Parenting the Avid Gamer

July 9, 2009

Video games. There’s just no escaping them. Your kids love them. When they talk about their favorite game, it’s like hearing a foreign language being spoken. Their free hours are spent playing. You have the nagging feeling that they should be outside, exercising and socializing with friends, enjoying summer, learning hand-eye coordination while tossing a ball. Instead, they’re holed up in their room playing video games.

Before declaring war against these electronic games, which will instantly demote you to the “bad guy” in your house, there are some surprising things which you should consider.

There are reasons these games are so much fun to play. Gaming is a uniquely human trait. We seek out forms of challenging entertainment, things which engage the mind, present goals and challenges, for no purpose other than fun. That doesn’t mean that a lot of learning doesn’t occur while having that fun. This is especially true if the games involve other players. There is emerging research that suggests that playing video games creates a sense of empowerment and confidence in one’s self. They teach quick decision making. And they teach consequence (make the wrong choice, you lose). Forget the scary and sensationalized articles you occasionally stumble upon relating how society’s woes can be traced directly to video games. They are merely inanimate things that come to life only when someone has taken control of the keyboard or game console. It’s true that some persons, for many complex reasons, take the games too seriously and too far. But it is likely that those persons are suffering from other issues, and would likely display similar behaviors in other pursuits if gaming was not available to them.

There’s a reason ESRB Ratings were established. You, the parent, determine what movies are appropriate for your kids to see. Apply the same approach when choosing games your kids can play. If you feel your child is not mature enough to handle the content, don’t buy it and explain to them why you think they’re not ready for such a game. Like movie products, games carry a rating that alerts parents to the level of violence and other mature content in the game and suggests appropriate age groups.

Set a reasonable maximum play time per day. It’s unrealistic to expect that your child will be satisfied with just 30 minutes of gaming. But it would be equally bad to allow him to spend too many hours playing nonstop. Take time to discuss what would be a fair duration that would allow him to enjoy the game but not cause him to neglect his other responsibilities. You’ll find that children learn well in life when they know their limits!

Explain the importance of moderation and balance in all activities. Moms and dads sometimes forget to explain every firm decision they make; “Because I say so” isn’t going to pass muster with your (ever more educated) kid. Children need to know the why’s and how’s and it’s the parent who have the responsibility to help them understand.

Play with them. Seriously, take a turn. Enjoy an hour playing with those closest to you. Not only will your children think you are the coolest parent on the planet, you may come to understand why they love the game so much. At the very least, you will better understand what tickles you child’s fancy and have firsthand knowledge about their favorite hobby. You might even learn a bit of the game lingo, which you can trot out during dinner discussions to make a point that actually gets heard. And if you happen to try one of the online games that are currently all the rage, like Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sneaking turns while the children are out.

Video gaming has grown up. The look and feel of today’s games bears little resemblance to the stick figures and simple graphics introduced in the late 70’s. They incorporate DVD quality video and audio. And the plots are as good as any New York Times best seller. Gone are the days when video game players were 90% male and under the age of 14. Many of today’s online games have announced their user demographics; about 35% are female and around 50% of players are older than 25 years of age…with many in their 30’s, 40’s and even older. And they have spawned a number of ancillary services and industries; gaming consoles, flight rudders for the pilot enthusiast, musical controllers like guitars that interface with games, as well as an entire industry where gamers buy and sell in-game items for real money. If you don’t believe it, Google the term “wow gold”. You will see hundreds of companies selling virtual money. As this article is being written, 1000g in the game World of Warcraft has a real world value of about ten US dollars. EpicToon.com, one of the premier selling sites, confirms that it is not uncommon for players to spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on virtual currency, which they use to purchase assets in the game; items like mounts for riding, weapons, armor, crafting supplies, etc.

Be a hero in your children’s lives, just as they are virtual heroes in the video games they play daily.

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