A Stubborn Parent’s Challenge: Fending Off the Video Game Culture

Every six months or so, my wife and I get into an animated discussion over my stubborn reluctance to buy a video game system for our children. Her case always comes with a bullet list of arguments: It will build their hand-eye coordination;  It will give them a head-start on technology they’ll use later in life; It will be great for family fun (aka, she wants to play it to); and my personal favorite… Everyone else’s kids have one!

All might be true. The last point definitely is. We have a lot of friends whose kids are the same ages as our children, and they all have a system. Many have more than one. It’s just the generation we live in. Kids love playing video games for hours on end, and parents love that video games keep their kids busy for hours on end. And sure, parents occasionally like to join their kids in the action too. Of course, my wife loves to set up those friends as testimonials and have them poke fun at me for my hardened stance. So far, the pressure hasn’t worked, but she continues to try.

Boy, does she try.

I do have one relief valve which has thankfully kept me above water: Our children have yet to express any real interest in video games. Sure, they’ll sometimes ask to go on the Disney or Nickelodeon websites using our laptop and play an educational game, but they have yet to acquire a taste for firing through cross-hairs at virtual monsters and aliens on a 42-inch screen with blaring sounds of gunfire echoing off the walls. I know the time will come. After all, they can only spend so much time at friends’ houses before they realize what they’re missing. At some point, my children will passionately beg for a Wii, Xbox, or whatever the latest system of the day is. Until then, I’ll only have my wife to worry about.

By now, you might be wondering what my problem with video games is. It’s certainly not that I’m resistant to technology. On the contrary… I have a great deal of respect for today’s technological developments. I’ve been a software developer by trade and I know first hand how technological innovation improves the lives of people. The purchase price of a system and its games only bothers me a little bit. Growing up in a lower-middle income family, I became accustomed to prioritizing expenses at an early age, and it’s a habit that has stuck with me through the years. While my wife likes to rationalize the proposed expense as an investment, I just can’t bring myself to see it that way. An investment pays dividends, and I have a hard time recognizing a genuine payoff coming from staring at a television screen for long periods of time and feverishly working a controller. Regardless, the cost isn’t really my main gripe.

My primary concern is the cultural aspect of it all. I think our society has a very real problem with self-absorption and a false sense of achievement, and I fear that video game addiction at an early age is a gateway contributor to that problem.

By a false sense of achievement, I’m referring to a cultural shift that has been around for the last couple of decades. Parents have been lured by political correctness into buying the notion that a child’s confidence should not be built by actual achievement, but rather just by being present. The participation trophy has become a popular symbol of this belief. When I was a kid, trophies for kids’ sports were given to the teams that did well. A trophy was a symbol of hard work and a job well done. If you didn’t do well, you didn’t get a trophy and you tried harder the next time. Today is much different. Kids get a trophy for simply showing up. While I think a lot of parents are uncomfortable with the idea of rewarding lusterless efforts, they also don’t want their children to feel left out. Thus, that guilt tends to lead to a contentment with mediocrity.

Playing video games used to be little more than an entertaining activity, and for those who manage to accept it in moderation, it still is. But what we’ve seen with the evolving video game culture is that it has become a lifestyle for many as they grow older, and an addictive one at that. I’ve seen how people’s’ self-confidence is attached directly to how many levels they reach or how many points they earn, and I cringe at the temper-tantrums that are thrown when they come up on the losing end. I worry about exposing my children to this culture, especially before their minds are mature enough to understand that proficiency in the virtual gaming world is not real achievement, and that it shouldn’t be a valuation of their worth. A controller isn’t going to help prepare them for life’s challenges the way other activities do.

Yeah, I know… I sound like a cranky old scrooge who doesn’t want other people to have fun. I’m the father in Footloose who won’t let the town’s kids dance. I’ve heard it before. But honestly, it’s something I truly worry about.

I also worry about the effect it might have on my kids’ social skills. I read articles from time to time that affirm my concerns that video game and computer addiction is detrimental to the long term development of children, and damaging to their ability to build and maintain relationships.

I also read of stories like one that went down in an internet cafe in Taiwan recently. A young man died from cardiac arrest while playing video games, and the thirty or so people who were also playing video games around him didn’t notice – for nine hours! I know this is an extreme example, but the oblivious, self-absorbed, zombie-like behavior that accompanies today’s video game culture scares the hell out of me! People don’t seem to outgrow the addiction, and with amazing advances in when and where an individual can put life’s reality on hold and plugin to virtual hypnosis, there truly are no limits anymore.

I was made well aware of video-zombieism after I got married and inherited a couple of nephews who were great kids, but I don’t think they made eye-contact with me for the first year I knew them because they were constantly engaged in virtual combat. Their heads were always lowered in front of a screen and their glazed eyes never blinked! I remember one Christmas when the family got together, and the wireless router the kids were using went on the fritz for a couple minutes. You should have seen the panic in their eyes. It was like someone was depriving them of oxygen! There was desperation and confusion as they were forced to take awkward notice of the world around them. It reminded me of that scene in The Matrix when Neo woke up after taking the red pill.

I should mention, since they’re both larger than me now, that both nephews turned out to be fine young men. After all, I don’t want to get beat up if they happen to read this.

