How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games

Cinder’s just shy of 10, and the big passion of his life is Minecraft. Or Terraria. Or both, but usually just one or the other. He loves them so much, he’s convinced his Mac-using parents to get him a PC laptop so he can play them more effectively. He loves them so much that his show of choice is watching Minecraft or Terraria videos on Youtube. (A digression for a Cinder recommendation: for Terraria, nothing beats Total Biscuit and Jesse Cox; for Minecraft, Antvenom is King, and Cavemanfilms is pretty good too. Now you know where to go.)

My boy loves video games. And this is a wonderful thing.

I never thought I’d find myself saying this. Video games were never a part of my childhood, and my experience of them as an on-looker—sister, girlfriend, wife—was, well, blah. Wasn’t interested. Didn’t understand the appeal. Could tell you one thing for sure: no kid of mine was going to waste his childhood playing video games. Could rattle of spades of research about how detrimental to the proper development of a child excessive (any) video game playing could be.

Well. What changed?

Simply this: My boy loves video games, and I love my boy. He started getting drawn to them about age eight, I suppose, meeting them at this friend’s house or that, telling us about them with excitement, in vivid detail. His game-playing father entered into his interest; his game-ignorant mother started to agonize. What to do? For what reason? With what consequences?

I spare you my internal angst, as first one online game and then another (“It’s educational, Mom!” Supported by Dad’s: “Really, Jane, it’s educational.”) got introduced. Then the X-box (“It’s Kinect, Jane—they’ll be exercising and moving while they play—isn’t that good?”). Then an iPad and all the apps and games that enabled. Here’s what steered me through it, though: I love my boy. He loves these things; he’s drawn to them. What’s he getting out of it? Why? How?

I love my boy, and if I love my boy, I can’t be dismissive and contemptuous of something he loves.

So, I’d sit beside him and watch him play. Listen to him talk about the games afterwards. In-between. Eavesdrop while he talked about with his friends. Watch while they acted out game scenes on the trampoline or on the Common.

I might tell you about all the things I’ve seen him learn from gaming another time (for one example, check out this piece about Minecraft ). Rattle of spades of research about how playing video games actually makes kids smarter (Here’s Gabe Zichermann talking about this on Ted Talks). But it really comes down to this:

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. His reasons for loving them are complex—but no less valid than my love for Jane Austen novels, or John Fluevog shoes. I do not have to love them just because he loves them—I do not have to make myself play them or enjoy them as he does, just because I love him. But because I love him, I can’t say—or think and believe—that what he loves and enjoys is a waste of time. Of no value. Stupid.

Flip it. Think of something you love. Knitting? Film noir? Shiny cars? Collecting porcelain miniatures? Whatever. Doesn’t matter what. I’m thinking of my Jane Austen novels, which I reread probably half-a-dozen times a year. Now think of how you feel when someone who’s supposed to love you and care about you—your partner, your best friend, your mother—thinks that hobby or activity is of no value. And takes every opportunity to tell you so. Do those interactions build your relationship? Inspire you with love and trust for the person showing such open contempt for something that brings you joy?

I love my boy. My boy loves video games. And I love that he loves them. I love that they bring him joy.

As I finish writing this up, Ender’s having the tail-end of his nap in my arms, and Flora’s listening to The Titan’s Curse. Cinder grabs his lap top, and sits down beside me on the couch. He pulls up an Antvenom video on Youtube. “I need to get this mod,” he says. “Cool one?” I ask. “Too cool,” he says. I watch him watching for a while.

I love my boy.

“Love you, Mom,” he says. “What do you want to do when my video’s over?”

Minecraft Castle

Minecraft Castle (Photo credit: Mike_Cooke)

27 thoughts on “How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games

  1. It is still a very tough one for me. I have never been totally against but I am very concerned. I do not think I would eliminate them entirely but I really must research. I have seen many great examples of success with kids who “game” but also many who suffer and though I understand that suffering might not be video game related I do still wonder about the connection. I know yours is a very stimulating home overall and I do believe that does help. Thanks for the links – I like opposing views of all things and will be doing some research!

    • It’s a tough nut, and no previous generation of parents has had to grapple with it as we have. And even now, even though I really see the positive aspects of the experience for Cinder–I still monitor and manage, and sometimes worry. And of course ensure there is plenty of outdoor time, reading time, hanging out time, running time. I have no regrets at all about being a screen-free/lite family for so many years. And I guess keep in mind too that among the ways screen time and video game time unfolds in our house: there is no TV. There is no Wii. There is an X-box, but it’s put away, and has to be set up and connected and pulled out whenever someone wants to play–otherwise it’s out of sight.

