Gaming has become a top play-date activity, and parents have little control over what goes on in other homes. The kids with the best games and systems earn a kind of popularity, while those whose parents squelch it often feel left out. When I was a kid, we used to talk about sports, NASA, or some insipid TV show, but now, gaming is topic number one. If a kid isn't knowledgeable, he will be left out of much of the discussion. Obviously, children who are athletes, musicians, or artists have other points of connection, but even some of them game intensively.
It's easy for parents to feel that their lives have become infested with gaming even if they invited this babysitter into the house. As kids grow up, some parents believe this hobby robs their kids of time, attention, and energy for schoolwork, resulting in under-performing kids who seem unable or unwilling to focus in school or at home on homework. Constant battles only make it worse, leading parents to wonder what it will take to get their teen "motivated." This can result in intense parental anxiety about the future - their children may not qualify for a solid collegiate education even though they are bright, and many parents see this as the road to "success."
Parents also rue the loss of connection that gaming can create at home. I hear many tales about adolescents who barely talk with their parents, spending countless hours in front of the screen, occasionally showing up for meals. This is an age-old problem - the sadness and loss parents feel when their kids don't seem to need or want them anymore - but it's easy to blame it on gaming because it provides such a convenient modus operandi.
Many parents also worry about the effect of gaming on their kids' health. Gamers aren't noted for having the best sleep hygiene. It is easy to play late into the night and end up oversleeping or being semi-comatose the next day. Even though there are games that involve exercise (DDR and the Wii come to mind), we should acknowledge that this hobby is largely sedentary, so parents worry if their kids are getting enough exercise, and experts wonder if gaming is contributing to an epidemic of obesity.
Of course, we haven't even gotten to the major bugaboos: Is the content of these games bad for kids because it is graphically violent, sexually inappropriate, or disturbing in some other way? Who are these people online and will they take advantage of my kids in some way? Will my child learn nasty language and habits that will affect how he treats others outside of gaming? I have discussed these issues in other columns and I'm sure there is more to be said about them.
Wow - that's a lot of reasons for parents to be upset about videogaming! I'm convinced this is a big source of the negativity you perceive. I don't think it's only parents - health care professionals, politicians, and media pundits certainly add fuel to the fire as well, but parental frustration provides plenty of dry tinder.
What, if anything can be done about this? Videogame play is burgeoning, not diminishing, and if societal perception is that it's a huge waste of time at best, and at worst, a public menace, that can't be good. I'm very interested in what The Escapist readers think about this, but here are a few ideas:
I've known many young adults who have been able to achieve a healthy integration between gaming and the rest of life. This means they love playing, but are careful to maintain investment in other priorities, like school, work, relationships, diet, exercise, and family. Each person able to do this is a powerful contradiction to the stereotypes trumpeted in the media about gaming.