I am not a gamer. I play Scrabble on my iPhone but counting that as gaming is quite frankly, bullshit. Gaming involves interacting with complex digital worlds that require a mastery of skills. My three children and my husband are all gamers, and here is why I not only support their interests, I actively and enthusiastically encourage them.
1. Gaming makes them competitive
I am one of those parents who hates activities in which every kid gets a medal just for showing up. I think this kind of namby-pamby nonsense is doing a terrible disservice to our children and placing them in a bubble that will be cruelly popped the second they leave the wool-wrapped confines of school and home. You don’t get a medal in Call of Duty just for turning the console on. You have to earn your rewards and earn your place by competing. Just like real life.
2. Gaming teaches them the value of perseverance
There is only way to get better at a game: you play it. You run through difficult, challenging scenarios a million times if you have to. At no point does the game say “okay player, you’ve tried really hard here and you get to go on to the next level because effort matters just as much as skill”. Nope. You wanna unlock that reward? Earn it. Acquire the skills you need. Effort counts only if it delivers the abilities you need. Trying is not enough. You must DO.
3. Gaming connects them to a global community
All my children play multiplayer games on servers that connect them to friends, family and strangers around the world. As a responsible parent, I put some limitations on that community, but my son plays with his friends in Serbia, France and Malaysia, and my daughters connect on Minecraft with their friends living in the neighborhood and across the country. My son plays with older boys he doesn’t know under the supervision of his father. Gaming makes the rest of the world a very real, very tangible place for my children and that worldview can only serve them as they grow up and go out into the world to explore.
4. Gaming teaches them how to lose gracefully
Another aspect of competitiveness is learning how to lose. No one can triumph over every other player all the time. My kids get shot by better snipers and their little flocks of sheep get eaten by T-Rexes. It sucks and they have learned to lose or be defeated gracefully because having a tantrum online only means no one wants to play with you. They get knocked down. A lot. And they get up again and play another day and every day they get a little better. It’s interesting to watch them act protectively to obviously new players who need a little time to bring their skills up to the level the game demands. Losing teaches compassion.
5. Gaming teaches them the value of learning by rote
Learning by rote used to be a cornerstone of education. How do you learn your times tables? You just memorize them. End of story. How do you learn grammar and spelling rules? You memorize them. End of story. How do you learn the atomic values of elements? You memorize them. End of story. Almost all of that learning has been stripped from the educational curriculum, at great cost to students. Gaming restores their ability to memorize vast amounts of information. I find this to be particularly true with games like Minecraft. The kids build enormous worlds and must remember where they have left all their important do-dads and thingies. I am truly awed by the amount of information they can retain over the course of months of creating, building and playing in their virtual worlds.
6. Gaming teaches them to manipulate three dimensional virtual spaces
The ability to rotate objects in three dimensional, virtual space has been a cornerstone of intelligence tests since the very beginning of attempts to test intelligence. This is a skill strongly correlated with analytical competence – the ability to understand how objects will change when subjected to various forces. It is the basis of virtually all the physical and mathematical sciences and while I am by no means attempting to confine my children’s career choices and ambitions, I believe gaming helps them develop the skills they will need to actually have a meaningful choice.
7. Gaming is fun
Let’s face it – being a kid really sucks sometimes. Being an adult sucks too. We all need healthy ways to blow off steam. My children are all competitive hip-hop dancers and get tons of physical activity and eat healthy but they still have those days when flopping on the couch and playing Mortal Combat with a bag of Doritos at hand is just what the doctor ordered. Life can be frustrating and confusing and unfair. Sometimes the best way to deal with that is to pick up a controller and face down a frustrating, confusing and unfair virtual world where at least you know that if you work hard, learn what you need to learn and master your environment, you WILL win. You’ll finish the game.
The recent events in the gaming community and #GamerGate in particular have been unfairly depicted in the media as a collection of misogynist, angry, hateful collection of men who just want to objectify and terrorize women and that could not be further from the truth. Gamers come from all walks of life and are united in one thing only: the love of the game. There’s nothing to fear from gamers. Indeed, there is everything to celebrate. Gaming makes good even people better.
It’s good for all of us.