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Online game attacked for raising student drop-out rates

Online game attacked for raising student drop-out rates

World of Warcraft, the online game, is under attack for causing students to drop out. The game, in which you create your own character - an orc, a troll, a dwarf or a human - and join others to defeat enemies in the mythical land of Azeroth, is topping sales charts in the US, but its makers are receiving publicity they could do without, thanks to Deborah Taylor Tate at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Tate says: "You might find it alarming that one of the top reasons for college drop-outs in the US is online gaming addiction - such as World of Warcraft - which is played by 11 million individuals worldwide," she said in a speech.

Tate, one of five commissioners who oversee and regulate TV, radio and all communications related to the US, made the claim shortly after a student adviser at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Vince Repesh, told his local paper that he had seen students with severe academic and personal problems. "I accused one of them of coming in loaded from smoking dope, he looked so bad," Repesh told the Duluth News-Tribune.

Repesh says the game can be more pernicious than other addictions. "If somebody has a chemical problem, you usually see side-effects from it," he explains, "but you can't tell for a long time if someone is just sitting in front of a computer. I have seen straight-A students who go to Fs because they think World of Warcraft is more important."

At least five students have come to Repesh over the last academic year with serious addictions that were causing academic problems, he says. Three others admitted they were seeking professional help from a psychologist or counsellor about their need to play.

"I accused one student of being on drugs and he got very upset," says Repesh. I told him he looked like hell, and he admitted that he had been playing for 28 hours straight."

Gamers are dismayed. "I'm not going to say it's not addictive," says one student at New York University who did not want to be named, "but you can't compare it to drinking or drugs or say it's a major cause of flunking out. It's ridiculous." He did, however, admit that he plays for several hours a day, and that he has missed classes as a result.

Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind the game, did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

Repesh thinks that universities will have to start taking action. While an on-campus ban would cause outcry among gamers, it might serve them well when they graduate. A recruiter for media companies was quoted last week saying that employers ask him specifically to avoid World of Warcraft players because they "cannot give 100% because their focus is elsewhere [and] their sleeping patterns are often not great".

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