Still, it’s a path I’m not comfortable sending my children down. Many might say that the answer to my worries is for me as a parent to keep strict time limitations on their exposure to video games when they’re at home. That’s fine and good but quite frankly, I don’t even want the temptation to exist. When I’m working on a project at home that requires time and concentration, and the kids are restless, I don’t want the easy out of plugging them in to the virtual world. Moderation can only fend off addiction if you’re a consistent hardliner… and life doesn’t always allow for consistent hardliners.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about my plight is that I know it’s a lost cause. I know that down the road, the pressure on me will build up so immensely that my stance will be likened to that of child abuse… and I’ll crack. My only hope is that when that happens, I’ll find out that my worries were all unfounded. Either that or I’ll be the proud father of two wax museum figures.

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration, and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. His first novel, entitled "From a Dead Sleep", is now on sale! He lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
Author website: http://www.johndalybooks.com/
  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.marsh.7370 Chris Marsh

    I think you’re dipping your toes in something you know very little about. You can find extreme examples in any situation, and video games are as addictive as any other pleasurable activity. It is just a trend. 
    What you refer to people “being in a trance” or “Zombieism” it probably just your own insecurity about video games themselves. There are business men who completely absorb themselves in work and ignore others. Of course people like that are considered heroes for their work ethic, even if people who know them personally know how much they suck.
    Look, my point is you can drag anything to an extreme. You might as well keep them from doing any activity, as that might become an addiction. But of course, since video games are fairly recent they are obviously more dangerous (sarcasm). Good read.

  • Pingback: How Video Games Helped Treat a Burned War Veteran

  • billy

    hi

  • billy

    This Is Awsome!!!

  • Brian

    There is nothing wrong with playing video games and wearing apparel with video game icons like Zelda/Link, Marios Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog, Donkey Kong, or Star Wars characters on them.

    The issue is that too many children and young adults are spending too much time playing video games, watching tv, surfing and chatting on the net, etc. And at the same time, many children are not going outside to play ball, jump rope, play hide and go seek, and other games as often as kids use to.

    As Bill O’Reilly mentioned, spending too much time hooked on video games, tv, and the Internet can impair ones social skills.

    Also, parenting matters. Parents need to ensure that they are aware of video game ratings and that if their children are doing poorly in school or are not at an ideal weight for their age, it may be time to take the video game console away for awhile.

  • robin in fl

    this is a GREAT read..I have said the same thing and people look at me as if I’m crazy or out of touch with life.Thanks for saying it so well.

    • John Daly

      Yep, I know that look. ;)

  • DOOM161

    If you do ever buy them a system, I suggest the Nintendo Entertainment System.

    • John Daly

      lol

  • Danielle Olson

    As a young professional in the Video Game Industry, I think about this issue a lot. My childhood days included plenty of Nintendo and PC games, which later grew into a passion for the more mature realm of gaming. So much so that I moved to the big city, went to school for a degree in Video Game Design, and ended up with a job making 3d art assets for an exciting new line of educational games. The irony is that now with the full time job and the continuing part time college classes, I don’t have time to play games much anymore! I think my story is proof that kids who love video games are not destined to be chubby couch potatoes with no motivation for ‘achieving’ things in real life. But now that I’ve met a boy and fallen in love (he’s also in the Games Industry), I wonder how our future kids will handle the heavy influence of video games.

    I strongly disagree with your implication that video games have anything to do with the recent trend of ‘participation trophies’. While I don’t argue that the trend doesn’t exist, I think games are a victim of it rather than a cause. Games from my childhood were exponentially more difficult than ones of today, and I think that’s because it’s become more of a consumer’s market than it used to be. But you can’t argue that games are a participation sport. Most every game offers trophies and achievements these days, but you can’t get any of the good ones without at least a moderate amount of effort, and I think that’s a great lesson :)

    It’s very tempting to blame society’s degenerates on the newest fad, like Bob said: “Comic books, Elvis and his shaking hips, TV and now video games”. But I think what it comes down to is trusting your kids not to become defined by any specific media. If parents can be open-minded enough to show their kids the joy of a wide variety of experiences, I think the kids will end up level headed enough that they can balance the attraction of entertainment with the reward of hard work. Just like any fun activity (going camping, taking a painting class, building a robot) video games have both the potential to enrich or take over your life.

    • John Daly

      Good post. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Bob

    Seems like every parent and every generation has it’s pet vice. Things like Pool (Trouble, oh we got trouble,Right here in River City!), Comic books, Elvis and his shaking hips, TV and now video games. It seems like every generation is completely convinced that their children are going to fail because of these things, and who knows, maybe they have all been right and we are in a constant downward spiral.

    So interesting when you are concerned about video games, while there are parents out there that won’t let their children eat sugar or attend public school with exactly the same kind of reasoning. Where do we draw the line?

    • John Daly

      At video games. ;)

    • John Daly

      Seriously though…

      I think you make a good point.

      To me, what sets video game addiction aside from the rest is how common it is for people not to outgrow it. There’s something very wrong, in my opinion, when you visit old college friends who are now in their mid to late thirties, and all they want to do is play video games. Like I said in the column, it’s less of a trend and more of a lifestyle.

  • cmacrider

    John: A very thought provoking article. Having grown up long before DOS 3.01 and having had to entertain myself with other kids playing cops & robbers, baseball, and flag football .. I often wonder how this new generation is going to turn out. Having known people who have lost thousands of dollars in VLT machines, the addiction factor should be a real concern. Send the kids into the back yard to play dodge ball and when they get inside give them a crokinole (sp?) board.

    • John Daly

      Home video game systems were just in their initial stage when I was a kid. I think the first Nintendos and Segas started coming out when I was in high school. Even with their strong popularity, it hadn’t become a cultural thing yet.

      Like I said, I hope I’m wrong about my concerns. I joke with my wife that I want our kids to talk to their friends, not “trash talk” to their friends. ;)