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Kids as gamers

On the surface, we seem like a fairly typical American family, by modern standards: I have a college degree and a full-time job in the insurance industry, and my husband stays at home to take care of our three kids (and will do the same for our fourth, who’s due in early August). We live in a funky 70’s house in the suburbs of Houston and drive a minivan. People who meet us often express surprise when they ask what we do “for fun” and we respond that our one and only true hobby is video gaming.

A quick tour of our house tells the tale right away: the conventional China cabinet is nowhere to be seen, its space occupied instead by a 1960’s-era hand-carved wooden credenza filled top to bottom with video games, from original PlayStation titles — including original copies of Metal Gear Solid and Xenogears — to fresh-off-the-shelf Xbox 360 titles, and a cornucopia in between. Treasured family photos of my late grandparents stand on a place of honor on our mantelpiece, right next to our cherished souvenir Vault-Tec lunchbox (which can be converted into a bottlecap mine in the event of a nuclear war or home invasion). The idea of spending one of our rare date nights at a bar gives us both a wave of nausea – we’d take a night in, cozied up side-by-side in our gamers’ chairs, sipping on Monster energy drinks and teaming up to take on a hoard of cantankerous aliens in Halo, any day of the week.

Even greater surprise tends to come our way when we tell people that we are actively raising our kids (ages 9, 8 and 1 at the time of this writing) as video gamers. Images of rotten cerebral masses and Doom-inspired high school mass shootings tend to swell up in the minds of those unaccustomed to the idea and its practical implications. Sports, we are often told, are far more “wholesome” and “better for kids” than “rotting their brains” with video games.

Neither my husband nor I are fans of team sports (or “sports ball,” as we prefer to call it), so I will, at the outset of this discussion, confess my bias against them. Biased or not, though, the benefits of raising children as video game players are far more numerous and varied than what our collective social awareness tends to appreciate.

Halo 5 Map
Halo 5 Map

From playing Halo, our kids have learned how to think strategically and to deploy situationally-tailored plans of action to achieve success. Pikmin has taught them how to manage and allocate resources. Minecraft has taught them how to cooperate to reach a common goal. The Super Mario games have sharpened their reflexes, and their eye-hand coordination skills have been fine-tuned in sublime ways. From nearly all of their games they have learned that no plan is foolproof, and that plans sometimes require reworking when the situation demands. They are not constrained by the limitations of their physical size or physical ability. They have discovered common interests that bridge cultural and social gaps, allowing them to form friendships with peers with whom they would otherwise have little in common with. They have learned to understand and appreciate the difference between fantasy and reality. They use their games as a basis for acting out pretend play scenarios with each other. The games do not stifle their imagination; quite the opposite is true. The games give them baseline scenarios upon which they build entire imaginary worlds.

The risk of sustaining serious physical injury from video gaming borders on a statistical zero. There are no Halo-related head injuries.  We have, on several occasions, taken them to participate in video game tournaments at Game Over Videogames, our favorite local gaming store chain. I will never forget the experience of standing in the back of the store, which was packed wall-to-wall with gamers for a Mario Kart 64 tournament, and watching as our 8- and 9-year-old sons took their turn against a player at least three times their age. By way of background, our boys are experienced with later versions of Mario Kart, but had little experience with the N64 version. I’m not inclined to try to phrase this diplomatically – they sucked. They lost by a wide margin and crashed countless times along the way. When their turn was over, they both got up from the couch and were greeted with nothing but cheers and high-fives from the gamers in the crowd, congratulating them for the effort they put forth and the grace with which they accepted their loss. Absent were the hyper-competitive parents and the toxic winner-take-all mindset for which kids’ sports have become regrettably notorious for; among gamers, they found nothing but encouragement and acceptance. I wiped a tear from my eye and knew, at that moment, that our decision was the right one for us.

Mario Kart N64

None of this is to suggest that raising gamer children is not without its drawbacks. There is an undercurrent of misogyny that runs through some veins of the gamer culture. Fantasy violence, to a still-developing mind, can trivialize the magnitude of the real thing. Within each instance of this lies an opportunity for us to fulfill our duty as parents. Gaming culture is not responsible for teaching our sons to treat women with respect, or for teaching our daughter how she should expect to be treated by men – this is our responsibility, as their parents. Teaching them that war is hell and its glory is all moonshine, in the words of William Tecumseh Sherman, is our duty as their parents, not the duty of EA, Bethesda or their fellow online players.

When coupled with proper parenting, video games are an ideal vehicle for both entertaining and educating children. Free of the us-against-them tribalism that pervades team sports, video gamer children are able to sharpen their intellects, hone their skills, connect with their peers and express themselves in physically-safe environments. Other families can enjoy their nights at the football field or the baseball stadium…if you need us, we’ll be popping popcorn and lining up our gamer chairs for a night of family versus-mode Halo.

Article by OCD FeverDream

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