How Online Gaming is Changing Parenting

Like me, a huge percentage of people exposed to games as children are still playing. The average age of a gamer is 35 – a generation ahead of mine. So it makes sense that Cecil Adkins of The Examiner would ask, "What happens when two gamers form a family?" From his thought-provoking article:

If you're a parent and you spend a lot of time playing MMOs, your child will inevitably become interested in them Children and MMOsas well.

There is a lot to be said about balancing quality time with your family with work and an active MMO life so that your kids don't feel neglected…So how do you handle it when your little tyke decides he or she wants to get involved in online gaming?

Is there a way to merge the demands of an avatar in a fantasy-based MMORPG like World of Warcraft with the real-world demand for parental involvement in a child's life? Does the spouse of ten years trump the Sword of Ten Thousand Nights?

Balancing Avatars

As players spend more and more time plugged in – and we see the average time creeping up as games and the Internet become more technologically immersive – society will come up against some hard truths. There are only so many hours in the day, and hours spent questing are hours not spent teaching a child to ride a bike or helping with homework.

The argument has been made by techno-optimist Philip Rosedale in Wagner James Au's book The Making of Second Life that our physical world will eventually be entirely supplanted by virtual encounters. Does this also mean our interactions with our own children and loves ones will go virtual?

Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm a tech optimist, but being an optimist doesn't mean ignoring real concerns. Parental involvement, child socialization, and family communication take precedent over virtual worlds. What will change, if Adkins is correct, is how we socialize kids. Another snippet:

Making friends and interacting socially in the real world is a necessary part of growing up, and doing those things in the online world can be a part of that too.

As the generation that grew up meeting friends and possible mates through chat rooms, virtual worlds, and digital dating begins breeding, we are naturally going to pass on some of our cultural views to our children. 

Brave New World

Far from the net-phobia of my parents, this generation seems poised to accept internet socialization as an entirely valid, entirely legitimate form of communication. Television stations are even adjusting their marketing to take this psychological change into account. But the internet-dependence of today's children raises questions.

There is nothing wrong with evolving socialization, but we can't forget that the real world should, by its nature, take some precedent over the virtual. Though the time may come where virtual reality and synthetic worlds can entirely supplant the real, that time has not yet come.

Until technology develops a system of flawless digital family involvement, the family will suffer when gamers devote their full attention to a synthetic world. The deep fear of virtual worlds is overblown, but writing off the growing number of internet-addicted gamers as inconsequential is equally misguided.

Think of the children!

5 thoughts on “How Online Gaming is Changing Parenting”

  1. “Until technology develops a system of flawless digital family involvement, the family will suffer when gamers devote their full attention to a synthetic world.”
    Didn’t they say the same thing about TV? Radio? You make this assertion with no evidence to back up your argument.
    “But the internet-dependence of today’s children raises questions.” Except you then do not actually state any questions – instead, you state conclusions.
    I have some questions that you could have asked:
    – How do the hours children are playing on video games and virtual worlds stack up against television? Are they actually spending *more* time?
    – How does the quality of time spent compare between television and video games? (Refer to Stephen Johnson’s “Everything Bad Is Good For You”)-
    – What level of awareness do parents really have about what media their children consume, be it music, television, video game, movies, or Internet?
    – How much education is being done for parents and children for video games and virtual worlds? How does this compare with television and movies?
    – Are television commercials more harmful to children than video games? (I read a study a few months ago suggesting children 7 and under literally could not distinguish between advertisers’ claims and truth, and concluded that ideally there should be zero advertising for children that yound.)
    – Why is the assumption that the digital world will supplant the real, instead of augment? (And yes, we know that Hamlet and Philip are immersionists, not augmentationists.)
    Until bad parents learn how to be good parents, bad parents will remain bad parents. It’s not useful for us to panic and say, “zomg what about this new technology?” There’s always another new technology. The focus has to be on cultivating healthy families and educating parents, otherwise we will have this same sort of “Think of the children!” for any new technology.

  2. Back when I was a kid, I used to spend all my free time reading, a classic bookworm. Probably nobody reading this blog can remember this, but it used to be that books were the primary escapist entertainment. They were thought to contribute to bad eye sight, anti-social behavior, and other ills. “Don Quihote” is an example of what happens when a guy spends too much time reading swashbuckling adventure novels. (For the non-literate folks out there: he went crazy and went around acting like a knight.)
    But I don’t hear anyone complaining about books anymore. I don’t understand why! They are the classic passive entertainment. There is no way to interact with a book, other than turning the pages.
    You read a book by youself. Even if you’re in an audience, having a book read to you, there’s not much opportunity to interact with the other listeners, or with the content of the book. (Unless you’re very, very young and you get to make the sounds that the animals in the book make!)
    Creating a book is also a solo process — just the writer and their typewriter (or quill, or word processor).
    Virtual games, however, are collaboratively designed, and collaboratively played. Even the most passive gamers interact with the environment, solve puzzles, made ethical choices, and, in some worlds, design objects and environments to share with others.
    My kids, for example, are building a virtual world together, in collaboration with their dad, who’s on the other side of the world in Shanghai.
    Sure, books help improve grammar and vocabulary. But so does surfing the Internet or watching Law & Order.
    When it comes to developing the mind, creativity, and social skills, virtual games have the other entertainment media beat hands down.

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