Got Games?

teenage boys playing video gameIn a few weeks, boys around the world will receive holiday gifts of gaming devices, along with new games to play on those devices. What is likely to happen as a result of receiving these presents is that these boys will shout thanks and then plug themselves into the games for the rest of the vacation. Is that what you want? One of the most frequent questions I get from parents is whether or not video games are harmful to their sons. The answer is not simple. This is an excerpt from The Parents Guide to Boys.

Computer Games are Good. There is no question that children develop skills that they do not develop in any other setting as a result of playing video games. Children who are familiar with such games are very familiar with computers and are usually facile with many different aspects and uses of computers. The more that education moves toward virtual education – on-line classes – the more that the computer savvy child will shine.

Computer Games are Bad. There is no question that violent video games are not appropriate for very young children. Research has demonstrated that exposure to the most violent games does result in violent behavior. The question is, how long does that violent behavior last? No one really knows yet. An increasing number of research studies indicate that there is a connection between playing violent video games and an increase in aggressive behavior and there is some evidence to indicate changes in the brain as a result of playing video games. However, there is no indication that playing an aggressive game like soccer doesn’t also result in similar brain changes.

What is the real issue? The major problem is the amount of time that children spend on the computer resulting in a lack of interaction with other people. My students who identify themselves as “gamers” have limited interpersonal skills and limited physical ability. Yes, they may be sitting next to each other while they are playing a video game, but the only interaction between them is in the context of the game. Sitting for hours in front of the computer means that the only physical activity they get is in their arms and thumbs and it is obvious that many are out of shape and some are overweight as well. The majority of experts believe that watching a lot of violent movies and playing a lot of violent video games makes children numb to the effect of the violence and consequently, the children see little wrong with the violence. There is an increase in violence in children who are engaged in virtual violence, but it may be due to lack of interpersonal skills and a self-absorbed view of the world, which world-view may come to be seen as something the child can manipulate at will. What this means is that you probably want to preview a game before your young child is allowed access. Don’t take another parent’s word for it either, what may be acceptable to others may not be acceptable to you.

You should also be aware of something called “gamergate.” This past summer, the media commented on a report that video games and the gamer culture presented negative views of women. The idea is that the violent and sexist themes in the video games were objectifying women and creating an atmosphere in which women were the objects of harassment and bigotry. The counter argument was that the nerds and geeks who develop the games (and some of those individuals are women) never intended to present women in negative ways and that they, the nerds and geeks, were being bullied by those who did not understand the games.

Part of the problem with this situation is that it is very new, and it will take a while to understand the full impact of these criticisms. Another issue is that some of the game developers are now describing the games not as games at all, but as participation art. Christina Hoff Sommers, a noted commentator on gender, has a fascinating piece on You Tube:  Are Video Games Sexist? What she says is that the real complaint is that most of the people interested in video games are male and that makes some women nervous. In fact, Sommers reports, research indicates that today’s youth are less prejudiced than their predecessors, regardless of the number of video games that they play.

The point with your son and his video games is that he should have a life outside of video games. Yes, he wants to play those games and, for the most part, there is no reason why he should not. The point is that he should not spend all of his time at the gaming console. Set reasonable time limits so that he has time for schoolwork, household chores, sports, and family conversations. Set aside a specific amount of time for your child to spend using all electronic devices. Whether those devices produce television shows, movies, the Internet, or video games does not matter. Your child will benefit from having to decide how he spends his electronic time.