Games blamed for National Parks' decline

University of Illinois research touts "Nintendo vs. Nature" hypothesis, which fingers the "sedentary lifestyle" promoted by gaming for shrinking park attendance.

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Games have long been blamed by social conservatives and certain psychologists for encouraging slothful and/or violent behavior in America's youth. Now, a new study has surfaced that blames games for another societal ill--the decline of America's National Park Service.

A report this week on National Public Radio highlighted a controversial study performed by Oliver Pergams, an assistant professor in biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Titled "Nintendo vs. Nature" Pergams' study was recently featured in the Journal of Environmental Management. It asserts that the emergence of video games, the Internet, and other forms of indoor media has a direct correlation with the per capita fall of attendance at US national parks.

"So, we think it likely that these kinds of increases in sedentary lifestyles and recreation not only affect how much time people have to go to national parks, but how much they want to go to national parks," Pergams told NPR.

Pergams' research was spurred by a per capita decline of attendance at national parks. In 1987, each US citizen took an average of 1.2 trips per person per year to a national park. By 2003, though, that number had fallen to 0.9 trips per person per year. The NPR piece did not mention the fact that, according to the 2000 US Census, the US population increased by over 32 million during the 1990s. It should also be noted the majority of that population growth was in crowded urban areas, many of which are not close to a national park.

Though NPR was quick to seize on the study's antigames angle, Pergams told the site ScienceDaily.com that his research is far from infallible. "This is no smoking gun," he said. "We're showing statistically that the rise in use of these various types of media...is so highly correlated with the decline in national park visits that there is likely to be some association." The NPR report also only briefly touched on another factor that Pergams said is contributing to the decline in the per capita average of national park visitors--rising gas prices.

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