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Video Games: the Good the Bad & the Great

posted 22 Nov 2012, 04:47 by Seán McHugh   [ updated 27 Mar 2018, 00:14 ]
Video Games. For many parents video games are assumed to be a source of crass, shallow thrills. A game, it's understood, can look spectacular, but it will have little to offer its audience in the way of values, insights or craftsmanship. It's a curious and increasingly untenable situation, given that, games are rapidly establishing themselves as the single 
most exciting and vigorous creative industry around.

Resources that support and supplement this presentation can be found below. 

Frequently asked questions asked by parents.

Managing Playing Time

Video series on Vimeo here.

10 Critical Considerations:

  1. Avoid media bias - video games attract more criticism than they warrant; it’s understandable to be vigilant about content, but make sure that questions about what is deemed 'appropriate' or desirable are considered in relation to all forms of media, not just one.
  2. While video games have many similarities to other forms of media in terms of subject and content, they are unique in their requirement for interactivity, as opposed to the more passive modes of operation that are typical of traditional forms of media.
  3. The dynamic/active nature of video games also makes them highly engaging, this engagement can easily be misinterpreted as ‘addiction’ when it is actually more likely to be an indication of a psychological ‘flow’ state.
  4. In very rare instances, Gamers can become compulsive, this is true of other recreational (and indeed professional) pursuits as well, compulsive sports fans, compulsive focus on social media streams etc. Compulsion is a more appropriate term than ‘addiction’, as it relates to the nature of the problem; it is behavioural, not chemical, and there are strategies for managing this in the very rare instances where it becomes a problem. Most often the cause of gaming compulsion is not the game itself, but the social network associated with it—the attraction is not so much about pixels and polygons, as it is about people, as any compulsive consumer of social media content can attest.
  5. The highly interactive nature of video games means that they share many of the traits of sporting pursuits, in particular, frustration in the pursuit of challenging goals. Sometimes this can manifest as anger, but it is essential to remember that the cause of this is frustration not the game itself.
  6. It is important to remember that this generation is not familiar with the idea of not being able to ‘pause’ and 'resume' entertainment.  For all generations that preceded them, we have an intrinsic understanding that sometimes, maybe even often, you can’t pause something (eg, TV in the 70s and 80s); sometimes you have to abandon it. Yes, you will have to forego that experience in order to experience something else. This is not an experience that this digital generation are used to; so before you insist they prematurely terminate their joint online quest with friends across the globe, all playing in real time, in a multitude of time zones, you may need to explain this.
  7. Many (arguably most) great games are ‘educational’, but instead of looking for content (though that is there), look for skills and dispositions, such as problem solving, collaboration, analysis, perseverance and so on. The simulations provided by the greatest games provide a series of problem-solving experiences that are carefully designed, with clearly designed cues and feedback that is of particular value when initially learning a complex problem solving skill. Only, unlike real life, these experiences can represent systematically a wide range of problems that might take months or years to encounter in reality.  The simulated problems often take less time to solve than real ones, because they can accelerate the time lost to delays and waiting that are an inevitable part of reality.  They also provide a safe environment for the learner to take risks and learn the consequences of particular actions—another powerful learning strategy.
  8. Like all other forms of media, films, books, TV shows et cetera, conflict is a common theme; video games are no different in this regard. When considering the appropriateness of conflict as an element of entertainment, remember to maintain consistency in your tolerance of accepting themes of conflict in other forms of media as well.
  9. Games Ratings are there for a reason, don’t ignore them. That said there are reasons to have reasonable doubts about the ESRBs inconsistent and quite frankly often bewildering use of the M rating for many games that should have an Adult rating is a case in point. To be able to determine whether a game really is ‘mature’ or ‘adult’ you will need to either cross reference with the equivalent PEGI (European) ratings which are more consistent (Adult games are clearly indicated as 18+) or consult informed opinions of gamer parents (like me) on sites like parents are often under a lot of pressure to cave in and let their kids games with very adult themes—yes Call of Duty, I'm looking at you. A piece of advice l give parents in this position is to go to YouTube and look at some of the gameplay walkthrough videos that are posted there. That will give you a really good idea of the kind of experiences your child would encounter in game. Why? Because the bottom line is you are the parent, and you know your child, so you are the best judge of what you think is, or is not acceptable for them, not a website review, as useful as those may be. Often it's the in game cut scenes that are more of a problem than the actual gameplay. If you do have to say NO (not yet) then maybe try watching some of the footage with your child so that you can explain what it is about what you're seeing that makes you uncomfortable.
  10. Playing video games is no more a ‘waste of time’ that any other recreational pursuit, from soccer and skiing to stamp collecting, cycling, reading and watching box-sets of DVDs. The key is balancing time spent in the pursuit of these worthwhile endeavours.


