If you were to poll a room of moms of teenagers (particularly teenage boys) on what one of their kid’s most annoying habits is, I can guarantee you that video games would be at the forefront. Our kids are growing up in a society where screens have overrun their entire lives. Our little boys have traded in their childish worlds of imagination and LEGO creations for a new realm of make-believe land: video games. The gaming world is a universe all it’s own, it has its own language, its own rules, and its very own culture. I personally don’t speak this language and I certainly don’t understand the culture. How can anyone spend hours upon hours engrossed in this alternate reality, yelling into headphones and shooting at aliens?
I have often found myself annoyed at this perplexing pastime that makes no sense to me. How many times have I asked my son to come to supper and heard, “Mom, I’m in a game. I’ll be out when I die.” or how many times have I shouted, “Hurry up and die so we can go, please!”? From conversations with many other mothers, I know I am not alone!
One day, I finally asked him… What is it about video games that is such a draw? Why is this the hobby of choice for nearly every teenage guy out there? His response was surprisingly well-thought-out, understandable, and convincing. Here is what he said gaming provides him…
When I think of a really great bonding activity with my friends, I picture pouring our hearts out to one another over a steaming cup of coffee or spending an hour on the phone chatting about all the ups and downs of life. But according to my son, gaming is his way of connecting with his friends. Whether gaming together online or in person, they have something they are sharing together. Even if that is yelling at a TV screen and hunting down zombies. For him and his friends, it is a bonding experience. The way they connect definitely looks different than my way of connecting, but then again, their whole world looks different than mine.
This I totally don’t get, because how can screaming and yelling calm someone down? But after a long day at school or in the middle of studying, it’s a healthy break for him. It helps him to quiet his mind and ease the struggle of adolescent stress for a while. He can focus on something else and relax. Let’s be honest-Fortnight is not meditation as I know it. But for him, it works. For me, screaming into headphones and shooting things on a screen would significantly raise my stress levels. But hey, to each their own.
As he explained this point to me, I began to see where he was coming from. He explained that gaming is something he excels in. Doing well in his game gives him confidence and a feeling of mastery. When he plays, he’s a leader. As I listen to him with his friends, I can hear this skill as he directs the troops and plans a strategy. I know it gives him a sense of pride when he does well. With the high levels of stress and the pressures to succeed in our adolescents’ world today, having something you are truly good at has to feel like a boost. It is soul-building for any of us to do something truly well. What is wrong with having a place for him to feel that too?
My son doesn’t simply play a game. He invests time into perfecting his craft and mastering his skills. Whether it is watching YouTube videos, following gamers, or learning new tactics; He’s actually doing valid research into something that interests him and striving to learn more and do better. Although he’ll never win a prize or land a job for his gaming prowess, the ability to research and grow your skill set is useful in every area of life.
Did my son’s arguments completely change my mind about video games and cause me never to be annoyed at the hours spent on them? No. However, he made valid points and I could begin to see this whole gaming experience from his perspective. He is a good kid. He gets his homework and chores down, he is invested in our family, and he has a multitude of interests and other activities. I may not be able to spend endless hours conquering a fantasy land, but I have been guilty of getting lost in the pages of a book or wrapped up in far too many episodes of my favorite TV show. I suppose gaming isn’t really that different.
Gaming still doesn’t completely make sense to me. But it matters to him, so I will continue to try and understand it. He’s a work in progress, just like I am, and he has found something that works for him. It relaxes him, helps him calm his nerves, gives him a forum where he can excel, and it allows him to interact in the currency of adolescents today. My son presented an excellent case that perhaps (in proper moderation) gaming isn’t quite so futile after all.