This is hilariously sad. This story from the award-winning ABC 6 Action News Team - WPVI in Philadelphia - is so full of bullshit and unresearched assumptions that it just reeks of a pandering, bottom-feeding Panic The Parents sweeps stunt story. There simply must not be any gamers on the WPVI staff, and if there are, they should be wholly ashamed of the lies their station just foisted upon the wide-eyed eager viewers of the Philly region. (I heard about this via a Slashdot link to a GameSetWatch story, so it's been around the block already.)
It's about the DS. It's about how the DS can be used to lure innocent children into online chatrooms and, assumedly, get them kidnapped or molested or worse. It's another solid fear story, pitched as "an important warning to parents" but done with absolutely no evidence or credibility. It is sadly indicative of the state of local newsrooms all over the country, where any press release issued from any wacky fringe group can land on the broadcast like the Word of Cronkite himself.
Actual story text follows in italics. My inserted comments are not.
Feb. 14, 2006 - 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.
No, you haven't.
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.
Again, here comes that "alarming discovery." Parents all across Philly, still heartbroken over the Eagles' fall from grace last season, are leaning forward in their seats.
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.
BITE: "They can play somebody they've never met."
All you need is a home wireless network or a Wi-Fi hot spot. And the game is catching on. Just this week, Nintendo announced more than 850-thousand users have logged on since the service's launch last November.
BITE: "It's a great thing for kids to have - they love it."
OK, this section is all technically correct. I wince at the "mini computer" description, which sounds to me like how you'd explain it to your deaf grandmother. "IT'S LIKE A MINI COMPUTER, GRAMMA." But get ready, America, because you're about to meet Theresa Keel, Moron Mother At Large.
But as Theresa Keel learned, that revolutionary wireless capability also comes with a potentially dangerous problem...
BITE: "It could be putting your children at risk."
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 let you send messages wirelessly - and on this day we are in one of Philadelphia's many Wi-Fi hotspots.
Theresa Keel/Center City: "This screen name pops up and asks her what her name is and how old she is, and she answers."
Emily Keel/Center City: "And I just felt a little scared and confused."
You goddamned idiot. You should be ashamed for not understanding what your "kid's toy" does, and WPVI should be ashamed for not bothering to mention at this point how PictoChat actually works.
PictoChat creates local chat rooms. Local. That screen name is probably sitting in the both behind you. Glance about the room, you great flounder, and look for the other person with a DS. That's who just talked to you. If you're using PictoChat, you're not even fucking online.
This has happened to the Keels once before. But this time the screen name is so offensive, we can't even show it to you.
BITE: "It frightened me. It really did."
Of course it did. You're a tool.
And a big boo to Action News further poisoning the well with the "offensive" screen name comment.
The stranger asks Emily: "Hey what's up? Are you still here? My name's Jud. What's your name?"
BITE: "But it was scary to me as a parent that someone I don't know is talking to my child over what I consider a toy."
And Jud is persistent. When Emily won't tell him where she lives. He says, "Why won't you tell me? Don't want to chat? Why not? Are you afraid?"
Jud is standing RIGHT OVER THERE. This is one case where it is really easy to find/punish the actual pervert instead of railing against the technology that makes it possible. Go over to Jud and size him up. Is he actually a pervert? Or he is just some guy who was as surprised as you to find somebody else using PictoChat in a coffee shop.
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."
And here comes the Internet Safety expert! Keith, predators may indeed be using the DS anywhere in the world, but they're only using PictoChat when they're in the same motherloving room as the kids. Maybe you should call the cops on that dude in the corner spanking it over his DS.
Internet safety expert Keith Dunn says parents need to teach their children to apply stranger danger rules to every and any situation.
BITE: "Don't talk to strangers in game rooms if you don't know they're your friends. Don't talk to anyone. Just stop talking. Stop chatting in the game room."
Dunn also says parents should educate themselves.
Keith needs to educate himself on how the DS actually works, rather than just assuming it works like an AOL chat room on a PC. His advice is perfectly valid. Just not for PictoChat, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing or any other game currently available for the Nintendo DS. I suggest he should "Just stop talking."
BITE: "Parents really need to pay attention to what they're purchasing, ask a lot of questions, and really find out more about the game, what's involved - other than the video game aspect of it. Can you talk to other people? Can other people connect to my son's or daughter's mini game system?"
Now Theresa and Emily are on alert. They don't plan on taking any chances.
BITE: "And eventually I got really scared that I shut the thing off without responding back."
If that scared you, now imagine that Jud was right the fuck beside you.
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. Like our expert, Nintendo also warns parents to educate their children not to talk to strangers even on their gaming system. Also, beware, there are other wireless gaming systems made by different manufacturers and they may have similar issues.
