Parents, Gaming and Unspoken Fears

Parents, Gaming and Unspoken Fears

My 7-year-old daughter is, I expect, a typical child of a gamer parent. On a rainy afternoon she's as inclined to curl up with a DS and Animal Crossing as she is to switch on the television. She's equally pleased when playing with Play-Dough or sculpting virtual landscapes in Viva Pinata. And she's just as likely to fire up a Reader Rabbit title on the PC as she is to read a book.

I monitor her gaming habits, of course. Gears of War stays on the top shelf of the entertainment center, and I'm quick to turn her attention elsewhere before her play sessions reach marathon lengths. But otherwise, I've got few qualms about her pursuit of the same hobby I enjoy. In fact, I'm thrilled we have this interest in common. And I'll admit I've encouraged it.

I've recently learned this makes me something of a pariah among non-gaming parents.

The realization occurred during a fundraising event at my daughter's elementary school, where I found myself chatting amicably with a few of her classmates' parents. Somehow the conversation turned to videogames and their widespread appeal among the elementary school set. I was all set to jump headlong into the conversation, when my initial rush of enthusiasm was dampened by a chorus of universally skeptical, even hostile remarks.

Every adult involved in the conversation, as well as several who had been listening casually on the sidelines, suddenly had something to say about kids and videogames. And none of it was positive.

"It actually kind of creeps me out," said one father, speaking of his son's GameBoy proclivities. "It's like when he's got his face in that thing he's completely and totally oblivious." Other parents nodded. An exasperated mother chimed in: "My teenage daughter has a DS she takes to school, a PlayStation in her room and then there's the computer. She even has games on her cell phone!" Observations along the lines of "Man, we didn't have all that stuff when we were young" were soon followed by dark musings on the state of youthful minds. "I wonder," said one father, shaking his head with grim resignation, "how these kids will ever make it in the real world."

My initial contribution to the conversation was silence, but when I recovered from the barrage of negativity I managed to blurt out a statement that effectively ended the conversation.

"I think videogames are great," I said.

Silence. Blank stares. And so I added, "And it really doesn't bother me if my daughter plays them. I mean, as long as they're appropriate for her age and I make sure she doesn't overdo it, I don't see what the big deal is."

If I'd been close friends with any of those folks, we probably could have had a good-natured debate on the subject. Instead, in the company of relative strangers, my rather tactless pronouncement was met mostly by raised eyebrows. With the exception of a mom who apologetically admitted that back in the day she'd played a mean game of Mario Bros., the rest of the group just shuffled their feet nervously, smiled weakly, or looked away until someone changed the subject.

I've had the opposite experience, of course, upon discovering that a fellow parent was also an enthusiastic gamer. But those have been much less common. Even among the 20- and 30-somethings contributing to the current baby boom, there's often a deep undercurrent of distrust and paranoia about videogames.

It'd be easy to write off these parental misgivings as a natural result of the negative game-related perceptions that have dominated the media and political landscapes in recent years. I don't think it's quite that simple, though. Just as I don't believe parental attitudes are the driving force behind game-regulating legislation, I don't believe most adults truly think videogames hurt kids. I think that distrust of gaming comes from someplace else, someplace much more personal.

These unsettled parents weren't complaining about the content of their kids' games. Instead, they were distressed by the distance they felt as they watched their kids wholly entranced by experiences they didn't understand or relate to. For them, the image of a youth focused intently on a screen, thumbs twitching with enthusiasm, symbolized an unsettling generational divide they weren't sure they'd be able to bridge. They were worried they were being left on the outside of their kids' worlds, looking in.

All parents face the inescapable fact that their influence in their kid's lives will diminish. For some parents games represent a powerful reminder of this fact. By their very nature, games provide engaging, rewarding experiences that to outsiders seem foreign, insular and even antisocial. Although gaming gets blamed for all manner of problems, it's this fear of disconnection that truly preoccupies parents.

In recent years much of the gaming industry has focused on expanding the gaming demographic by providing simpler, more accessible games that appeal to a wider range of players. And many of these efforts to draw in new audiences have been met with huge success. Nintendo's hardware is the prime example, of course, owing to its family-friendly marketing and emphasis on lighthearted, intuitive play. The thing is, Nintendo's selling more than just fun and games. They're selling a connection between parents and their kids. And in some respects, that connection is real.

Gaming parents typically light up with enthusiasm when they're asked about playing games with their kids. They're thrilled, entertained and often amazed by the experiences they've shared with their children. Who, as it turns out, feel exactly the same way.

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Wow that is quite intriguing to think about, I like the courage you voiced in telling those parents who seemed to universally dislike video games that you think there great, I wished I could have seen that. lol

Your thoughts on nintendo offering connection between younger gamers and there parents is an interesting way to view nintendos strategy as well. I have personally only viewed what nintendo is doing from my point of view as a hard core gamer and the idea you express never really occurred to me.

I was able to make a connection with my aunt and she has really become a gamer but my mom was never able to grasp the controls or concepts well. I actually talked to her about this just a few weeks ago and she was telling me how my younger siblings always want her to play with them and she expressed that she just could not, it was too confusing and she expressed that the onslaught of fast paced visuals as being over whelming too, of course I don't think my siblings grasp the idea that halo 2 or need for speed most wanted might not be for our mom.

