Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: Kids and Games, Part Two

Erin Hoffman | 19 Oct 2007 21:15
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As promised, two weeks ago, I began my journey to find out first-hand what parents today really thought about videogames, and how, as a community, developers and gamers could reach out to them to provide information and support.

I live in a very small town in upstate New York. I have a rural address according to the post office, a status corroborated by the fact that I have to drive half an hour to get to a Target. Yet even out here, when I asked some senior locals about their take on videogames, I received an immediate excited reaction; my first "test subject's" nephew was absolutely crazy about videogames (shocking, I know) and was making Flash games with three of his friends for a high school project. Far from ostracizing me, she wanted to know what advice I could give him on being a game designer.

My other attempts to find anger similarly fell flat. It should be acknowledged that my "research," such as it was, was completely informal, and I live in a happy, friendly town, yet I have to admit the response was surprising.

I was looking for cynicism, distrust, anger, maybe even a fight. Where could I go?

That's right! To the internet!

Moms Online

I forayed into a number of online communities centered on parenting. I started with iVillage, since I'd seen so many hipster mom commercials for it on Albany television, but they summarily kicked me out for attempting to do research. The truth, it burns.

But other communities were significantly more welcoming, and astonishingly huge and active. This is not the internet of 1995. There is an entire mom culture online, exchanging child dietary tips and celeb gossip, debating a wide range of topics from abortion to pacifiers to appropriate age for makeup and more. And when I brought up videogames, they had all the talking points down pat, from relevant legal issues to media hype and beyond. But the outrage I was expecting to encounter simply wasn't there - I couldn't even get irritation.

"My son loves video games and wants to be a video game designer when he grows up. One thing that has really struck me is how deeply he identifies with and engages with the mythology of a game. For example, Super Mario isn't just a game where you hop over stuff and eat mushrooms, it's a huge backstory, a many-DVD set of cartoons, a game that he plays with friends, and a million video "bloopers" and cheat codes that he searches for online.

For his generation, which will expect media to be completely interactive, video games aren't good vs. bad, they just ARE."
- Pseudonymph, Sybermoms

I engaged this particular community because it was known for (and proud of) its aggressiveness. On other issues, debates become exceptionally heated, and though the community is online and therefore demands a certain degree of computer literacy even to participate, it holds members from a wide variety of locations and demographics. This comment came from a woman labeled "Fox News Junkie," with a yellow ribbon in her signature:

"I love video games, my kids love them. We play them on and off depending on if we have a new game or not. We currently have several different systems including handhelds. I don't see them as evil at all and really have no complaints about them. I do like the [ESRB's] rating system."
- Kathc22, Sybermoms

Direct from the parents that actually observed their children's behavior, I couldn't find any worry that these games are destroying our youth; voluntarily, they offered the absolute contrary:

"I believe there are definite ties between certain video games and education. We don't do TV, but we do video games. I like the games better because they are interactive, involve problem solving, and engage hand eye coordination and small motor skills.

I think some games are more useful than others, but I don't think a video game has to teach the ABCs or be traditionally educational in order to be beneficial." --Coralblur, Sybermoms

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