Little Way of the Family

Why Aren’t Video Games a No-Brainer for Parents?
June 8, 2011, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Children, Culture, Daily Life | Tags: , ,

Why aren’t video games a no-brainer for parents? My eight-year-old asked the other day why we don’t allow game systems in our home. Apparently he is the only person in his class (at a fairly conservative Catholic school) that doesn’t have an Xbox, Playstation, or Wii.

According to this article, 3 in 5 homes have game consoles. In my experience, the rate for households with children is much higher.

Why don’t parents realize how damaging this is to their children? As I told my son:

  1. Video Games Can Be Addictive
    Video games are designed to suck you in and keep you playing until you beat the game or hit a wall beyond which your natural abilities won’t take you. At that point, to feed the addiction, you’ll need the next game in the series. This addiction is real. In 2009, 8.5% of kids were found to be addicted to video games.
  2. Many of the Most Popular Games are Morally Questionable, at Best
    This is a well-hashed topic. Many games are over-sexualized or packed with violence to appeal to their target demographic: 18 to 30 year old men.
  3. Video Games Set Our Kids up for a Permanent Adolescence
    As just noted, The target market for video games is adult men. As men, it is hard for us to grow up. Part of us wants to stay in adolescence forever. The alcohol industry, the entertainment industry, and the video game industry all have a huge economic incentive to keep us overgrown children. I don’t want to set up my sons with such a handicap.
  4. When the Game is On, the Brain is Off
    Oh sure, there are exceptions. But those are exceptions that prove the rule. Most video games are mind-numbing contests to hone a particular – otherwise useless – reflex to the point where you can tweak the game controller in just the right way to win the game.

Are they fun? Sure. And playing the occasional game online or at the arcade isn’t harmful. But dropping hundreds of dollars on a console that is obsolete in a year, and up to fifty dollars on a game that is mastered in a short time, leads one to feeling that the game must be played, like TV must be watched, for hours on end, every day. With TV, movies, video games, and the internet all demanding our children’s time, where is the time for learning, for exercise, for family, and for God?

Why isn’t this a no-brainer? Why do parents feel they have to buy these things?


12 Comments so far
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This is… wrong.

Video Games Can Be Addictive
So can anything if left unmoderated. I’m sorry, but the reason that kids become addicted to video games is because parents allow it. There is nothing wrong with having a gaming system as long as the parents are in control. If you as a parent ignore your child for hours on end while they play video games, they will become addicted, the same can be said of most activities.

Many of the Most Popular Games are Morally Questionable, at Best
Umm… This arguement is as weak as the one above. Yes there are some games out there that are morally questionable or geared toward more mature audiences. Don’t buy these games for your child. Its not hard if you stay involved in your child’s life especially with gaming. Even if you as a parent know little to nothing about games, there is this great organization called the ESRB (Not sure what it stands for) that rates videogames, much like movies are rated which can help.

Video Games Set Our Kids up for a Permanent Adolescence
So its wrong to have fun? O wait, its childish… I have been an avid gamer since I was 5 and I am currently 23. Guess what? I have a fulltime job, I make decent money, I moved away from home and am getting married in a few short weeks. I have no intention of stopping gaming because it is something that I enjoy, however, I don’t think that this keeps me from growing up.

When the Game is On, the Brain is Off
This is a terrible and untrue stereotype. I suppose that it depends on the exact game, but most games involve some pretty complex thought. I have younger brothers and they grew up wanting to start to play games with myself and my other brother (close enough in age that the difference isn’t too far off). My one brother is currently at the top of his class in math. I attribute that heavily to the games that we had him playing. If you ever look at a game beyong the surface there is a lot of math, and understanding that math is crucial to being able to play the game well. My brother luke learned this at an early age and was actually solving algebraic equations at the age of 6. He didn’t know that it was algebra, to him it was pokemon and he was trying to figure out which attack would be the best.

I’m sorry if I sound rude, but each of these points are only valid if the parents buy thier kids a gaming system and then never talk about it again. There are so many more benefits that video games have to offer to a family than I can even begin to talk about in this post, but I believe I have made my opinions pretty clear.

Comment by Steve Baumgartner

Ok, so you deleted my last post. I understand, it may have been a little harsh. Honestly, I felt like you personally attacked the way that I was raised because my parents allowed me to play video games. I was extremely frustrated when I wrote that previous post.

That being said, I still do not feel as though I said anything wrong in my previous post. I still feel like video games should at least be considered and that your reasons are just a simple cop-out. Each of your reasons is either completely untrue (The 4th reason) or a stereotype caused by poor parenting.

