Dealing Virtual Drugs On The iPhone Seems Unlikely To Get People To Do Real Drugs

from the just-saying... dept

For many, many, many years there has been a very popular application called Dope Wars. I used to have a copy of it on my Palm Pilot a decade ago, and it was a fantastic way to kill time (that and Rally 1000 were great time wasters). Over the years, Dope Wars has shown up on many different platforms and many different versions. I just looked around, and it appears there are a variety of downloadable versions, some web-based versions, both a MySpace and Facebook app and many other things. There have also been a ton of derivative games, some taking the drug theme further, and some changing the theme of the game completely.

That’s because, in actuality, Dope Wars has relatively little to do with drugs. It’s really a classic trading game. You borrow money that you need to pay back (with interest) and then you go buy and sell goods at different location. The goal is simple: buy low, sell high, don’t run into any catastrophe (police) and make back enough to pay back whoever you borrowed the money from. You could easily apply that to any sort of “commodity” — and I’ve seen versions based on stock trading, middle ages commodity trading, space travel and a few other such things. The “drug” connection is pretty weak, and basically just gives a framework for what it is you’re buying and selling.

Either way, back when I had that Palm Pilot, I played the game for many, many hours, and never had the slightest interest in following that up by taking or dealing any drugs. If someone’s going to get interested in drugs, it’s not going to be from playing such a game… but that hasn’t stopped one woman from demanding that a version of the game created for the iPhone, called Underworld, be banned. Now, the woman’s situation is tragic. She has a daughter who fell into a coma after taking heroin. That’s clearly an awful situation. But it’s difficult to think that the reason she took heroin was because she played a dopey trading game on a mobile phone somewhere.

Besides, why target just this iPhone version? This game, in some form or another, is found on pretty much every platform around (including TI calculators), often with multiple versions from different programmers — and we’ve yet to see any evidence that playing the game leads anyone to be even slightly more disposed to taking drugs.

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Comments on “Dealing Virtual Drugs On The iPhone Seems Unlikely To Get People To Do Real Drugs”

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PaulT (profile) says:

Yeah, this is the problem with these kinds of situations, it’s a vicious cycle:

1. Somebody dies/has serious problems due to drugs/alcohol/violence/whatever.

2. Person or someone close lashes out, blame a piece of entertainment/internet for their loved one’s problems.

3. Media reports unfounded claims as truth, creates a shitstorm until someone caves and bans/restricts/pays lip service to restricting said scapegoat, usually a politician using an easy issue to climb up the ladder.

4. None of this does anything to deal with the real problems, cycle repeats when someone else has the same problem.

It’s tragic, but this woman is doing more to increase drug issues than to prevent them by distracting from the real issues. Those issues have never changed – education, poverty, unemployment, broken families, negative environment, etc. Until those are dealt with properly, without taking the easy route of blaming movies/games/whatever, this cycle will continue.

Meanwhile, the press will cause Underworld to become a more popular application, its ban would only increase its allure (and encourage more people to jailbreak their iPhone so they can play it, reducing the number of controls on the apps generally used).

Comboman says:

Do you really need to ask why?

Besides, why target just this iPhone version? This game, in some form or another, is found on pretty much every platform around (including TI calculators), often with multiple versions from different programmers

Two reasons:

1. Unlike TI, palm, windows mobile, etc; the iPhone is a closed system so it is actually possible to ban specific progams.

2. The iPhone is the current media darling, so going after the iPhone version will get more press for the issue of drug abuse (which is probably her real reason for doing this anyway).

Him ThatIs says:

Re: Do you really need to ask why?

If you honestly believe that attacking a game about economic dealings will “miraculously” prevent drug use and that this is the reason for yet another failed parents actions, I have some bridges to sell you.

Please read PaulT’s comment above. Then stop. Then think.

comboman says:

Re: Re: Do you really need to ask why?

If you honestly believe that attacking a game about economic dealings will “miraculously” prevent drug use and that this is the reason for yet another failed parents actions, I have some bridges to sell you.

I never said it would (read my comment again, look up the hard words in a dictionary if you have to).

Anonymous Coward says:

Ideas are bad! Protect people from evil ideas!

I am getting tired of constant appeal to emotion used by the “For The Children” Argument. The issue with Dopewars is just an extension of that. If Dopewars was based around selling Stocks, Bonds, or refurbished Macbooks, there wouldn’t be any problems.

Apple continues to twist the “For The Children” swiss-cheese reasoning for some strange idea.
1. X is good for children
2. Anything good for children is good
3. Therefore, X is good
Now, solve for X where X = “Consumer Protectionism”.

But last I checked, one needed to be of legal age to enter into an iPhone service contract, but will that stop them from protecting people from nefarious iphone apps? Apparently not!

