Why Pick on Video Games?

Yesterday my son Joey did part one of his guest post on video gaming. Here is part two. Some have strongly questioned his perspective while others are supportive. We welcome your comments and request that they be posted here (along with other places in social media if you also prefer).  Thanks for visiting!

My post yesterday was already too long for a blog post (which Mom’s regular readers immediately noticed) so I was unable to properly address a couple of natural questions that my comments would arouse. I want to take a look at three reasonable responses/objections to what I said yesterday, which will hopefully help clarify my perspective.

First of all, the idea of “video games” is too broad an issue to tackle in one or two posts. I tried to nuance between educational verses entertainment as one way of distinguishing the type of gaming I was referencing. But even that isn’t fully satisfactory.  Hopefully my response to the three hypothetical questions below will address the main limitations of my post yesterday.

Weren’t you oversimplifying gaming by addressing only the ‘bad’ games?

The answer is…no. The only part of the post that might indicate this was my last point, which was about limiting the influence of the video game industry on my children. A game doesn’t have to be ‘bad’ to have a negative impact. I’m pretty sure there isn’t much ‘bad’ about Star Wars video games, for example. But if I spend five hours a day playing it to the detriment of other things…that is bad. The reasoning behind my parent’s video game rule was much less about content than it was about priorities, responsibility and moderation. That is not to say content is irrelevant. We’ll get into issues related to content shortly, but over all I wouldn’t simply be concerned about the ‘bad’ games. I understand that this issue involves games all over the spectrum when it comes to content.

Why pick on gaming as opposed to any other form of entertainment?

Because I felt like it was a good example of one way Mom and Dad exercised discernment in parenting. If you knew Mom you would understand that she was thinking through the potential effects of video game playing on kids when we were toddlers and Atari was the only thing available.  (Yeah, and she also got mocked for warning us years ago that cell phones could someday be linked to brain cancer.) Their ‘rule’ was an example of how to practically teach several good lessons to their children, and it was effective to the extent that I can’t think of any reason not to apply it in my own parenting. Clearly I could have written about TV, movies, music, or any form of entertainment. But I can’t write about everything at once. Also, I think there are issues unique to these mediums that mean they don’t need to be treated interchangeably. Gaming has unique positives and unique negatives that are not always the same as other forms of entertainment. The positives of gaming are in its infinite flexibility. My daughter plays games that help her learn to spell and count. Games can teach pretty much anything. Games can be interactive (most of them are now, via this internet dealio). They can promote teambuilding, problem solving, problem solving in a team context and critical thinking. They can provide an avenue for folks to get together and hang out and fellowship, etc. (Depending on your definition of those things.) They are generally more interactive than watching a movie. I could on citing positives. Folks who know more than me could think of plenty more things that I am not thinking of or don’t know about.

But there are unique dangers as well. I discussed the main ones yesterday. The dangers I discussed yesterday weren’t made up out of thin air. Plenty of people with PhD’s argue that more and more gamers have a clinical addiction to gaming. I know people who would say that they are or were addicted to gaming. I’ve seen many kids who admittedly play video games daily for hours on end. My own two-year-old daughter would play the iPad five hours a day if we let her. The constant, quick rewards and re-enforcement found in addictive behaviors are a huge aspect of most electronic games. If nothing else, the sheer amount of time spent playing video games by a large portion of today’s young men is evidence that there is a problem. Any time you have someone doing something five or six or seven hours a day – other than feeding yourself spiritually, working or sleeping – I think there is probably a problem. Do I know gamers who are good employers or great husband and fathers? Yes, a few. These posts are not a slam on them. But exceptions to rules are just that…exceptions.

Regarding the issue of content in gaming, it has long been a question of whether violence in games contributes to desensitizing young people, leading to real violence. The thought is that, unlike with movies, in gaming you are actually pulling the (fake) trigger and killing. That, combined with the dissociative effects of lengthy withdrawals into a fantasy world, lead to some horrific results.

To be honest, that’s a side issue to what we are talking about. It is a good topic for experts to explore, but only relevant as a worst case scenario when all sorts of other problems are in play. The more relevant issue related to content for most our kids will be whether or not a steady diet of pretend killing is good for them spiritually. (I know there are plenty of games that don’t involve killing, or other sorts of chicanery, but I’m referring specifically to those games right now and let’s be honest, they make the most money because they are the most popular). Obviously I think the answer to ‘is a steady diet of pretend killing spiritually healthy’ is…I wouldn’t think so. Whatever is lovely, whatever is pure, etc, think about those things. Thinking for 5 hours a day about killing…not lovely.

Do you think activities that require physical exertion are more valuable than those that don’t? (The all-important sports vs gaming argument.) 

The short answer is no. I don’t think there is anything morally superior about playing a sports for real and playing one on a console. I don’t believe that being a professional athlete is superior to being a video game designer or a player who makes money by beating everyone else at online Magic, the Gathering.

Please be patient with one last comment for those who still think I am picking on gaming. I could have easily written a post called “My Deprived Childhood” and spoke about Mom and Dad’s arbitrary rule that their kids were only going to play one organized sport growing up. For those who have the idea that the Phillips’ are obsessed with sports, it may interest you to know that my parents decided against year round sports. We could each pick one sport to play for one season per year. We all chose basketball growing up except Julia, who chose soccer. So for 1/4th of the year we played organized sports, but piano lessons were always year-round. Doesn’t that rule sound suspiciously similar to the video game rule?  I think their reasoning was pretty similar. They didn’t want us thinking sports were be all and end all of leisurely activity. They wanted to teach us that while sports were fun, there was a lot to be learned from them and they were beneficial in all sorts of ways, they were not to be something we couldn’t walk away from at any time. My parents didn’t pick on video games. They didn’t want to allow anything to take the place of highest priority away from serving the local church. They taught us that, not just through words, but by moderating our involvement in all things except serving.

As the years have gone by, it seems to me that there aren’t very many kids playing sports for hours a day. If there are, I would love to know who they are and I would imagine they are phenomenal little ballers. I think the more pertinent issue for most parents is the fact that electronic games are ubiquitous and children get hooked on them easily.

Having made all these clarifying statements I want to ask a question of my own.

Sports have been around forever. Gaming, as we know it today, is new. The fact that young men are increasingly taking longer and longer to grow up (as measured by delays in finishing college, moving out of their parents’ house, getting married, or becoming providers for themselves or a family) seems to be correlated to the rise of gaming. I wouldn’t suggest it is solely responsible, of course. I would suggest it is having a negative impact that, say…ah, sports…never had. So now that I think about it…sports are superior.

P.S. For those who don’t know Mom, she didn’t ask me to use my guest posts to pat her and Dad on their parenting backs. She didn’t know what I would be blogging about and was probably tempted to edit out the kudos. But there’s no mistake that kids spend their time doing what Mom and Dad allow in the early years.


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