Are Consoles Raising Your Kids? A Look at Video Games and ParentingBy Catriona MacDonald | December 24, 2012 | Editorials | No comments | Share
It’s Christmas time again; a subject which we will all be aware (and possibly sick) of. Why, with the constant reminder of Christmas bargains, deals and offers and social networking sites and streets alike aglow with those in the Christmas spirit, it would be difficult not to get excited about old Saint Nick creeping into your house at night. I might, however, know of a few people who won’t be too bothered about their Christmas morning; and the surprising thing about these people? They are almost certainly children.
This revelation occurred to me when, during my work as a sales assistant in a video game shop, I sold a man (who was with his 10-12 year old son) a brand new Playstation 3 with a host of games to boot; I looked at the boy and said “Wow, you’ve done well for yourself today!”, whose father replied “Yes. This will just have to keep him entertained ‘till Christmas!” sincerely. Shocked doesn’t even cover my reaction.
Since when was getting a brand new games console a distraction until Christmas, when traditionally you are meant to receive gifts such as consoles? What could this little boy be getting for Christmas which is better than a games console? Rhetorical question, people.
This is not simply the case of a spoilt child, but could indicate the way in which some parents actually view games consoles; and I do not feel that this is a healthy one.
It is common knowledge that games are supposed to be entertaining and distracting; and there is nothing wrong with this. To many people, video games are synonymous with toys and toys are meant to be played with and provide gentle mental stimulation for children. I do not doubt that video games are mentally stimulating because there has been enough evidence to prove that they are (with obvious examples being classics such as Tetris, ranging to popular modern games which require little co-ordination skills such as The Sims), so it would be unfair, and down-right hypocritical, of me to suggest that parents are being irresponsible by buying their children games consoles as a means of entertainment. I do, however, feel that buying your child a games console to distract them for a while is not only a reflection that you have more money than sense, but also leads me to wonder just how many parents feel that the ‘burden’ of parenthood is lessened slightly if they can plonk their kids down in front of the TV, put a controller in their hands and leave them for a few hours.
This issue is a difficult one, because to be able to discuss this I have to reflect on my own childhood to determine whether even my own parents, daily, gave me the means to distract myself in order to give them a moment’s peace. While the idea of this editorial was floating around my head, I was inspired to ponder my own favourite toys and pastimes as a child; the first word which came to my head was “Furby”. Now, for those of you who do not remember the Furby, I would first like to congratulate you, and second, explain that they were essentially a fur-covered, plastic, battery-powered, toy which resembled an owl with large ears and no wings, and had an awful voice. My own Furby had fur which resembled a sheep, and I made sure that my parents invested in a Furby bed (because I wanted something to carry it around in, and later realised the advantages of the button on the bed which made the Furby fall asleep immediately). The question which pops into my head is: are Furbies really more mentally stimulating and entertaining than video games?
I would have to say “Definitely not”.
I don’t doubt that the modern child plays outside (I know this because some of them threw fireworks at me last year) and still play with classics such as Barbie, Transformers, and whatever the modern equivalent of Pokemon are, but the fact stills remains that hearing about the popularity of a toy over Christmas has become almost extinct and instead the 10 o’clock news reports about the record sales of Call of Duty, and mothers flock to video game retailers to purchase this ‘shooting game’ for their child. Despite this, there has, however, been a recent combination of video games and toys which has taken the family market by storm: Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. This game introduces an interactive element between a toy and the character it represents in the game; players place a certain figure of a character on the ‘portal of power’ which comes with the game, and that character is instantly added to the game to be played as. With over 30 characters to purchase and therefore play as, this was an extremely clever technique of developing what would have otherwise been just another Spyro spin-off. Due to the success of this innovation, it is possible that many more parents will associate video games with toys.
Maybe I am just being bitter because I have had to deal with the harsh realities of adulthood: a shining example would be the fact that I have asked my parents for a Kinect for Christmas so I don‘t have to join a gym, and cannot yet properly empathise with parents. Most of all I do not want to judge parents when I am not one, but rather wish to provoke reflection from parents as to their own opinion of what video games mean to them. I recently read an article on a website about how video games are distracting for children, and will ‘keep them out of trouble’, and though this a true statement it hardly seems like advice you would give to fellow parents. I understand that sometimes it will be difficult to balance being able to watch your children and get on with other things in your life, and it is up to each parent to decide when ‘too much video games’ is.
Society is always changing, and with these changes come new childhoods; video games are bound to become more and more prominent in childhood for the majority of children, and I hope this positively reflects the state of the games industry in the future. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as mental abilities, in many forms, can be improved by playing a variety of games, and to tackle the pesky obesity rate of children there are the Wii and Kinect to help parents coax their kids into some exercise during these harsh winter months.
Despite my rants, I do support the video game industry, it has brought me countless hours of enjoyment over my life to date; though parents must remember that that it exactly what it is: an industry. Business often has little regard for things other than sales and we are always going to be encouraged to buy more of everything, even if we don’t need it. This is the same for games. If I had children, there is no doubt in my mind that I would let them play video games, this is because I know that I would also encourage them to read and play outside as that is the way I was raised. I would have tried to stay indoors and play games more often, I imagine, if I had been allowed to, but I’m glad that I have managed to make a balance in life between these things; otherwise I might not have become the literary Goddess you see (in prose) before you! At the end of the day, it is up to parents to decide how much game-time you allow your kids; though, returning to the man I served in the shop: I hope his little boy has been distracted by his PS3, I imagine he will sleep just fine this Christmas eve, whereas, when I was his age I would have been awake most of the night in anticipation for the morning-to-come.