Anonymous Coward says:

This will be another case of governing to the lowest common denominator. If anyone has any problem, real or imagined, with anything it will be controlled or banned. No offense to the family, but do we really need to let weak people control what the rest of us do? If that is allowed to happen, then most anything can be banned as someone somewhere will have a problem remotely related to it.

Jessie says:

Re: Re:

As far as governing to the lowest common denominator, I hate to go against the flow here, but in my opinion that is exactly what the government is for.

If you accept that what the article says is true that this game can be created without loosing any of it’s appeal in variations that have nothing to do with drugs, and then look at the other side and admit that it is even remotely possible that this game has provided some impetus for someone somewhere to start taking drugs, what harm is there to go ahead and ask that the game be changed?

I’m not saying that the mother is handling things correctly because I don’t know enough to argue that one way or the other, but the basic premise seems sound to me.

Weigh the consequences on either side. On one side you have a few people like us, who are bright enough to tell the difference between fantasy and reality being inconvenienced and annoyed. On the other you have someone who isn’t quiet so smart, and possibly lost in a world where the lines between fantasy and reality are a little blurred, possibly letting this influence them into taking drugs.

Seems like saying not being inconvenienced is rather a self centered attitude to me.

Also, before anyone goes off the deep end, notice that I have said “possibility of taking drugs” all the way through this. I know it hasn’t been proven, and that it is also possible that this scenario of someone taking drugs may never happen. But that hasn’t been proven either and is it really worth it to take that chance with someones’ life?

Also notice that I am not going to generalize and say that every game with violence or drugs or any other socially unacceptable behavior should be banned or whatever. That’s nonsense and we all know it. But in this particular case it just seems to me that the premise of drugs is so non-important to the game itself, and so why is it such a big deal that someone is asking for a change?

Just my opinion…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Take this to its ultimate conclusion and nobody will be allowed to do anything because someone, somewhere will have a problem with it. There are people addicted to pretty much everything from the usual suspects such as drugs and alcohol to text messaging, video gaming and even sex. Should all these be banned or controlled because there are people who can’t control themselves? No because banning/controlling doesn’t work. Drugs are illegal yet she had no problem getting them.

Woadan says:

Tragedy often makes us lash out at those whom we perceive have harmed us, or our loved ones.

The iPhone was a game changer in many ways, and its ubiquity has brought to the mainstream many things that were once the domain of the geek. No doubt this is true with this game.

In other words, this game is getting focus because it is available on the iPhone.

We don’t know the details about this girl’s life, or what sort of parent her mother was. But it is fair, I think, to ask if the mother did enough to warn her daughter about the dangers of drug use.

Then again, I smoked MJ as a teen exactly because it was what my parents told me not to do. Teens are often contrarians in that manner.


Puddin-Tain! Ask me again... says:

We should do THIS:

Let’s fund a research grant, $250,000.73 should about cover it. The grant will cover tracking down and inquiring of, say, 10,000 drug dealers and/or users, to find out statistically how many were actually influenced by the game Dope Wars, into dealing/using drugs. If X > 1, I say BAN the game. When it turns out x

Lucretious (profile) says:

Given the UK’s history of their politicians jumping at any emotional hot button topic and wrangling it into law I’d say the odds of this woman’s request stands and excellent chance at being acted upon.

I won’t go into a long history of myself but I will fess up and say I stuck a needle in my arm for over 18 years. After stopping I became a counselor for several years and still spondor several folks in local meetings. I can safely say there is NO media in the world that is (yet) sophisticated enough to encourage any human being to dabble in drugs. None. Addiction is an extremely complex issue that is caused by many factors, most of which are still not fully understood. All this woman’s accusations do is marginalize what both her daughter went through and millions of addicts go through everyday.

Further, what this woman is doing (strictly IMO of course) is a sort of twisted Munchhausen-syndrome-by-proxy, she is very publicly associating her daughters name with a game I have no doubt she has never even played in order to relive the attention she received at the time of her daughters death. She will no doubt be courted in the media by every opportunistic politician looking for a quick PR boost (a breed that seems to be in ample supply in the UK). It’s disgusting behavior and ignores the important aspects that need to be focused on if we are ever to get away from this simplistic cause-and-effect myth that the public is constantly fed in regards to the cause of addiction.

Mark (user link) says:

Comin' Around On The Gi-taur Again...

As a 2nd generation role-player (my own term, for people who started in the late 70’s/early 80’s, when Dungeons and Dragons first became widely availible), I have bitter memories of the Anti-RPG witchhunts of the 8o’s. It makes me suspicious of branding any product that does not directly harm it’s users in an unexpected way ‘bad’. Blender that explodes when used, sending blade shapnel flying through the kitchen…bad product. Games, music, drugs (unless they have hidden side effects), cigarettes, guns, etc that lead to problems…bad users.

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