A Note to Parents About Child and Adolescent Video Gaming
Game Over. Continue? (Yes – No)
Whether you like it or not, there is no doubt that video games can have incredible appeal for today’s youth. While the introduction of traditional gaming systems such as the PlayStation 1, Gameboy, and Dreamcast does not seem so distant in the past, the “interactive entertainment” industry has evolved exponentially over the past several decades, generating a revenue of over $116 billion dollars worldwide last year. What began with Pong over 50 years ago has now developed into a worldwide phenomenon that allows players of all ages to immerse themselves in diverse virtual environments and scenarios, with games providing increasingly realistic and interactive experiences. Given the popularity of modern titles such as Fortnite, Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and the Call of Duty franchise among children and adolescents, it is important that parents stay aware of the latest gaming trends in order to make the best decisions about encouraging responsible use.
Up until the late 90’s, video gaming was relatively simple. Even with the advent of PC’s and home gaming systems like the Atari 800 and Nintendo Entertainment System, the vast majority of games were played offline, allowing up to two players to play together on a shared console. The graphics were often pixelated, and the characters were decidedly more “cartoony”, but games were nevertheless enjoyed for their novelty and entertainment value. Fast-forward to 2018, and we now see alarming reports regarding the effects of violent and/or offensive video game content, cyber-bullying, and gaming addiction (including the rare deaths of dedicated gamers who have suffered from cardiac arrest after days of nonstop gaming), causing many parents to worry about how their own children may be affected.
There is currently significant debate as to how video gaming should be approached and managed by parents, and valid arguments can be provided both for gaming, and against it. While a complete discussion of the potential risks and benefits of gaming is well beyond the scope of this blog, several potential factors to consider are described below.
Before making a definitive conclusion over video games, it is important that parents understand just how different and complex games are when compared to the classics of the past. For instance, some games are relatively slow-paced and invite creative minds to explore and develop (i.e. Minecraft) while others urge players to tax their mental processes to the limit (i.e. Call of Duty, League of Legends, Fortnite). There are differing pros and cons depending on the type of game being played. For instance, in slower and calmer games, there is a higher likelihood for a gamer to play for hours, as their minds are not being heavily taxed. In more fast-paced games such as “shooters,” emotions and blood pressures can spike. Thus, while a player can hone some of their mental abilities, they should also be aware of how to control themselves during high-intensity scenarios. Additionally, game content should always be monitored so as to ensure that only children of appropriate age can view. While choosing appropriate game content is still highly important, there are other factors that are not as salient or often discussed.
Thanks to advances in internet technology, a multitude of popular games allow and sometimes even require players to cooperate with or compete against other gamers online. While there are benefits to the increased social interaction and connectivity that such games provide, interactive communication also creates the potential for certain risks. For example, being able to communicate with anonymity often increases the likelihood for otherwise inhibited negative behavior, such as bullying and harassment. Therefore, it is imperative that parents be aware of who their children interact with online, and that they realize that sometimes the harshest impact of a game may not be the content, but rather other players. It is also important that children be addressed if they themselves happen to engage in negative communications or behaviors online. Regardless of the level of stress or frustration, engaging in abusive chat or harassment without reprisals can desensitize a player into thinking that such behavior is tolerable, and has obvious effects on the recipient of the harassment.
Competition and Stress
Some fast-paced games often possess a highly competitive nature to them. Combined with the introduction of online players and skill-ranking systems, tensions can run high. While video games are traditionally seen as outlets to relieve stress, newer ones may actually act as the opposite. In such games, the thirst for competition and improvement can be very healthy for children, provided that there is a level of guidance and expectation. However, such intense games do not often educate players on how to appropriately process a defeat or loss. Without appropriate teaching, players can often react in unhealthy manners, such as through emotional outbursts, outward blaming, and reduced self-esteem. Especially now in an era of increasing online competitive gaming, parents should strive to be aware of not only the effect of the games their children play, but also the mentalities they play with.
In-Game Purchases and Gambling
Finally, there are recent concerns regarding video game gambling and poor inhibitive behaviors. Several games have implemented what is called a “loot box” feature, which upon opening of an in-game package, several randomized items appear, which can take the form of valuable items and gear (weapons, armor, etc.). The issue is that the most desirable items only have small percentages of actually appearing, which incentivizes the acquisition and purchase of more loot boxes. This phenomenon displays concerning similarities to typical gambling scenarios such as slot machines and blackjack. The best measures to address this often involve healthy parental guidance and restrictions/limitations on in-game purchases. If monetary use is allowed, parents should be aware (as always) of what kind of purchases their children are making.
In summary, video gaming culture and technologies have been evolving at rapid pace, and it is imperative that parents be aware of the newest trends and facets of gaming. While it is always important to monitor the content of your children’s games, it is just as important to address what exactly they are taking into them in order to avoid exacerbating unhealthy emotions and behaviors. However, with healthy and appropriate guidance, children can better reap many of the benefits of video gaming, while avoiding the negative aspects.
Zendle D, Cairns P (2018) Video game loot boxes are linked to problem gambling: Results of a large-scale survey. PLoS ONE 13(11): e0206767. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0206767
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