Maybe you will let this comment actually go through. If you do not let this comment go through please at least contact me and let me know what your views are. I feel like we could have a decent discussion on this topic and I would enjoy hearing more.


Comment by Steve Baumgartner

Hi! No, I didn’t delete your comment. It was perfectly respectful. I just hadn’t had time to approve comments yet this morning! (I have it set to be moderated, to avoid spam. Perhaps I should change that.)
I very much want to continue the discussion. For now, work beckons. My online time is limited. Hopefully I will be able to respond tonight.
God’s peace be with you.

Comment by GLudlam

On the topic of addiction:
Steve, you said that everything can be addictive if you don’t do it in moderation. That’s just not true. Only certain types of activities are capable of triggering behavioral addiction. Researchers in the study I linked in the article used the 11 signs of pathological gambling to identify persons addicted to video games. 8.5 percent showed at least 6 of the 11 signs.

Symptoms included spending increasing amounts of
time and money on video games to feel the same level of excitement; irritability or restlessness when play is scaled back; escaping problems through play; skipping chores or homework to spend more time at the controller; lying about the length of playing time; and stealing games or money to play more.

Most activities don’t cause this kind of behavior. Read the article. This is legitimate research.

Should parents be able to control the exposure to prevent this? Sure. And most do successfully. But kids, especially teenagers, are good at finding ways around their parents, even the vigilant ones.

But why create the situation in the first place? I had better have a darned good reason to expose my child to something that 1 in 12 kids are addicted to. Video games don’t give me darned good reasons!

More later.
God’s peace be with you!

Comment by GLudlam

First off, that article took like 10 minutes to load… wow.
Second off, I’ll let you in on a small secret. I developed an “addiction” due to playing video games while I was young. Now hang on, read the whole post before you call me a hypocrite for advocating games. Here is how my childhood went: During the week, go to school, do homework, sports practice and whatever else, usually watch tv until bed. On the weekends, we were allowed to play video games and so we did, usually with a few friends (the nintendo 64 with its 4 player capability was pretty awesome).
During this time I did develop an addiction because of these games, but it was not an addiction for the games. due to the limited time I was allowed to play games I was not able to create an addiction for the games themselves, so instead my addiction was a thirst to figure things out. During the week instead of “watching tv until bed time” I would take apart and put back together computers in my basement, I would do research into all kinds of topics on the internet and I would read books. I personally feel like video games can be the catalyst that awakens a child’s curiosity, and that is exactly why my kids will be able to play games, because they are such a huge part of who I am today. To this day I still have an innate drive to figure out how things work, which is the main reason for my current occupation as a software developer. That drive is what got me through college and fueled some of my own personal projects that were completed during college. And that same drive is causing me to attempt to start and run a small business while working. This desire to figure things out may have been inside of me the whole time, but I cannot think of any way that it would have been awakened in me except through gaming.

The real trick is that your kids want to play games, but you as an intelligent parent can use this as a way to sneak learning into their non-school time and give them a thirst for knowledge and possibly a competitive edge over their classmates. You just need to know enough to control how much they game so that you don’t allow them to become addicted. To me the easiest way to do this is to keep the games put away during the week and only bring them out for a couple hours on the weekends. I would personally recommend getting a wii as a first system as it is extremely family friendly and can be used to bring the family closer (my dad never used to play games with us, but he did enjoy beating us in wii bowling and wii golf (both of which come standard with the system)).

Comment by Steve Baumgartner

Your story about taking computers apart is great. Congratulations on finding a career you love. I have heard others attribute their career interest iin computing to video games. (I am in s/w myself, so I meet a lot of coders.) But computers pervade every aspect of our lives. I imagine that if a child has an aptitude for that, he or she will find plenty of inspiration.

I believe a child’s life should be full (in a fun, not stressful way). The weekends should be for church, family togetherness, outdoor activities, and special projects, not holing up in front of the tv/game screen.

It is so important for a child to have imaginative playtime; make-believe time. Video games are like tv in that they do all the imaginative work for the child.

It’s late!
God’s peace be with you.

Comment by GLudlam

In the past 15 minutes I have done some quick research and found research papers about addiction to exercise and eating. You allow your children to eat and play sports (I believe I read an older post or two from your about your kids being in karate or something similar?) because they need to and it helps their growth respectively. Personally I feel like (and my personal experience agrees) gaming can help a kids mental growth enough to put it on par with sports and exercising. The only other mental exercise that comes close is chess, but chess cannot hold a child’s interest easily.

