10 Reasons Why Boys Should Play Violent Video Games
1. Violent fantasy is normal. Most of the media and websites are quite convincing that media fraught with violent images is at the root of many of our kids’ worst downfalls. They claim that kids can’t tell the difference between real and fantasy violence, and that all violent images are bad for kids of all ages. However, developmental psychologist Michael Thompson (Raising Cain) http://michaelthompson-phd.com/books/raising-cain/ make a compelling case that boys are hurt, angry, sad and depressed in part because we deny them their very nature when they are young. Decades of psychological work leads us to know that boys have a normal developmental stage that is hallmarked by violent fantasy life. This is normal. By telling them that it is not normal, we are hurting our boys and they can’t move through normal stages of psychological development.
2. It won’t automatically turn them into video game addicted columbine killers: The media has convinced us that most mass murderers are linked to video game play. In their TED book, psychologists Zimbardo & Duncan (http://blog.ted.com/2012/05/23/new-ted-ebook-warns-of-the-demise-of-guys/) warn of the demise of guys and point directly to gaming as one element of what they term “arousal addiction” which creates kinds of psychological dysfunction that leads to social awkwardness that we all fear in young men who then pick up guns. But despite media hype, there is actually very little evidence that gaming creates arousal addiction or Columbine killers. In fact, addictive gaming can be a problem, but it affects far fewer gamers than you might think. Some estimates put the number at as low as 2% of http://www.techaddiction.ca/computer_game_addiction.html). While video game play is not yet listed as a diagnosable addiction, we should all be concerned if someone is losing themselves in games to a point that is unhealthy. But the reality is that addiction can happen in many places, and gaming is no more addictive than many other similar attractors and much less than some (like alcohol). More importantly, very few gamers pick up guns and shoot up schools. In fact, a researcher from North Eastern University, James Alan Fox, co-authored a study that debunks many myths about mass shootings, including the link to gaming, “Scientists have not found a causal link between video games and mass murder; violent video gaming may be a symptom and not a cause of the incidents.”
One basic fact is compelling on this issue, millions of people game every day, but they are not likely to all pick up guns and start shooting merely because they engaged in violent video game play.
3. They’ll learn some great coping skills: Gaming teaches kids some amazing skills. We have been doing some research with boys and games here at PSU, learning more about what they do when they game. One of the important findings to this point is that they learn to walk away when they are frustrated. It’s amazing, but the frustration of a game can actually help kids learn to manage that frustration in healthy and productive ways. Kids who game know what failure is, but they understand that they learn from their failures—something they are not learning in schools which assess them and judge them based on standardized test scores as either a failure or an achiever. Boys who game know how to walk away, how to cool down, how to handle frustration, anger, and failure in productive and healthy ways.
4. Businesses might hire them! Did you know that businesses have started hiring off of leaderboards of games like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty? Or that our military is using games to help figure out which of their personnel may be best suited to leadership roles in the military operations? http://killscreendaily.com/articles/articles/how-american-military-using-videogames-capture-hearts-and-minds-children/ Companies are interested in collaborative, flexible, problem solvers who can respond quickly to competitive situations while communicating with teams of people. Using games as part of a hiring strategy is becoming a real strategy: https://www.theresumator.com/blog/video-games-the-coolest-new-hiring-tools/ So let your kids play video games, they just might get a good job out of it. Actually, some really excellent players get gigs just for playing the game against wealthy players who want to up their own game—kind of like golf or tennis pros.
5. They learn communications skills: Did you know that videogames have been used with Autistic youth to help them learn to communicate? They have! And there are many other examples of games that help kids learn to communicate online and better in person too. While those who don’t game, might not buy it, the reality is that leading an entire clan or guild into some complicated problem solving task requires a lot of clear communication between the various partners in game play. Communication skills such as clarity, expression, and creating messages that help rather than harm social relationships are key abilities of good communicators, and playing violent, competitive video games can help hone these skills on the fly. One recent study of video game competitors indicated that video game tournament play increased players abilities to give directions to others, function as a team member, lead people, and coordinate activities.
