It’s that time again: a major publication has decided kids are playing too many games, and this time it’s a COVID special courtesy of the New York Times designed to make parents feel guilty if they let their energetic kids Play video games after being locked up in online school all day.
I’m not going to pretend video games are actually perfect, although it’s tempting to be on the defensive here. There are many predatory practices in games, such as microtransactions and game mechanics, that can easily seduce children into becoming addicted. Also, the last two generations – those who grew up with technology – are so used to everything being shown on one screen that we often struggle to be alone with ourselves for long periods of time with no one in front of us. Yes, we all bring our phones to the bathroom. Yes we play turn on the sofa while we watch movies. Can you blame us? Technology is so delicious and life is so short.
But I want these publications to take into account the children’s point of view. They are bored! You’re stuck inside! They miss their friends! Where is the empathy for this generation of children who spend a significant part of their lives in a global pandemic where nothing is right, learning is next to impossible and governments keep rewriting the rules?
Honestly, if I’d been a kid during all of this, I would have been upset.
It’s not a hyperbolic statement when I say that video games kept me sane throughout all of this. If this pandemic had happened in the early 2000s, I would only have been in contact with my friends through MSN Messenger, limited to short bursts of text and spamming the withered rose emoji to symbolize how sad we were. I would have had my tiny library of Game Boy Advance games to keep me entertained. I would probably have read more books, but they would be books I had read before anyway.
In 2020 I can ping my friends on Discord and run through a virtual world with them in a few minutes.
The NYT articles refer to the increased online usage associated with anxiety, depression, obesity, and aggression, which in my experience may be true. Going on Twitter scares me. Trying to beat a difficult platformer like Guacamelee or Ori and the blind forest makes me stressed out. If I play all day and don’t go outside, I put on weight.
Do you know what is still true? Unwinding with Hades actively helps me out when I’m scared because it gives me something to focus on. When I play Ring Fit Adventure every morning, not only do I stay in shape, but I also want to be active outside and do more sports. Streaming games makes me feel less alone in a pandemic where I’m separated from almost all of my friends.
A few weeks ago, around New Year’s Eve, I played with a group of friends for the first time. I haven’t seen them in a year and a half – they live in England, I live in Canada, and we’re in a pandemic, so taking flights across the ocean for a cup of tea and a chat is frowned upon.
Now, I’ve never murdered any of these friends on a spaceship in real life, so take that with a pinch of salt, but when we play together it feels a lot like hanging out. Even if these games are about betrayal and lies (which, by the way, I’ve done very successfully). We also play Dungeons and Dragons together, watch Bridgerton together, and play in co-op games like Animal Crossing and PHOGS !, When We Find the Time. I don’t feel like I’m trapped in a house across the ocean and can’t go outside – I feel like I have a rich (albeit virtual) life.
My partner and I spend most of the evenings in front of a screen. Sometimes we do puzzles while watching a movie; sometimes we play Final Fantasy VII Remake together; Sometimes a few friends get together to destroy each other in Puyo Puyo Tetris. The key is moderation – we cook together too, go to town, and eat most of our dinners at the table. We even banned phones before bed, so we read or talk instead. This record was hard fought and we slip a lot. But when we lived apart during the first few months of the pandemic, we would play Minecraft together for hours. That time was no less valuable than the time we spend without a screen. Gaming has enriched our lives and relationships, and without it, life would be very different.
It is unkind and unfair to see a group of children become increasingly depressed and concerned during an unprecedented global pandemic and then attribute that depression to the game – their only publication and perhaps their main method of socializing – and it comes from you Place of fear what we don’t understand.
I grew up playing games. I understand its attraction and its dangers. I’m not going to pretend I know anything about parenting because I’ve never had a child (even though I was once), so I’m not going to explain to anyone how to raise their children. I know these pieces are written for angry parents who want to confirm their fears if their child throws a tantrum about turning off the wifi. I get it.
But children are also people. You’re lonely, probably scared, and want a way to escape for a while. Do you remember how stressful it was to be a kid? It doesn’t seem like that much for adults with real responsibilities and work, but having to go to school every day is a lot more exhausting than most jobs where you can mostly do what you are good at and what you can do gets paid for it. There are social dynamics to navigate, figuring out basic human functions, and the terrible vague danger of puberty while trying to remember when Henry VIII died. Don’t you want to end up playing games too?
Yes, we all prefer to have kids outside, running around, making friends, and laying in the sun. Right now we are all just trying to survive physically and mentally. Video games aren’t scary. You are not angry. They’re just a different way of talking, and a lot of them are just really good.
I keep thinking of this one quote from the NYT article:
The family dog died on New Year’s Eve, and James said playing with his friends helped him not think about the loss. This concerned his mother, Kathleen Reichert, who felt that her son was escaping the emotions of real life.
“What are you going to do when you’re married and stressed out? Tell your wife you need to play Xbox “she said to her son during the interview.
Look, one day this child will grow up and maybe marry someone. He’ll still play Xbox because that was his childhood. He will likely still play games to connect with friends and deal with his emotions. Is it the healthiest way to deal with it? Maybe not. Is it better than not finishing at all? You put your butt. I just hope this kid finds a woman to say, “I’m going to play Xbox,” and she’ll understand. Maybe she’ll even take part.