of luck?

While no one can argue that TV is responsible for the current popularity of poker, it seems that rather than having some inherent appeal to it, poker is attractive because TV has made it that way. Now right or wrong, that is interesting because the subtext here seems to be that, once again, it is the media’s fault! Why else would it matter that the show was “slickly produced?” By including that “fact,” it seems that the author seems to hold an Adorno-esque opinion of television in that kids can be won over by the glitz and glamour of it, rather than having anything to do with the appeals of poker in and of itself.

The reason this is so interesting to me is that by discussing the effect of television, the author of the article, at least in part, makes this no so much that poker is evil, but that television is bad! So once again we have a subtext that implies that if it needs electricity, it is seductive and can manipulate us.

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