“How We Lost a Generation of Boys to Video Games.” That’s the title of a recent article in The Week, and it’s a familiar sentiment; kids nowadays, eh? They’re pretty much hopeless. Might as well give up!
I have some bones to pick with the article. First of all, the author makes a convenient distinction between the “thriving” kids and the “video gamers.” No such distinction exists. Plenty of kids play games, after all—94% of girls and 99% of boys—and I suspect that most of the suburban overachievers (referred to in the first paragraph of The Week’s article) are quite familiar with the modern console. Perhaps they don’t play as much as the sad husks of children the author goes on to talk about, but it’s still important that we acknowledge that almost all kids play video games, overachievers or not.
Second, the article delves into how games “adversely influence the predominantly white boys who play them,” based on a survey that found that video game usage was 87% male and 79% white. The survey was of fewer than 2,000 individuals, all of whom were recruited from Internet forums, plus 300 recruited from a university—not exactly a valid sample. (Also notable: of the 300 university students, only 27% identified as male.) The Entertainment Software Association, in its annual report, actually finds that adult women comprise a larger percentage of the gaming population than teen boys do, with the average gamer’s age being 31. Moreover, the Black and Latino demographic plays games more often than the white one does.
So gamers are not predominately young white boys. Regardless, let’s zero in on what the author believes the problems are.
A) Games are antisocial.
Despite the author admitting that games are…well, not antisocial (“those who purchase Microsoft’s Xbox Live and a headset get to communicate verbally with friends and acquaintances (and strangers from around the world) while playing games”)…he goes on to argue that it doesn’t matter if kids are playing with friends or acquaintances, because it’s a virtual reality.
This is generational in essence; young people these days don’t differentiate between online hanging out and in-person hanging out. Playing, talking, or sharing things with friends, whether they’ve met them in “real” life or otherwise, is just a normal part of kids’ social lives. And games really are very social: even single-player games offer kids a medium for discussion, and 76% of young gamers play with friends and help others while playing.
B) Kids are playing video games instead of sports.
I’ll be honest. I’m not quite sure what the author’s contention is here. He discusses the thrill of winning, and dismisses video games as a reasonable outlet for that desire because “before video games, some kids (including boys who didn’t excel in the classroom) would get to enjoy this flush of success through playing sports—though of course only when the team won or an individual athlete displayed prowess on the playing field. Now the thrill of victory is open to all.” What’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t kids who don’t happen to be good at sports be able to experience the thrill of victory?
C) Games promote no transferable real-world skills.
The article states, “All of the effort takes place within the mind, using talents that, once again, have no connection to life outside the gaming world.” This assumption is also untrue. Video games can provide countless learning opportunities. Many studies have shown that shooters increase hand-eye coordination and cognition; puzzle games hone reasoning and critical thinking; and role-playing games teach teamwork and emotional intelligence. Games can help shape our understanding of history, politics, economics, resource management, and leadership. They can also be an incredible tool for managing anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. This isn’t true of every game out there, obviously, but let’s not throw an entire medium under the bus.
The author goes on to say that he’s worried about kids watching Let’s Plays (recorded videos of another person playing a game, which are useful for hints, for entertainment value, and for information about the game if you can’t afford it). He’s also concerned that kids might discuss games outside of playing them. What’s wrong with people thinking critically about the media they consume and having conversations about it?
That’s not to say pathological gaming—or game addiction, as some have named it—doesn’t exist. Just as with any media, it’s important to find a balance. Some people use video games as self-medication in the struggle against depression, while others might use them to escape constant bullying. Multiplayer games can be a useful way for isolated or socially anxious kids to engage in social activity in a less stressful environment. Some people play games to reduce the boredom of a life they aren’t happy with. There are numerous ways that gaming can become pathological, and while most gamers know their own limits, teens especially can be less apt at knowing their limits or sticking to them. It’s a learned skill, after all.
The thing is, in all of these cases, games are not the root of the problem. They’re actually a solution. Not necessarily a healthy solution, but a solution nonetheless—a coping mechanism for issues that absolutely need to be addressed. By demonizing and zeroing in on video games and ignoring those underlying issues, we’re only doing more harm than good.
I implore us all to stop jumping to conclusions about both kids and video games. Pathological gaming can be a serious problem, but no one is being helped by sensational scare tactics.