Gaming addiction: We're a long way from the arcade, kids
When I was a kid we went on a family vacation to Disneyworld.
It was 1982, the year Ms. Pac-Man came out.
That is significant because my parents didn't stand a chance of getting my ten year old sister interested in Mickey Mouse.
She spent most of our vacation in the lobby of the California hotel playing the video game. Hours passed as she expertly wielded the control stick — the little yellow circle chomping the ghosts and eating the dots, screen after screen.
I watched with glee — the sidekick sister cheering her on as she toppled the high scores.
My sister was pretty rockin' at Ms. Pac-Man.
Today, my sister has her own 10 year old.
He can't get enough of an online game called Minecraft.
Hours pass as he expertly uses a touch screen to create landscapes and passageways that he navigates with characters and animals.
I also watch him with glee — the gaming-challenged aunt cheering him on as he digs through imaginary universes.
My nephew is also pretty rockin' at Minecraft.
So it would seem the joystick has come full circle.
Except that today's joystick isn't attached to a huge machine that you have to line up to play or at an arcade somewhere at Winnipeg Beach.
And today's games aren't the size of clunky 8-tracks.
Today, games are virtual, portable and something a lot of parents are starting to worry about.
This week on the show, we heard from experts about gaming addiction.
A very big word.
Just for the record, I've never heard my sister suggest that her son is "addicted" to Minecraft, but I have heard her express concern over the number of hours that he spends playing it.
So where is the line?
I've been thinking about it all week and honestly, I'm still not sure.
We spoke with experts who told CBC two hours for the average teenager is the limit for online activity daily.
We heard we should watch for signs of withdrawal when it comes to being social with friends and family.
We found out a teenager who reacts with hostility when a parent takes a game away could be a concern.
I don't know about you, but I would actually be surprised if the Minecraft got pulled and my nephew didn't pitch a bit of a fit.
Hopefully our series this week will start up some conversations around the family dinner table.
In the meantime, regarding the bigger picture, we got this comment on our Information Radio Facebook Page.
It's from Jeff Wheeldon. "Video games are a powerful medium — but they are a medium, just like television, film, literature, and music. Video games are (arguably) more immersive and interactive than other media, and that does increase their influence on people. Thankfully, educators are finally picking up on the value of gamification as a tool for learning: games captivate people (adults as much as kids), and their ability to simulate virtually anything gives them unmatched educational potential. Games, like any other medium, are also powerful tools for transmitting ideas. There is a growing field of game critics who analyze and criticize video games in philosophical, sociological, and theological perspectives. Games have powerful themes that can help us to see the real world more clearly, but like any medium, we need to read them critically. Like any other medium (e.g., television), huge amounts of gaming can be harmful. But until we start recognizing games as a medium and treat it like any other, rather than seeing it as some sort of foreign threat to our children, we'll never get past this vilification of what is actually one of the greatest resources we have to learn and communicate. Until parents start actually taking some interest in video games, they'll never know what games their kids are playing or be able to talk about those games seriously. Until society starts taking games seriously, intelligent and thoughtful games will be the exceptions and violent and sexualized games will continue to be the rule, because those sell."
I suppose that's a reasonable starting point.
Taking an interest in "the game" so we at least understand what we're worried about.
But the other part of this is taking an interest in our kids in a brand new way — trying to figure out ALL of the worlds that they live in, instead of simply dividing the online from the real world.
Ironically, that may be part of the key to pulling some of the "addicts" from their devices.
With that in mind, I think I'll call up my nephew and introduce him to Ms. Pac-Man this weekend.
It could be fun watching him blow through all of the levels in record time.