Maybe My Son's Obsession with Video Games Isn't All Bad?

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My son is like a heat-seeking missile for video games. If I set my phone down on the table in a restaurant, he'll have a game downloaded and be deep into playing it in the time it takes me to order a coffee and eggs. If I want his grades to improve, I remove the Xbox from our house and insist it's not coming back till his grades are acceptable. A lot of arguing ensues but, if grades are his only route to Xbox, the grades improve. Though I laugh and tell people I don't know what parents did before they had video games to offer consequences and motivation for teen behaviour, his obsesssion is a huge source of worry for me. Since I can't change the fact that he loves video games, I like to be reminded of gaming's positive aspects.

And, over at Game Theory with Scott Steinberg today, there is just such a piece: 5 Reaons Why Video Games Are Good for Kids by Nadia Oxford.

So if your kids are driving you crazy playing their new video games over the school break, keep in mind it's not all bad. “When combined with exercise, sensible time limits, and adhesion to the ESRB’s content ratings,” writes Oxford. “Video games are a relatively inexpensive and fun pastime that can also double as an attention-grabbing teacher.”

As Oxford points out, problem solving – a big part of many video games – is good for the brain. Games also hone their tech skills and interests. I'm sure my son's desire to study both art and computer engineering – with no recognition that these two things might be at opposite ends of the college-major spectrum – is born of his interest in games. I'm pretty sure that if he follows up on that desire, it would be good for his brain.

And, though this isn't in Oxford's list, I think my son's lightening reflexes and road awareness – which I have been noticing as he learns to drive – were honed by playing video games that require he spot opponents on the screen before they destroy him. And, compared to some things teenagers could get into, inviting his friends over to play Xbox Kinect – without my permission! -- when I'm not home is a fairly innocent way to get into trouble with his parents.

How much time he spends gaming is a constant negotiation between us. And that gets pretty tiring. Since that probably isn't going away any time soon, it helps to remember that he could be doing a lot worse things with his time. In fact, without his obsession with gaming, we'd probably be negotiating over something that isn't helping him hone problem-solving, story-telling, and tech skills.