Whoop! Incoming truth! But of course the Action Tard Team couches it with the phrase "Nintendo claims." Instead of discussing this little bit of honest reality back when they first posit the dangers of the DS, they instead resort to lowest common denominator fearmongering. Hey, it's sweeps! Your kids will die tomorrow if you don't pay attention!
But I got news for you, newsies. Nintendo's claims are 100% correct. Emily and Jud were within 65 feet of each other. And nobody did anything about it. If Emily was unattended, you've got a problem. But her idiot mother was right there, sweating about some dangerous perv talking to her kid, presumably from Sasketchewan or other evil place. Instead, he's in Center City Philly eyeballing the both of them. This is no different than if he had walked over and talked to Emily in person. The DS is not the problem here.
And I love the scary, underlit DS pic used in the online version of the story. It's DANGEROUS.
But let's talk about how the DS handles genuine online play. Because it does actually do that... but PVI isn't going to play straight with you, now that they've exposed this "important information for parents" and already moved on to the crushing importance of Olympic medal countss and the vice president shooting people in the face. (How funny is THAT, by the way!) GameSetWatch has a nice look at this side of the coin. The bottom line is that Nintendo has been really careful about this. Certainly far more careful than America Online or your cellphone carrier has ever been. Attacking Nintendo over the Big Dangerous Pedophile Internet, of all companies, just shows how little fact-checking went into this story.
First of all, remember that Nintendo has been pushing the concept of a Friend Code... in order to play against a specific person, both he and I need to exchange Friend Codes, which are generated randomly according to a mystical analysis of DS hardware and game cartridge. (And, in Animal Crossing's case, even down to the player avatar itself.) If you have my Code and I don't have your's... no dice. You have to mutually share codes... and you have to do it offline. Either in person, or through email, or however people communicate these days. Nintendo has even banned people posting their Codes on their own Nintendo.com online forums!
Mario Kart DS: no chat at all. As GameSetWatch shows, the worst that can happen is that other players can custom design an icon that is broadcast to all players. An ICON. I'll admit, I've seen icons shaped like wangs... but in no way did that wang entice me into a chat room or try to find out how old I was. In MK, you can play against Friends or have the system match you with any available players... but, again, no chat. I'm going to put this one on the Green portion of the terrorist chart.
Animal Crossing Wild World: ok, here we have chat. Text chat. One-line, no scrollback text chat, but still text chat. The whole game is pretty much a visualized chat room. But here's the trick: it's Friend Code only. The only people I see in Wild World are people I've pre-approved to enter my game. And if your kid is exchanging Friend Codes with people unseen to you, then, as a parent, you've got bigger problems... because he/she is getting those Codes through other channels that you're not monitoring. I still feel obliged to place ACWW in the Green section, although maybe a slightly bluish-green, just since you can actually use words in it.
The worst thing that can happen is that some kid could somehow exchange Friend Codes with a pervert and the typical progression of online stalking takes over from there. But that's not even discussed in this pig! The whole 1:20 is wasted on something that can't even happen - online predators in PictoChat - and the (slight) real danger isn't brought up! I'm not meaning to minimize actual online dangers... just that the DS isn't likely to be one of them, and that this story is a total exaggeration that could have been refuted by the closest EB register jerk.
And remember, this is a goddamn DS we're talking about. Not a PC. You can't send somebody a link in Animal Crossing that pops up a porno website. You can't send somebody a virus that will install spyware behind Explorer. So half of the a dangers of online chat are already cut right out. Nobody is going to scan a naked picture of themselves into Mario Kart. Drawing a wang does not equal seeing an actual wang. And it absolutely doesn't equate to "putting kids in harm's way."
And as an adult, I find Nintendo's security measures annoying. I'm ok with Friend Codes as a way of connecting players, but the Mario Kart's matchup method is just about worthless, and I would find it interesting if Animal Crossing allowed you to throw open your gate to anyone. If the online play on the Revolution runs like the DS, it's going to be a laughing stock... which is why I suspect they will have some serious Parental Controls built into the system, and once you prove you're an adult, the console will allow unrestricted access.
Let's look at what's coming next. Metroid Prime Hunters will have voice chat, but only before and after a match. Yes, this means someone can call you a fag just as they do nightly on Xbox Live. (Jesus, WPVI, what about that?!) But I betcha Hunters runs off of Friend Codes as well. And I'll further bet that if it has a Mario Kart-esque matchmaking feature, it turns off the voice chat. (Or at least has the option of turning it off, and since it's going to be aimed at an older audience, it can get away with that.)
So what happened, WPVI? Your producer get a press release from one of the many Save The Children organizations out there? Jack Thompson stop by with a Pick Me Up bouquet? And since Nintendo = kiddies, you just had to hit the street right away with this Compelling, Important Investigative Report?
Do a little research next time. Stop spreading panic and alarm. Explain the real story throughout the piece instead of tucking the truth into the anchor's wrapup. I guess this is how you get to be the news leader in Philly: make shit up and scare parents into watching. Assholes.