      Ultimately, all the conflicting research aside–the kids’ behaviour tells you all you need to know. Are they happy, active, thriving during and after playing, or are they psychotic and frustrated? And it’s different at different ages and stages. Cinder’s almost 10–Flora’s 7, and she needs very different boundaries and monitoring than he does. Ender gets as little screen as possible… although I know it will all be coming so much earlier for this third little dude than for his siblings. He already knows all about Angry Birds.

      The point that I wanted to really drive home with the post–and perhaps I didn’t make it explicit enough, because I wanted it focused on our experience, and not to be preachy–was this: if we think video games are damaging, if we view them as negative–then they shouldn’t be in our house and part of our family life. Because in that scenario, every time our children play, we’re sending them the very relationship-damaging message that they’re engaging in something we, at best, have reservations about, at worst, detest and hold in contempt.

      Does that make sense?

      • Yep! And this is why I know I need to do some research and get clear. I have never really done that! It is a good message for sure.

  2. Lots to think about, thanks for this! Do you still limit at all? My son is 7, and still does mainly computer time for games only once a week although I am sure this will change as he gets older. I get the benefits but also worry that they can be addictive.

    • “Monitor” is the word of choice these days, because I don’t have any set rules (30 minutes / 3 hours / whatever) right now–although there’s a bit of a rhythm to when the playing happens–beginning of day or end of day, unless there’s spontaneous social playing mid-day (i.e. all the boys in the Coop decide to get on a server together), or middle of a really dreary, crappy-weather-none-of-us-wants-to-go-outside-and-who-can-blame-us day. If I find myself going to a “Gah! All he does is play Minecraft, it’s too much!” place, I engineer a day or days or week away–we hoof it to the mountains, the lake, camping, whatever.

      As I wrote to Nicole–it’s tricky, eh? No generation of parents before us had to navigate this. And who knows how our choices will be judged by our children, our grandchildren. In Jane Austen’s time, novel reading was still suspect…

      Anyway, good luck as you sort out what’s best and healthiest for you and yours.

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  5. My boys are Minecraft addicts. Up till the first of this month, we would have fights, arguments and chaos over this game because my hubby thought the boys were too involved in a “worthless” game.
    Then we got it on the Xbox.
    I started playing…..

    It’s a lost cause.

    Hubby started playing last Monday….

    The three of them have taken over my Xbox and are, at this minute, working together on Minecraft. I guess my hubby doesn’t think it’s all that bad after all 😛

    It’s actually nice. It’s been over 100 degrees here all week, there are horrible fires and smoke everywhere so we can’t go outside.

    Best thing is…. My family is happy and THAT’S what is important 🙂

    • Flora, my little girl (7) has really gotten into Minecraft too. And it’s become a bonding thing between her brother and her, which is nice–because these days, so many of their interests are so divergent. But… resource scarcity… we may need to get her her own laptop some three years ahead of the “planned” schedule. “So we can do multiplayer properly.”

      Yesterday, Cinder spent 45 minutes drawing a picture of a scene from minecraft. Last weekend, he took his first programming lesson with a view to learning how to create mods for the game. Worthless? Nope.

      Did you catch the Penn Jillette quote about video games in general? It’s very interesting:

      I’m glad you’re at a good place with Minecraft in particular in your house now. Where in the world are you? I don’t wish for the fires, but you could send a few degrees of your heat my way!

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  12. Glad you linked this one up with Cloudy’s Blog Hop. Great post, and I felt the same way you did initially about video games. I have to say, there are so many things about having kids that you just can’t develop a hard stance on until you’re there. I do a lot of things I said I would never do- you just have to know your kids and what works for your family.

  13. I have no doubt that I will walking the same road as the one you describe. I am not a game-lover. I have no interest in video games but I suspect that my son will. I struggle with this because I would prefer that requires more physical activity, or social interaction. However, I realize that there is a lot to be learned from these games, just as much as a board game or building set, for example. What I’m most uncertain about are the ones centered around violence. I have heard that there is no correlation between violent video games and real life violence but I am not convinced. Guess we’ll make some final decisions as they become necessary but I’m sure not looking forward to it. I appreciate your experience.

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  21. Thank you for this. My son and I have always had the most amazing relationship. He was my best buddy. We laughed, played, talked, laugh some more at jokes only the 2 of us knew. Then one day I looked at him and realized I was looking at a stranger so immersed in his game, that I felt hopeless. I felt shamed that I was a bad parent for allowing so much screen time. I felt bad that we had lost touch, and I felt miserable and horrified that our time had ended and he was no longer my best buddy, he was his own person. Anger raged at me. Honestly I thought he hated me. How did my beautiful boy go from my heart beat to an enemy without me noticing. I have read several of your posts and I must say thank you. I realized that his problems are just as valid. I realized that I’m proud of him for only his achievements in school, in hobbies, but mostly I realized that I’m proud of him always but needed a better way to show him. Thank you for providing me the knowledge to do just that.

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