Are you a reluctant parent when it comes to video gaming? Whether you allow your child to play video games or not, gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment today. As the mother of a 15 year-old and a technology educator, I am often fighting the battle of “screen time.” This post is not meant to convert you one way or the other, but to educate you on the pervasiveness of video gaming and offer you some tips for living with a gamer.
Beyond Pong: Video Gaming Now
Video gaming has come a long way from its nascent stages of the 1970’s arcade game, Pong, to Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG), which allow hundreds of thousands of players to concurrently interact in an online game. A recent article in the Washington Post reported that in 2014 video gaming grew to an industry totaling over $100 billion in sales worldwide. While the motion picture industry pulled in $10.9 billion at the US box office, and the music industry reported $7 billion in sales, video game sales totaled more than both combined, with $21 billion in US sales.
Although gaming is assumed to be an activity for teenagers, the statistics indicate that what constitutes a gamer is far from this idea. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average gamer is 34 years old. Here are some other statistics that might surprise you:
- 29% of gamers are under 18;
- Adult women represent a greater portion of the video game-playing population (33%) than boys under 18 (17%).
- 60% of Americans play video games, and there is an average of two gamers in each game-playing household;
- 52% of gamers are male and 48% are female, with women age 18 or older representing 36%;
- 67% of parents whose children are gamers play video games with their children once a week, making video gaming a family activity.
To understand the popularity and impact of gaming, just read the headlines of the business section. In August of 2014, Amazon paid $1 billion for Twitch, a video-game streaming service where people pay to watch others play video games. Additionally, in September of 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft, a sandbox game where players use pixel-like blocks to craft items, for $2.5 billion. And, in March of 2014, Facebook purchased the virtual reality gaming firm, Oculus, for $2 billion dollars. “Gaming is just the start,” stated Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. “After games, we’ll make Oculus a platform for other experiences, such as telehealth services or simulating a classroom on the opposite side of the world.”
How does video gaming fit into the world of education?
Some aspects of video gaming can be beneficial in an educational setting. Video games create conditions that encourage players to “stay in the game,” such as enjoyment, interest, and motivation.
In Minecraft, one of the most popular games on the market, players build with 3D cubes that resemble LEGOs. MinecraftEdu, the educational department of Minecraft, has brought a school version of the game to classrooms in over 40 countries. Mike Rugnetta of PBS offers teachers a wealth of educational ideas for how to use the game, from recreating famous events in history and building sets for Shakespeare plays to using Minecraft blocks to discuss volume and area and teaching foreign languages with in-game signs.
Tips for Parents
The world of video gaming grows exponentially each year. As a parent, remember to set guidelines, be informed, and monitor your child. The following tips will help you determine boundaries:
- Keep screen time to healthy limits, and limit the weekday usage to minimal or weekends only. Check out some of the resources that Lowell’s Academic Technologist Emily Dillard suggests in “Disconnecting from Devices.”
- Set a time limit for screen time. Use the alarm feature on a cell phone to keep to the allotted time.
- Know your child’s screen name and passwords.
- Offer your child non-gaming suggestions, such as LEGOs, puzzles, graphic novels, art projects, board games, or physical activity. Even better, spend 15 minutes with your child working on a puzzle or building with LEGOs. Set the expectation ahead of time that you will spend 15-20 minutes on an activity with your child—building this connection will go a long way.
- Model the behavior you desire—if you are constantly looking at your phone or tablet, you are setting the expectation that this behavior is acceptable. You also need to learn when it is time to unplug.
- Set up a “free screen zone” area, such as the dinner table. Have this rule apply to everyone in the family.
- “Park” the tablet/phone/computer long before bedtime so that your child has non-screen time before sleeping and the temptation to play is removed.
- And, most importantly, remind your child that gaming, like other forms of entertainment, is a privilege.