There’s a scene on the Sopranos where Tony takes on AJ, a perpetual underachiever and shmuck even as a 10 year old, in a game of Mariokart. Tony had spent the better part of a season telling him to “quit wasting his time” but he came down to his kid’s level and they ended up with a sweet little father-son moment that only that show could have ever pulled off.
To Tony Soprano and the rest of the baby boomers out there, it’s always going to be that way. Videogames are a waste of time pure and simple, like doing Sudoku only it makes you violent and stupid. The thing is, the videogame industry as a whole was worth 74 billion dollars in 2011. That’s money the movie business wouldn’t make if every third movie out of Hollywood was “Avatar” successful. Gaming may not be for everyone, but it’s as well-rooted in the pop culture psyche of anyone born after 1978 as TV was for the generation before.
It hasn’t led to societal rot just yet, and there have been studies slowly trickling out of Universities and thinktanks all over the world that are suggesting the opposite might be true.
Scientists and scholars are falling over themselves to produce data proving videogames are actually a force for good in the world.
In no particular order, videogames improve your problem solving skills, increase your proclivity for teamwork, help small children with early literacy skills, and introduce kids to computer sciences and keep them engaged with it for a lifetime.
Now I’ve been a hardcore gamer since I could get my thumbs around an NES controller, I’ve had daydreams of the day me and my little boy get to throw down a little Madden or celebrate his first Halo headshot. But it turns out if I want the biggest bang for my buck, I should be playing with my daughter instead. A Study out of Utah suggested that when a daughter plays a game with her parent, she reaps some huge social and psychological rewards. A few games of Guitar hero with your dad can effectively ward off depression, smooth out aggressive behavior, and significantly help produce a well-adjusted young woman (the same can’t be said for boys, but the study suggests that has a lot to do with how often boys play with their friends).
That probably seems counter intuitive to a lot of parents who think of videogames as murder-sims and nothing more. It’s true that hyper-violent games can have arguably detrimental effects on children when they’re not properly contextualized by parents, and with that in mind the industry has been legislated with a rating system (like with Movies) that lets parents know exactly how age-appropriate the content is for their kids. The first thing to wrap your head around is that even though violent, murderous and sex-filled games exist, and take up the lion’s share of media attention for the medium, adult-themed games aren’t the whole of the landscape by any means. The vast majority of games out there are family friendly, and family-friendly movement sensing peripherals like the WiiMotes and Xbox Kinnect and games that work with them have been the most profitable sectors for gaming for the last 8 years.
It all makes sense; compare passively watching TV to actually engaging with your kids with a controller. Working with them to rescue a princess or against them in a race to the finish, it’s a dynamic situation where you both are focused, joke around, learn things and improve at something together, and it’s a game that your kid stands a very good chance of beating you at and getting a great shot of confidence. It worked for Tony and AJ and it can work for you too!
JP is a writer-at-large in Toronto: he writes for Tokii.com, Askmen.com, winefox.ca and Pucklife Magazine. He’s the author of the 2011 novel Johnny Kicker and lives with his two kids and a tremendously understanding wife.