Interesting idea though, I think I will pay closer attention to what nintendo is doing and perhaps try and find a game that my mom and siblings could use to connect. I do not need a game to connect with my mom but, it may be away for my younger siblings and her to share something that is becoming so pivotal in there lives.

I'm not altogether sure about that. Clearly, what you've described is a contributing factor, and in many cases I wouldn't doubt it's the big one. I wouldn't rule out other concerns, though:

-Health. It would be odd that a culture so influenced by television would worry about video games' effects on activity and exercise, but the parents are already used to television. If the kid is watching TV, the parent is gonna focus on the TV as well; if the kid's playing a game, the parent will be aware that they're sitting there staring at a little screen (and that it seems to be so much harder to quit than a TV show).

-Newfangled videowhatsis. A person considers the ways that they spend their time (and its equivalents) to be worthwhile, generally speaking. A parent feels better when their kid does for fun the same things the parents did (unless the parent remembers their pastimes leading them somewhere they regretted being). You've seen it in every generation. How many parents ever played video games the way Kids These Days do? They've never experienced the stuff, or what they've tried was incomprehensible. Are they just supposed to assume that this pastime is a good way to waste time, when the parent can think of so many better ones that they used to do?

-They're alien. A parent who tries to see what all the hubbub is about is unlikely to find entertaining a game that the kid also likes. This is just a matter of statistics - such games are rare. Games are made for people who already play them. They're unlikely to discover why their children like them so much. This makes them unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and likely to dismiss them as worthless.

-Fear. You mentioned this briefly, but I think there's a large component of it that you're missing. It builds on the previous elements, really. They've heard the news items of the people who played video games so long that they died. They've seen the analyses of violent shootings that always hint at that one conclusion: video games were so psycholoigcally compelling that they drove this person to homicide. What do they learn from this? They learn that people can be addicted to video games, and they learn that it's the type of addiction that they already believe will make a person crazy. Would you want your kid to become a gambling addict, pissing their life's savings down a slot machine? How about a junkie, willing to kill for their next fix? And then they see their kids playing video games everywhere they go, hours per day, and this stirs the very same feelings in them. Not as strong, to be sure, but the same ones.

So, we've got parents who think that video games are a waste of time and don't see what people get out of them, who know that sitting around staring at a tiny screen isn't good for you unless you get something out of it, and who have heard that they're dangerously and mysteriously addicting. How are they supposed to feel about it?

Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt that parents playing games with their kids would essentially solve the entire problem. But I think I think it's a gross oversimplification to say that the problem is that parents are worried that the games will take away the time with their children that they want. I think the importance of the "negative game-related perceptions" are still the main issue.

Great article. I couldn't agree with you more. As an enthusiastic gamer with an equally enthusiastic gamer son I felt myself standing in solidarity with you. It's a lonely road and most parents are tragically unhip when it comes to this subject. I don't mean to toot my own horn but it really does all boil down to parent/child engagement. The fact that I have been able to establish a connection with my son's habits in a way that's supportive and connected vs. standing on the sidelines looking in has proven invaluable. In my household we use a Gamefly account. I'm the owner of the account and together my son and I choose what games we want to rent, or, if we deem them worthy, purchase. It's a joint effort and one I have full control over insofar as selecting games appropriate for my son's age and maturity level. And on a simpler level, it's fun and my son respects me because I can communicate with him in his language which is, as you suggest, what is at the root of most parent's fears of disconnection whether it be videogame related or otherwise. Anyway, thanks for a great piece. You aren't alone. We are out there!

I agree on both Adam and Bongo Bill. Great Posts. I especially think Bill's Point about the "Newfangled videowhatsis" is the source of the hostile attitude of some parents to Videogames.

Rather strange, if you think about it. I mean, if you would tell those people about how your child completley "zoned out" while reading an exiciting book, they most likely would understand that and consider this book, as long as it is aproppiate, as a good pastime. But then, the same effect caused by a videogame worries them, although it is unlikely that, on a pure "learning" standpoint, a usual, not overly preachy (child's) book is so much more valuable as a good adventure/puzzle/simulation-game

I disagree. I don't think parents hate children because they can't relate to them and their video-games. If that's part of the problem at all, it's not a very large part of it.

I think parents hate video games, because like television shows and Facebook pages, they are a time-sink that does nothing to prepare their children for the future.

I remember back in the 2000s, I had just gotten Diablo 2 for Christmas. Had been playing it for several months. My dad looked at me, in my sophomore year at high school, and asked me what skill, or lesson, or ANYTHING, that playing video games was preparing in me for a future career.

I still don't know how to answer him.

Tell me, Escapist, how should I have answered him?

Kingsman:

Tell me, Escapist, how should I have answered him?

Reduces risk of Dementia, improves reaction.

But playing games might be no different from reading a book. Some of the games I played were actually created by schools or similar education companies. Match a Chinese character to shoot a monster - great fun really. Or solve a maths problem to save the princess.

Reading my textbook is like playing those games I mentioned. How about if I were to read Jurassic Park, or some other fiction book? How does that prepare me for real life - the same goes for games like Call of Duty, Super Mario or the occasional Angry Birds. Different medium, same focus.

My parents had this issue and they have dealt with it nicely actually. I guess one reason why parents (our generation's) have the attitude they have is because the computers they saw were meant for work. It's kinda like seeing computer parts being used for soccer one day, instead of the work and games we are so used to.

 

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