My name is Ian, and I let my kids play video games. There, I said it.
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s playing the first video games on the planet: Pong, Space Invaders and that silly 2-dimensional arial dogfight game on the Atari 2600. In the 1990s I spent spare time playing R-Type and Street Fighter as therapy during law school. I am, in short, a lifetime video games geek.
I did not only drag my kids in front of a console and leave them alone, though. I thought long and carefully before letting them try video games. Here’s some of my thought process:
1. Most of their friends play. When I was growing up, I was not allowed to watch some TV shows because my parents did not need me exposed to violence. So I got exposed to violence on the playground, instead, when 30 playmates proceeded to pummel me because I was so lame. My kids will be able to beat all their loser friends at Viva Pinata, dammit.
2. It makes them smarter. Yes, you heard me. Don’t blame video games if your kid turns out to be a moron. Video games like ItzaBitza provide your kids a new way to improve their reading skills, stimulate creativity and teach your kids basic computer skills, all while they are having fun. Tricky.
3. I’m not a complete moron. I’m not going to park my kid in front of the computer for 4 hours a day and let them play Conan Online with who-knows-which pedophiles. I manage their time and the games they play.
4. Video games keep kids out of trouble. “No cigarettes for me. I have to go beat Johnny in Mario Kart.” Ok, so no kid would actually say that but you get the idea.
5. We play together. GASP. I actually do stuff. With my kids. On the computer. While I do sometimes do the ‘in yer face’ dance after beating my son in Lego Star Wars, it is mostly a positive experience for everyone.
6. Plus, it means I spend time with them when they’d otherwise be zoned out in front of the TV.
7. It teaches them patience, learning skills and a bit of philosophy. When my 6-year-old daughter looked at me after getting beaten badly in yet another Viva Pinata race and said, “That’s OK, daddy, I was a little faster this time!” I knew I was on to something.
8. It teaches them to play together. My 8-year-old son learns to help his sister out a bit. My daughter learns that her brother is not purely devoted to farting in her direction at dinnertime.
9. Computers aren’t a fad. Somewhere, someday, my kids will be working on a job where their ability to move stuff around on a screen is (or should be) taken for granted. They’ll be able to handle it.
10. Games are fun. God forbid our kids should actually have fun. But somewhere between the shortsighted standardized tests and ‘no child left behind’ I need to make sure they find a few sources of joy in their lives. Games are cool!
11. Geek is the new cool. Speaking of cool, somewhere in the last 15 years I went from being a geek loser to a cool geek. Wow. My kids deserve a shot at all the hot dates in high school. Well. My daughter doesn’t actually, because I’ll murder anyone who lays a hand on her. But you get the idea.
12. Life emulates video games. The interface in a 777 resembles a video game. Not the other way around. If you think that’s a coincidence, you ain’t paying attention.
13. It is better than television. Have you seen some of the crud on TV these days? It sucks out your kids’ brains. Video games require that kids take action and respond to what they are seeing.
14. It keeps them busy. Those of you who aren’t parents, feel free to frown and pass judgment. Parents, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes a video game is preferable to locking your kids in a small cage. If you use the cage, the government people will come. Use a video game, and you’re good.
15. Games teach kids to separate media from reality. It is no longer enough to cut kids off from media. They’re deluged with it. You have to raise children who can differentiate between Mass Effect and reality. And I’m depressed that I have to explain that.
16. Games stimulate creativity. Video games get kids thinking: If someone could make a computer do that, what else can they do? They’ll carry that with them the rest of their lives.
17. Games teach them problem-solving. My son figured out a Lego Star Wars puzzle that even I couldn’t get my head around. After I was done being annoyed, I was dang impressed.
18. Games have become a social experience. See number 1. Kids don’t sit alone in rooms playing games any more (at least, they don’t if their parents don’t let them). They play with their friends. And games like Rock Band take it to another level with all sorts of cool cooperative play.
Of course, it is like a lot of other treats: Too much chocolate makes your little darling a lunatic. Too much video games do the same thing. Exercise restraint and intelligence, and watch how your kids respond. Don’t let them play online unsupervised, and don’t let them play games marked ‘M’ or games you know will scare them silly.
games + kids + you = OK