6. It might keep them out of jail: You might be surprised to hear that a recent study of teen boys in trouble with the law who were followed after their trouble found that gamers were less likely than non-gamers to end up in trouble with the law a second time. http://freakonomics.com/2013/12/04/evidence-that-violent-video-games-reduce-actual-violence/
There’s a strong correlation between kids who game and their ability to handle stress, to walk away, to calm down, to face adversity, in short to deal with their problems in more productive ways rather than ways that are likely to land the in jail. Actually jails have found that using games can help reduce violence behind bars too. Giving an outlet to the naturally occurring feelings of aggravation, frustration, and finding ways to work through that can be beneficial rather than, as earlier thought, intensifying violent tendencies.
7. It will help them feel empowered: While some, like Zimbardo, have pointed to games as a cause of boy troubles, others see it as a symptom of boys’ frustration with a culture that generally doesn’t want them to act much like boys. In schools, in particular, we want boys to sit down, be still, stop moving, focus, attend, write, read, and generally act nice—some would say act like girls. We want them to be compliant and easy to handle, we want them to follow directions without questions and to respond to suggestions with positive, immediate change. What we don’t particularly want is for them to question, critique, challenge, or oppose. In fact, there are terms for these kinds of behavior, “spirited child” or “oppositional behavior disorder” are terms used to describe these kids, overwhelmingly boys, and their school behavior. With all of this against them, it may not be surprising to find boys withdrawing into worlds where what they do counts, it has immediate effects and it gives them a feeling of power and engagement. Video games give kids who have been alienated from school, and from culture in general, to feel connected, engaged and empowered. Jane McGonigal has suggested that games feel good, and that they are good for us and we should all play them more because they help us to feel empowered and hopeful. http://blog.iste.org/create-super-empowered-hopeful-individuals/
8. It’s social: While those of us who are non-gamers, and of a certain age may not believe it, gaming is very social. Many of us decry the lack of common courtesy in making eye contact with other human beings, talking on cell phones all the time. Even I have criticized youth for this never-ending attachment to their phones. And I completely understand what is meant by feeling that gaming is contributing to a non-social social life, or something that is not “real.” But what I think we need to better understand is that gaming IS social, it’s just not social in a traditional way. Gaming parties are held all around the globe where people come together in person to game, that’s obviously social. But also virtual parties take place and there are serious virtual relationships that are built every day among gamers. It is simply a different kind of social than what people used to think of as social—bridge playing, martini drinking social is a bit different, but what kids do when playing games is undeniably social. http://creativesocialblog.com/news/how-social-is-social-gaming Social online gaming is an important growth area for any gaming company as they realize that kids are learning to interact in substantive ways through games.
9. They might even learn math, history, physics, a foreign language and lots of other traditional school subjects…and LIKE it! We can take almost any game, Minecraft, Civilization, Clash of Clans…any one of them can be used flexibly inside or outside of a classroom to teach important content laden things that boys in particular will resist learning in traditional ways. They can learn about physics by building structures in Minecraft, learn about the details of history through playing Civilization…and boys in our studies have reported transferring that learning over to their traditional classrooms too! Foreign languages can be adapted to any and all games that include online conversations or texting if we ask them to interact in another language, and they won’t even mind doing it because all of this adds to the challenge and excitement, rather than being a burden or drudgery. Silicon valley has unlocked what motivates kids, boys in particular, and it can and should be applied to traditional learning goals. But even if you don’t formalize their learning, you can rest assured kids are learning when they play video games.
10. They’ll build grit and perseverance: Perhaps among the best benefits of gaming is that you build true grit in the midst of playing a game and figuring out what it takes to play it well. You will fail and fail and fail again before succeeding. Boys have found that perseverance is an essential ingredient to playing games well and winning. They learn from failure and keep at it until they beat a level. What’s interesting is that so many non-gamers believe that gaming is all “fun” or “easy”. I’ve even heard some folks oppose gaming in schools because they feel that it’s too much “sugar to make the medicine go down.” I’m here to tell you that learning to play a complicated, serious game is a difficult, at times even mundane activity. Lots of little tasks have to be mastered from learning how to move around the game to learning how to think strategically in deep ways. Sometimes these activities are frustrating, or aggravating, time consuming and challenging. But all of them build the kind of grit that we hope all our boys will emerge from schools boasting of.
Gaming is an amazing tool. We should be encouraging our boys to play more games. We have to be cautious not to ignore addictive behavior, and for physical fitness, all kids should limit their screen time, but if you’re afraid of violent video games, I hope I’ve given you a few reasons to change your mind and let your boys play violent video games will less guilt!