Kids and Video Games

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I find it fascinating what the old fogies are saying about those darn video games, every once and a while. Not surprisingly, we end up with articles like The Gospel Coalition’s 4 Principles for Parenting in a World of Video Games, which uses a quote from James K. A. Smith to start (which tells you a lot):

As someone who spends countless hours on airplanes, I never cease to be amazed at the number of professional, college-educated adults who, when presented with a three-hour stretch of downtime, proceed to spend that time playing video games. Our countries invest 5 percent of their GDPs in universal education; teachers invite us into the labyrinths of history and the imaginative worlds of literature; parents make sacrifices for us to attend Christian schools and colleges. And we play Angry Birds. We’re not educated for this, surely…If I ever see you on a plane playing a video game, I will accost you, and I will be disappointed, and I will forthrightly remind you: you weren’t educated for this. The world needs your (continuing) education, and your soul is starving for it. We are remarkably well-educated dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants who could only dream of what we enjoy. Let’s not squander our inheritance.

Of course, we video gamers usually trot out the well-worn arguments – that is, video games are changing to be more mature, or that they are “art”, but I’m sure you noticed this hasn’t actually changed anyone’s mind. Video games (probably mostly due to the semantics of the name), remain a foe of the established order, mostly because of their “newness”. Books were once seen as tools of the devil, as were motion pictures, musics, and many other forms of media.

Video games, though, seem different; they are relatively uncontrolled and unregulated, except the industry itself. People can make all sorts of video games that deal with so many different topics via the means of game mechanics that it’s impossible for any one person to play them all. I’m not advocating that the video game form itself holds no artistic limits (that would be silly), I am saying that they are the Millenial generation’s entertainment format and “literature”, if not subsequent generations.

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BUT SO MANY SCREENS, WORRY!

This is why articles like this pop up: people aren’t quite sure what to make of the Internet age. Think of it this way – in ages past I really had to read the novel everyone talked about, or the film everyone went to see. Both were “a waste of time” to the prevailing, ruling generation. The difference with the Internet is the lack of a centralized cultural icon. Subgroups of subgroups of subgroups of Internet fandoms create a series of disconnected advocacy groups, each with their own interests and methods of recreation. The entire repository of civilization’s knowledge sits on the Internet somewhere, both legal and illegal, and you can look it up with a few key presses.

That sort of freedom leads to all sorts of problems, with kids looking up stuff they probably shouldn’t know (i.e., pornography), and lots of time spent talking to Internet friends, playing video games of some sort, and all manner of activities that simply baffle people. And if you don’t know something you want to know about, why not just use Wikipedia? Technology isn’t just for entertainment; it’s also a tool, and a tool that puts so much information at your fingertips that it’s mind-boggling.

Restricting kids from “screens” isn’t doing them a ton of favors – in fact, it’s moving them away from the culture of their time, and the vernacular with which they are personally familiar. I am sure health reasons exist for little Johnny NOT to sit in front of a computer all day, but that’s ancillary. Rather, the kinds of people who read and write these articles should participate with their children in using this technology and preventing its abuse.

I should know – my parents played video games with me all the time, both friendly and violent. They held an interest, but they also affirmed that conversation and study were both parts of what I should do. Technology became a complement to academic interests, while also being an outlet for play. Thus, when the time came to actually use technology by myself, it was never really an issue of “restricted time” or anything silly like that. I intuitively understood that if I did well at school and did things efficiently, video games were a fine reward (as were books and movies, but hey, it’s all relative to one’s mood at the time).

4 Principles for Parenting in a World of Video Games seems written in reverse – it shows video games as a problem to be solved, and not as a tool for kids and parents to bond. It is, funnily enough, like sports in its ability to unite kids and parents against common foes, or make your uncle throw a controller from beating his (expletive deleted) so bad. If you’re interested in what your kid is interested in (something interactive, unlike, say, watching football/baseball for an entire day’s worth of sitting around), then things will go well naturally. Technology won’t seem like a forbidden fruit, but a natural complement to being a well-rounded human being.

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Which can include this…somehow.

In that case, I’d say I did pretty well, considering I a lot of play video games, have a master’s degree, am starting another bachelor’s degree, started this Theology Gaming ministry, met a ton of new friends from it, and also starting a new business venture. I’m not sure what the definition of success is, but I’d say I’m hewing pretty close – and video games are a part of that story.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.