Game Reviews for Parents

A rare site that provides a balanced perspective on the appropriateness of games for kids, one that is prepared to go beyond the conservative simplicity of the ESRB and PEGI classifications.

Their game finder is nothing short of a stroke of genius:

Just one of many games I could show you that will make you reconsider what you might assume about video games:

Child of Light

Can video games make you smarter?

Links to articles and research on the subject of 'Gaming' Diigo:

James Paul Gee is a leading academic in this area:

Here are links to a couple of his papers he has published:

Also see Prensky:

Great Article from Forbes:

"The problem with violence in pop culture—in television, film, and video games—is not that it exists in the first place or that it transforms our children into murderers. The problem is that parents are not involved enough in which games and other media their children consume. ... I think it illustrates a problem many parents face: they don’t understand the media their children consume because they themselves don’t consume it."

How playing video games teaches personal accountability. "Blame, procrastination, self-victimization—this terrible trifecta can sink your career and limit your levels of personal success. We often find ourselves resorting to bad patterns, especially in the workplace. I have noticed one place in my own life where these traits are nowhere to be seen. While I play video games."

The Risks And Rewards Of Growing Up Gaming Also read the comments at the bottom, for some really relevant, insightful discussions.

4 Reasons Video Games Are Good For Your Health (According To American Psychological Association)

Gamers Are Smarter Than "Normal People" "We have discovered that video game players perform 10 to 20 percent higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability than normal people that are non-game players."

Video games and intelligence. The cognitive effects of certain video-game-style activities are not only impressive but can last a couple of years, a researcher for the Navy explains.

Gamers have better attention than non-gamers — they stay focused. She gave gamers several tests to measure attention and found that gamers get less distracted by what came before and by events in their surroundings.

Three different ways of looking for the “good” of games – questions that define “good for us” in substantially different ways.

Today's sophisticated digital games are engaging students and conveying hard-to-teach concepts like failure and perspective. So why aren't more classrooms playing along?

Minecraft, an Obsession and an Educational Tool

"Around the world, Minecraft is being used to educate children on everything from science to city planning to speaking a new language..."

Multiplayer (and playing with strangers) ...

The Wild Weird Wonderful Web is an amazing place, but it is a metaphorical jungle, especially online game spaces, that are common in games like Minecraft, Call of Duty, and even Club Penguin, so the wild wild web has a lot in common with a jungle as it happens, not too many leaves, but lots of good stuff and yes, some dangers, that with a few basic precautions, can be easily avoided. While we must ensure our kids never give out personal details online, we need to also be wary of casting all strangers in the role of predators, as opposed to friends we haven't met yet. Clearly, there is a healthy balance to be found here. 

My blog post here, includes links to some interesting articles on this topic, that may be of interest.

YouTube Video

YouTube Video

YouTube Video

Problem Gaming?
  • Excessive play time, ie <14 hours/week
  • Only thinking/talking about gaming
  • Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety, or depression
  • Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming
  • Intense irritability when trying to cut down on gaming

  • It's not addiction, or compulsion, it's excessive use, that's all—avoid labelling. 
  • Talk about it, but don’t ban it
  • Redirect to other games, other game genres
  • Get advice—see a school counsellor.
For some reading on gaming and addiction, see my diigo list here