It seems you can’t go a week without seeing someone blaming video games for something. Growing up, it was the violent nature of Mortal Kombat. When I was in high school/college, it was Grand Theft Auto. Nowadays, it’s a mix of the two with the added social features added into games which allow kids to be absolute terrors on voice chat. There is a lot of negativity surrounding video games and the use and abuse of them by children. Most of this negativity though is absolutely misguided and is instead the fault of the parents who use video games as a babysitter and let their kids play video games they absolutely shouldn’t be playing. If you are angered by that statement, read on and hopefully I can explain my point of view regarding video games and why they aren’t the problem but rather the parents are, and that is something that can be fixed.
Growing up, I loved video games. I started out playing on my parent’s Atari 2600 and then moved on to my very own NES one Christmas in the 80s. From that point on, my family had a love of video games and some of my fondest moments as a child involved family gaming. When my brother was born, that love of gaming was passed onto him and it’s one thing we constantly have in common and can discuss around the holidays. Even though we loved our video games, we knew that it was a privilege and something that shouldn’t be abused. I would have my friends come over to play games from time to time, but for the vast majority of the time, we were out playing baseball or riding bikes. There needs to be a balance for kids and you can’t expect the kids to understand that balance. If given the choice, children will usually pick the visually stimulating experience over the physically demanding one. If you have a child that doesn’t fall into that comparison, congratulations, you’re a outlier. It falls on the parents to ensure that kids don’t spend too much time playing games and lose out on physical activity. It can be very difficult too. I know the temptation of turning on Sesame Street for my toddler when I really want to just have some alone time. Hell, I’ve fallen victim to the “just watch this and be quiet” moments. They will happen to the best of us and there really isn’t anything you can do but try to mini. The trick is to not let them get out of control. Most major video game systems have parental controls that will turn a system off after an allotted time. Use parental controls! And don’t let your children have free access to technology so that they can skirt your rules. Monitor use and have set guidelines that will help your child understand and stick to the balance mentioned earlier.
Something that always drives me nuts is when parents complain about the violence in video games when they continually buy games that their kids shouldn’t be playing. For most video game fans, this is infuriating. These ratings tell you, just like movie ratings, whether your child should be playing something. Would you let your child watch and R rated movie before they were ready? No, you probably wouldn’t. Then why is it OK for them to play Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty? These are games that have Mature ratings, yet time and time again I see parents complain about the “evils of video games” and the fact that their kids are turning into monsters because of this. I’m sure you’re thinking, “But they can buy these games themselves!” False. Retailers like Gamestop, Target, Walmart, and Best Buy (among others) have policies in place that restrict employees from selling Mature and Adults Only games to minors. I have been behind kids in GameStop who attempt to buy a game only to be asked where there parent is and if the parent isn’t around, refused service. I have also seen parents of children who, upon being told about the mature rating and the mature events of the game they are buying for the kid next to them, allow the purchase to continue. I’m sure there are some teens mature enough out there to handle the violence in video games. I was one of them, my brother was as well. But if you’re going to vouch for your child and say they are mature enough to play mature games and watch R rated movies, you relinquish all rights to bitch about any negative behaviors you think video games are giving your children. If you aren’t going to abide by the ratings put in place, then you are to blame when things don’t go your way. The ESRB website (or the PEGI website if you’re in Europe) is an amazing reference for any information you may want about the video games you’re going to buy. Use it, and be sure to pass the word around for any parents that may be ignoring these ratings.
Video games are not inherently bad. I think a lot of parents see the word “game” and automatically assume it’s going to be age appropriate. What they don’t realize is that video games have matured dramatically since the early days when they were playing Pac Mac in their local convenience store. Did you know that the average gamer is in their mid 30s? These are people who grew up with their NES and Sega Genesis systems and matured into an adult with adult tastes. It makes sense that as the medium matured, so too did the themes in video games. It’s not uncommon to see full blown stories in games tackle things like sexual assault, domestic violence, depression, suicide, murder, etc. These are mature themes for mature minds, something children should not be experiencing until they are mature enough to understand. These are games for adults just like The Wire and the Sopranos were shows for adults. Not all games are created equally and you need to put forth the effort of investing time and research into knowing and understanding what your kids will play. Mark Zuckerberg recently came out in favor of video games saying that they were one of the reasons he got into programming. I was the same way. My love of everything tech as a child was fueled by my love of video games and it helped me dive into code while in elementary and high school. Because of this early dabbling in computer code, I won a full paid tuition to college based on a programming competition. Were video games solely responsible? Absolutely not. But my love of everything tech stemmed from my love of gaming and it certainly didn’t hurt.
Nowadays, there are so many age appropriate games on the market that kids should be able to experience the world of gaming from a young age. Games like Disney Infinity, the Lego games, and Skylanders are perfect games to get children interested in gaming. You can also find a number of educational games on the PC that will help kids in school areas where they may be having issues. Websites like code.org exist that make coding a game and help teach kids the basics of computer programming. It’s a wonderful digital world we live in and allowing our children to experience the world of gaming can do great good for them if you monitor, follow the ESRB, and make sure their time is balanced with physical activity. I can’t wait until my son is able to start playing video games with me, but I know that it can wait until he is ready. My wallet is also thankful to wait because I spend enough money on games myself…on second thought, comics may be cheaper…