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Video Games Will Rot Your Brain, or Will They?

TT_NotTheFandom

Would you believe it was once believed that reading books would rot your brain?  Amazingly enough that was the pseudo-science of the day in the 19th century.  Even now we still hear about how watching too much TV is bad for you, though the ‘science’ of that seems to be in flux.  Heavy metal music is bad for you and playing Dungeons and Dragons will rot your soul.  We have been dealing with these grasping studies about how the things we love are bad for us, how they’ll rot our brains or souls, or send us straight to hell.

Having grown up in the 80’s and 90’s, I’m no stranger to more than one of these hysterical attempts to convince us we need to change our lifestyles to something more acceptable.  Then I became a parent, and like any logical human being I kept in mind that moderation is key, but I also had to accept that kids are going to go for the things they like.  You can’t force your kid to like playing sports, or want to go outside all the time, learn to ride a bike, or fall in love with the outdoors.  The best you can hope for is that they grow up loving something, do their best, and gather enough skills to help them as adults.  I read books like they were candy, watched TV, listened to metal, and played DnD (hells I still do those things) and I think I turned out all right.

I’m also a gamer, and over the years that has come with its own set of stigma.  Worse, I’m a male gamer and we already know what they say about those.  Recently I was shown an article that, like the person that showed it to me, got my hackles up.  “Don’t let your kids play video games for more than two hours a week, or it will make them antisocial!”  Funny, my son has been more social playing games than any other time in his young life, but what do I know.  I have been a gamer for about thirty years, and I have to say most of my friends have been met through gaming.  Whether it was my friends coming over to play Golden Eye, or Mario Kart, or getting online to play Battlefield, gaming has always been a social experience.  I don’t know if the people doing the study are gamers themselves, but I’ve personally never found gaming to be a solitary experience.  I’m sure sitting a child in a room alone sure emulates a solitary experience, but that’s just not how gaming works in the real world.

Thankfully, with every study about the things that rot our brains, or give us cancer, there’s always counter arguments and different studies.  We can count on broader views to look at things in realistic application and feel confident that our 30 or so years spent gaming did us just as well as it will do our kids.  When those kids go on to become programmers, software analysts, authors, designers, and artists they can look back at the studies done today like we look back at the hysteria over heavy metal and roleplaying.  Gaming is the largest entertainment industry in the world, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and our kids are growing up in a world vastly different from our childhood.  We have to adapt as parent, but just like our parents let us eat raw cookie dough and watch too many cartoons, we’ll do just fine.

Parenting in a Gaming and Technological World

TT_NotTheFandom

Before we jump down this rabbit hole I’d like you to say a word in your head.  It’s a simple word, but not always an easy one, especially when it comes to our kids.  Just say it with me, “No.”

When I grew up, my parents weren’t gamers, though they did play some video games with us kids.  They found a few games they liked, but overall it wasn’t their primary hobby.  I’ve been a parent for almost eighteen years now, and have been a gamer much longer.  My son’s been a gamer since he was old enough to hold a controller.  Despite the difference between my hobbies, and my parents’, there’s one commonality, we parent.  There are different challenges I’m sure, but I’ve always been a gamer so I can only imagine what it was like for my folks, before the internet, before PC gaming, and before cable was really a household staple.  Now we have a plethora of digital media that kids can access literally at their fingertips, but despite it all we still parent.  Say it with me, “No.”

I’m reminded of a conversation I had on Twitter, with an anti-porn advocate that thinks porn should be banned…on the internet…good luck, buddy.  Anyway, this guy was going on about how kids can access porn all the time; smart phones, tablets, laptops, just porn all the time.  But I mentioned that parents have a responsibility to make sure their children understand what’s acceptable, to explain sex and porn, and to monitor their habits.  To this guy, that wasn’t enough, but why not?  Are parents powerless to monitor their child’s online habits?  Of course now you’re saying, “Hey, the title says Gaming!”.  Yes, I’m getting there, but honestly to me the challenges here are the same, as are the responsibilities.  You know the word you should be saying, say it again, “No.”

Children cannot get a cell phone, computer, laptop, tablet, or gaming console without a parent to give them money, sign contracts, and give permission.  Of course once they have these, getting access to websites, games, chat rooms, and social media is easier, but we parents still have tools like parental controls, and our own eyes.  We have to take a bit of responsibility upon ourselves to look at ratings, chat logs, browser history, and take the time to be involved.  Talk to our kids about what’s going on, see what they’re doing from time to time, and even when they get upset that we’re ‘invading their privacy’ we have to remind them that as parents, that’s our job.  It sucks sometimes, but it’s what we do.  Say it again, Sam. “No.”

As an example, my son didn’t get a cell phone until just recently and he’ll be eighteen this year.  I didn’t need one as a kid, he didn’t need one either.  As soon as he got old enough to be going places on his own, and soon start looking for work, then we got him one.  The same sort of responsibility goes into monitoring gaming habits.  He doesn’t buy a game without asking, and he didn’t get Grand Theft Auto, no matter how many times he asked, until I thought he was old enough to play it.  I said, “No.”

That’s the hardest part for gamers, I think.  We love games, and we love when our kids love games.  Sometimes we have to be conscious of when games are acceptable for us, but not for our kids.  We look at other gamers and rarely consider things like age, we are all just gamers, but when they’re our kids we have to consider that.  I didn’t have that trouble with GTA – I don’t own it, never will, it’s just not my thing – but I can understand wanting to share a game we love with our kids.  We want to play online with them, and share our interests, so it’s easy to overlook things like ratings.  We have to be able to say it, “No.”

A lot of parents lament at the options available to kids, but we have to be the gatekeepers for all of that content.  I imagine it’s more difficult than it was for our parents, but we don’t really know any different, we weren’t parents then.  It’s the world we live in, and we have to try to balance our own love for gaming, and the culture around it, with raising our kids in that world.  Help them understand the difference between the online world and the real one.  Teach them how to interact with people face to face, as well as the value of dealing with people online like they’re other people.  Explain how there are ugly places in the world, dark ideas, uncomfortable themes in games, all that exist for a reason and why they are ugly, dark, and uncomfortable.  Most of all we need to say…you guessed it, “No.”

It doesn’t have to be all negative though.  There are tons of games out there to play with your kids, and ways to parent through gaming.  Learning games, puzzle games, adventure games that you can co-op with them.  Spend time with them and share your love of the hobby.  Incorporate family time into fun party games, racing games and sports games.  It’s a great way to have time with your family and share something we all love.  This is the greatest part of being a parent in a gaming world, but we always have a responsibility, and we have to be able to say, “No.”