Hi. My name is Eric and I want to talk to you about those video games your kids are playing.
But first, to help you decide if you should even bother listening at all, let me tell you a little about me.
Like I said, my name is Eric, I'm a forty-five year old guy with two kids, boys, who play video games. I am also an emergency room nurse, a United States Navy veteran, and a homeowner. No, I don't live in my mom's basement. I've been married eighteen years now, I don't think my wife would have approved of basement dwelling. I have a blog (or had a blog, since we stopped traveling, I haven't been updating it. http://egad-ybnormal.blogspot.com)
I wrote a book about travel nursing. I tell dad jokes.
So that's me. To get us started, I want to tell you about my oldest boy. He's twelve as of this writing and he loves chess. He's a little obsessed with it actually. He would play or study it all the time and we have to remind him to do other things like use the bathroom and eat. As you can imagine, he's pretty good. He beats me regularly and, as a classic dad, I don't let him win. When I tell people about him, most usually think he's a pretty smart kid even before they meet him. But then I tell them it isn't chess, it's actually video games, and their opinion changes.
This little bit of intellectual snobbery amazes me. Mostly because I did the same thing. Of course the smart kids play chess! It's the smart kid game. They've been playing it for centuries. Kings, warriors and generals started their strategic training with this game. Of course smart people play chess.
Let's take a look at that. Chess has six different character types that move across a two-dimensional board. There is some time pressure involved, especially in those devilish matches with the little clocks you have to punch. Now, let's take a look at Overwatch, my favorite game. It has thirty playable characters, each with their own different movement and attack modalities. These characters are of three basic classes, each with their own distinct play style and function. On top of that, each player has one ultimate ability which works best when combined with the abilities of other players. Oh yeah, and it all takes place in a three-dimensional map in roughly real-time. Video games aren't like Pac Man or Space Invaders anymore. You could teach a college level semester class on ultimate abilities and their economy.
But let's face it… We all know the smart nerds play video games. It's not like football, basketball, or hockey. Those teams are helping kids build crucial social skills they will need in the working world as adults. Not to mention lifelong friendships that are forged in the arena of competition. Again I'll use Overwatch and point out that players are put on teams of six, sometimes with random strangers and you can also go in with friends, to battle it out against other similarly composed teams. Play for even a little while and it becomes hugely evident that players that coordinate as a team smash teams built of six individuals. Even two or three players on one side coordinating well will usually blow the other team out of the water if they aren't doing the same.
As a responsible adult I don't want to paint this as all good. Video games have problems. One of the biggest is diet and exercise. Problems with diet and exercise aren't by any means exclusive to video gamers, but they are a problem. Also, many of the same problems that plague team sports like football exist in video games. There are cliques and misogyny. There is sexism and racism and a somewhat pervasive sense of entitlement that convinces people they should never have to lose. But, I think this is a problem of too little parental engagement instead of something inherent in video games themselves. If Johnny Rocketarm pulls a girl's shirt up at a party, they don't condemn football. First, it gets noticed because the parents are engaged in what their kids aren't doing. His parents find out about Johnny's behavior and they hopefully pull him aside and set him straight. The problems that are worst in video game culture are the same as in any sport and in our society as a whole. IF parents treat video games as children's territory, these problems go unchecked and un-noticed. It's hard to influence the behaviors you don't see.
Children who play video games have given you a wonderful gift. They have shown you how to reach them. You can teach many of the big life lessons through video games if you even try a little bit. You can teach about teamwork, dealing with difficult people, addiction, perseverance, resource (money) management, communication, anger managment, and the list goes on and on. When they fall in love with video games, your children are giving you a lever that you can use to influence their life in a positive direction. You just have to use it.
I want to end this with a my younger son. He likes Overwatch, like his dad, but his first love is Fortnite. What got me started on this whole video game kick was a deal I made with the boys. I wanted them to learn a musical instrument and told them if they would learn, I would learn their games. See the lever? The games they had me learn were Fortnite and Overwatch. I quickly fell in love with Fortnite, but I was terrible. I mean absolutely terrible. Slowly, surely, I got better. I modeled adult learner behaviors for them and became competent-ish in both games. But, I ended up unable to tolerate the level of failure required to get good at Fortnite. There was a recent story about a guy that played well over a thousand games of Fortnite before he got his first solo win. Think about how much grit it takes to bang your head up against a wall that long and never give up. My youngest kept going when I couldn't. There are great things that can be learned through video games. And not just for your kids.
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