Comment by Steve Baumgartner

I don’t think I have ever heard someone make the claim that video games are good for mental growth, much less better than chess! It certainly isn’t my experience. I have played video games in the past, and my 19 year old nephew has both a Playstation and a Wii. Our kids sometimes play when they are at his house. I have yet to see a game that has any real educational value.

According to this article, video game and TV usage can make kids 1.5 to 2 times more likely to have attention problems. That was for a typical usage of 2 hours per night. Two hour per night of reading and homework are critical for intellectual development. I can attest to that as a father of 4. Two hours per night of unstructured (imaginative) play are also valuable. Two hours of TV or video games causes attention problems.

A number of studies, including this one show that playing video games causes kids grades to go down. That wouldn’t be the case if the games were intellectually stimulating.

So I just don’t see how real world studies can back up your claim.

And as far as exercise goes, well that is essential for good health. I, myself, could do much better on that front! But the need for exercise, especially in our sedentary and obesity-prone culture, is one more reason to eschew those activities which aren’t in some other way enriching.

God’s peace be with you! And thanks for the thoughtful discussion.

Comment by GLudlam

Scratch some of that 2nd comment… apparently it was just wordpress being buggy (Maybe its intended… I don’t use wordpress) and not showing me my original comment this morning. Still please feel free to contact me, this is a topic that I feel very strongly about and would enjoy talking about.

Comment by Steve Baumgartner

Well, since I don’t have the time or desire to give in depth analysis of different games that I think can give as much mental growth as chess, I’ll just leave you with this article about a Ph.D candidate in Florida who is going to be teaching a course on problem solving skills in stracraft and their applications to the real world: .

Also, there is a similar course being taught at Berkeley that delves into the competitive aspects of starcraft, and among the prerequisites to the course are calculus and differential equations. Not that I think this is enough to change your mind, I am just saying that there is, not necessarily academic educational merit to games, but definitely problem solving and math application skills to be picked up from them.

Comment by Steve Baumgartner

I played video games as a child, but I also saw the effect on me in that it did make me more of a permanent adolescent. I even played some when I was first married and I quickly learned the lesson that time spent with a computer instead of my wife is upsetting to a wife… especially a pregnant wife that just desires some quality time with her husband. I’ve personally cut WAAAAY back on any gaming of any kind and, quite honestly, have found that there are MUCH more valuable uses of my time that video games would otherwise occupy.

The same would be true of my young boys… they have a demanding homeschool curriculum that requires their time/attention. They do get an occasional “reward” of computer time to play a “game”, but they’re really learning opportunities like “Big Bible Town”, computer-based piano lessons, chess, and foreign-language programs. Little-to-none of the applications on the computer are what I would call “games” in the traditional sense of games. Understand though that I am using the computer as a tool for learning, not a substitute for time with parents, not as a babysitter, or anything else. When we can play chess live against one another, we do so. When my wife can teach the Italian lessons, she does so. And surely, we teach religion and we LIVE our Catholic faith — we don’t need “Big Bible Town” to teach biblical lessons. BBT is a small motivator to get the children to wrap up their lessons in a timely manner… and even then they’re limited to 30 minutes of play time. That’s it.

I see the other comments that seek to defend video games so arduously. I could be wrong, but it’s almost like hearing from the addict that their habit “isn’t a problem”. The guy above that said he has no plans to give up games when he’s married may find that he has no choice. The wife may allow it for a while, but I suspect that will change. Adolescent husbands don’t make for good husbands. Besides, the demands of married life, especially if children are brought into the family, will require time that would otherwise be spent on games.

We have no big game systems in our house and we won’t be getting any. Our children are learning that life in itself is more mesmerizing than any game could offer. And they also know that given the choice of “idle” time playing a game or doing something that is actually productive (volunteering, helping family, developing a skill, reading a book, etc.), the latter is the better choice.

For anybody wishing to go the next step… try getting rid of the television. Our TV broke a while back and there was no choice but to pick up books, tend to a hobby, listen to music, engage the imagination, etc. What a blessing it was during that time. I have since fixed the TV (we do watch some religious movies and EWTN programming), but the secular programs are NEVER on. The TV is largely dark and it can go days without being turned on. Try that and see how it goes for your family… it’s worth the experiment.

Comment by Domenico Ruggiero

Thanks for the comments Domenico! As far as TV goes, see this post: We’ve gone over 2 years now without cable tv, and don’t miss it! God bless.

Comment by GLudlam

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