Thursday, December 27, 2012

Video Games & Teenage Boys

Image from Parentdish
Yesterday I did a post on young children and video games, particularly violent first person shooter games.

In my post I question whether these graphic games are appropriate for anyone, and wanted to further explore the topic by discussing how apart from the valid or invalid connections that could be made about violence in video games, discuss some of my greater concern with video games as it relates to teenage boys.

I have no complaints about teens doing recreational activities. It seems that, appropriately so, in every generation the way teens "waste time" looks different. But there is something about modern video games and teenage boys that disturbs me.

The evolution of video games has certainly changed, to what degree probably depends on who you talk to and what factor you evaluating. To me the biggest change in video games over the years has been an increasing level of "adaptability" to games that keep them engaging for a longer period of time. From Pac-Man, to Donkey Kong to Super Mario Brothers, the games got more complex. Some of this by virtue of system memory, but also by a market that demanded a game that took longer than an hour or two to beat.

Many of the popular games from recent years such as sports games (NBA Jam), Fighting Games (Street Fighter or Mortal Combat), or race games (Mario Kart) were designed to be enjoyed in one sitting, often played as a multi-player game with the other person in the same room. Single-player games were often viewed as less fun, because they lacked the potential for playing with a friend.

Times have changed, it's no longer the option of playing versus a friend or a computer. Technology allows people to play games with others remotely, or single player games are designed to be played in the wee-hours of the night for hours on your own.

Unlike the premiere of big summer blockbuster, game releases of certain games (Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Assassins Creed, etc.) seem to take certain teenagers off the grid for a couple weeks, as opposed to just the evening or weekend of a premiere.

I understand the enjoyment that can come from something of this nature, I'm not opposed to games (single player or multiplayer) in itself, but I think what makes me nervous is the way that these hyper-involved games create little lasting good, and yet demand so much time.

I see how these games could have minimal individual impact, but I can also see how these games could have last individual impact. Whether it's health effects due to lack of physical activity or sleep, academic impact due to lack of attention to school, or social impact due to the lack of normal human interaction.

Of all of those, it's the social impact that concerns me. Anecdotal, it seems that teenage boys who obsess about playing video games are far less socially adjusted. It seems that they lack the ability to interact in a positive way with those in and outside their peer groups.

It seems that because these games offer a sense of interaction (more so, than say, watching TV) it creates a false sense of expense of social energy, and so some how social needs are fulfilled when a teen sits down to hours of video game play, when in reality they are not developing socially in their ability to interact with others, handle conflict, and develop meaning relationships.

I have never been a parent of a teenage boy before, so I'm not sure how I will one day handle these situations. It seems like a unique challenge in our current world to know how to help boys transition to young adults, and it seems that the topic of video games might seem like a battle not worth fighting, or a place where it's hard to know when and how to draw the line.

All the same, I think that it's a meaningful conversation worth having, and one that I know my wife and I have already begun discussing with two toddler boys. Raising video game obsessed boys is not something we want, and so this is a conversation we have talk about.

I wonder how these games will continue to evolve, and whether these games will continue to become more complex, time consuming, and involved. Imagining this is the case (and at the change of sounding like old grouchy hen) I have concerns for the impact of video games on teenage boys, and feel like more conversations about these games should be had around the dinner table, as parents and teens walk into this changing and continually developing entertainment landscape.

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