On one of my many adventures on the Internet I read an article that had a bunch of parents commenting about how they’re trying to keep their kids away from videogames for as long as possible—sometimes to the age of eight. Sacrilege, I say!
Why do videogames get such a bad rap? Some people play games a little too much and it starts to affect their lives—I understand—but I’m going to wager the cause of their condition isn’t entirely contingent on the sheer awesomeness of a particular videogame. I’ve been a gamer since around the age of five, but I had exposure to educational DOS games in one regard or another since around the time I turned three.
I’ve given it a lot of thought and I only have two regrets concerning videogames in my entire life. The first comes from my childhood peers calling me the typical “nerd!” names because of my hobby. The second is that I spent thousands of hours developing a skill—and I’d like to take a moment to say I am a top-notch gamer skill-wise—that our education system considers completely worthless in regard to awarding scholarships. However, if we apply that logic to everything we’re discouraging developing all skills that don’t reward scholarships—which makes us tailor our lives to whatever the higher education system sees as important around the time we turn 18. That’s rubbish in my opinion.
My father introduced videogames to me in the mid-80s and even before that I learned how to play tabletop strategy games (one of the precursors to videogames). Inevitably I’ll let my own child(ren) play videogames. The question is when. I’m thinking right now that it’s okay to let her play when she turns three. The most insightful studies I’ve read say it’s okay to let your children play videogames as long as they’ve established good play patterns away from the TV set. This means that when the child is in the “let’s dump out all our toys on the living room floor and not play with them” phase it is probably not a good idea to introduce videogames. However, as I watch Elly start to develop her own play-style with her toys I can tell she’s getting closer to being ready.
While videogames didn’t help me get into a more prestigious college, they are the catalyst that helped me find direction and success in my career. If I never played Reader Rabbit, Ghostbusters II, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on my dad’s IBM 8088 (don’t knock Tandy 16) I would have never developed a strong interest in computer programming.
I am the web content producer at my station. I have a master’s degree in Journalism, which doesn’t give me much of a background in the workings of the web. However, my love affair with videogames gave me the drive to learn how to program in BASIC and make my own silly little games. After learning BASIC on my own by reverse engineering programs written by other people I took to learning HTML to program websites at the age of 14. I wasn’t doing this in class: I chose to learn it on my own because I wanted to. Fortunately, my high school offered several computer programming classes that I took and did well in. These classes, however, aren’t in your typical general education programs, so they essentially didn’t count for anything. Isn’t it funny how we weigh an AP Math class as more valuable to someone that will never use more than basic multiplication in their career than we value self-taught skills that a student will directly use in their career?
It’s those skills that I learned as a teenager on my own time that helped differentiate me from the other applicants for my job. I have those skills because I played videogames as a child. I could’ve spent that time improving my soccer skills so I could still develop athletic asthma and still not earn a scholarship I suppose, but in the end all those hours I spent playing videogames fascinated me enough to master a skill that would help me more in my career (and life) than any scholarship could have.
So are videogames really the enormous waste of time we like to think they are? My parents didn’t think so enough to keep me from playing them and I’m thankful for it. So I won’t deny my child(ren) the same opportunity.