Here’s How This Parent Really Feels about Her Sons’ 10-Hour-A-Day Pandemic Video Gaming Marathons
How Did Your Parents Feel about You Playing Video Games? Kotaku Australia asked. Video gaming journalists answered in their January blog that for the most part, their parents weren’t against it. I want to tell them that this parent was totally against it.
When they were five or six years old in the 2012s, I told my sons I didn’t like video games, and I read articles to them about the damage to their intellect and their bodies that would result from too many hours gaming. I let them play Insane Aquarium and Chicken vs. Egg on PC and that was it. Until one day their cousin went off to college and at his going away party he handed over his Nintendo DS with a Yoshi’s Island game chip still inside it. I have not been able to get the Roblox, the Switch, the Xbox controller, the TF2 or any of the various consoles and games they have loved over the years out of their hands ever since. I think my determination for them NOT to play may have made them more determined to prove to me that I was wrong.
Their dad had two games — Turok and Star Wars Pod Racing for his Nintendo 64, and he likes playing games, so I was alone in my opposition. I didn’t care. I’m a teacher; I wanted them to read books and run and play outside. I used to spend every summer road tripping so that they would have a wholesome childhood away from electronics. But when the six-year-old came to me crying because he was stuck in a catch-22 in his Pokémon White game whereby he needed a pokéball to get out of a room but had to get out of the room to get the pokéball, I had to help him. I drove him and his DS to our local GameStop and asked the clerk, who I assumed knew how to find a way out of the dilemma because he must be an expert at all video games if he worked there, to tell my son what he needed to do. His answer: erase all progress and start over from the beginning. That day I learned to be a little more sympathetic to video gamers.
The following Christmas Santa put new Nintendo 3DSs in both boys’ Christmas stockings. The year after that there was an Xbox for one and a Wii for the other under the tree. In the course of their young lives I have spent untold thousands of dollars on Skylanders portals and figures, Alienware computers, HyperX accessories, Robux, 3DS chips, Xbox games and controllers and Nintendo switch controllers for boys who I had thought should not be damaging their minds playing video games. I did it because I am their mother and playing video games makes them happy. I did it also because between their continuous stellar grades throughout elementary school, their constant talk about the kinds of game play they engage in, and the articles reporting that video gaming actually can be a healthy activity, I have come to see that my closed-minded outright prejudices against gaming were wrong.
It wasn’t an instantaneous turnabout. In the ten or so years that my boys have been gaming I have imposed house rules on their game play. I was strict about the game ratings, for example, and wouldn’t let them play games with T ratings until they were teens. If I thought a game had ugly characters or sexist depictions of female characters — not allowed. Whenever friends came over to our house to play with the kids, no electronics. Period. They had to find other ways to have fun, which ended up getting me very involved with their friends because I frequently had to jumpstart their imaginations with game ideas, and set things in motion with their toys, costumes, rules for fair play and of course, some healthy snacks. During summer months, there were restrictions on the times of day they could sit and play video games. And if gaming ever led to tears, fighting, name-calling or bullying, then that put an end to the video game on the spot. As they got older the rules relaxed somewhat, but to this day the house rule that everyone has to agree to the game or it doesn’t get played still stands. As a result, their time spent working out how to have fun together, making compromises, persuading, and taking turns negotiating has made them excellent communicators and mediators, willing to give up on their own ideas for the good of the group. At the same time, when these discussions were centered around video gaming activities, or took place even during game play, I learned a valuable life lesson.
Video games are the way kids play with one another in my sons’ generation; they are social, not anti-social like I had thought.
Video games have not harmed my boys too much, in fact, they have actually helped them to make friends, and even overcome shyness. The most important unexpected benefit for my sons, I’ve found, is their inclusion in a fantastic world of players that have fame and respect and clout and status. My boys, now in 9th and 6th grade, can compete with the best of them, and they do, and they sometimes win. I have taken them to ComicCon and DreamHack conventions where I have learned that their video game world is one in which they can have a respectable, lucrative, fun, and exciting future.
Their dad has an Oculus Rift now and is leader of a clan in Contest of Champions, so although I myself don’t play video games, except for the occasional time when they invite me to see how fun it is to slide around in Splatoon, get my main Donkey Kong sent sky-high by King Dee Dee Dee in Smash Bros Ultimate, or create a fabulous winning outfit in Design It, our house has not only fully embraced the 10-hours of gaming going on every day in this pandemic, but it has become a place where the rapid change of the video game industry is in some way due in part to their young gamer lives. They have a small but growing influence on where the industry is going because they have been brought up in it, and make YouTube videos about it, and use novel strategy in it that other gamers want to emulate. I am proud of my boys, Octotrooper and XKitha, and I have done a complete 180 to the degree that I want to ditch my teaching career for a career in eSports, but that is a topic for another post. My sons convinced me to learn to be one of them, so I may just become a video game journalist, one writing from the parent perspective, or carve myself out a niche as a video game mom YouTuber. The eSports world has room for me, I’m certain of it, and with my sons’ tutelage I can make a go of it.
2/12/21 Special thanks to the guys down at the GameSync Center San Diego for their enlightening conversations with me.