This is basically an open letter to parents who do not understand or who simply hate video games. I’m definitely not what you picture when you think “gamer.” Contrary to popular belief, not all gamers are greasy creeps covered in Dorito dust who start fights with 12-year-olds on Xbox Live. Some are like me: I’m an athletic college girl with an internship at a media company and a penchant for saving spiders from a looming shoe. Others are comedians, political writers and ambitious journalists — pretty successful, ordinary people.
But parents often are right about one thing: Video games do often include some explicit content; that’s part of what makes them fun, if I’m being completely honest. And parents usually have concerns about how this may negatively affect their children. But the idea that playing violent video games encourages violent behavior in young children has been largely debunked. As an educated, well-adjusted individual, I have always been able to distinguish the line between behavior that is acceptable in fiction and behavior that is acceptable in reality, and I think most other gamers can, too. Video games have actually been proven to have cognitive and behavioral benefits: Children with limited or non-existent social skills are able to learn social cues and appropriate responses through interacting with NPCs (non-player characters — characters with pre-programed behavior in the game), which allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment without real-world consequences.
Games also provide a platform for people to make friends. MMORPGs — massively multiplayer online role-playing games — require players to interact with each other, banding together in parties to accomplish a goal and creating a strong sense of camaraderie. Lots of people have met their significant others while playing MMORPGs, because the environment allows players to build relationships with people from all across the world who already have an interest in the game.
My advice to parents concerned about the content of video games or the length of time their children spends playing them is this: Talk to them about it. You don’t need to get overly involved — kids need to have spaces in their lives where their parents aren’t in control — but talk to your children about why they like video games. Ask them if there are things in the games that upset them and have a conversation about those more unsettling topics so they can fully grasp them. Many games are intended for adults and feature adult content, which is great for gamers like me, but if your kid is 12 and begging for you to buy them “Grand Theft Auto,” I would suggest you have a talk with them about the game’s content before handing over the Visa. Show interest in your kid’s interests to show them that you care, even if you don’t really get it.
Many parents see video games as a waste of time, exasperatedly saying, “Why can’t you go outside and make friends?” But video games are a hobby that can do so much for someone and can help kids cope emotionally. For me, video games have helped me get through some of the worst times in my life. Knowing that I could go home, start up my PlayStation or PC and become someone else for a while was comforting in dark times when I didn’t have anything else. Being a special-forces operative (and cardboard box aficionado) or a dragon-slaying werewolf sorcerer thief lizard-man (in “Skyrim” you really can be anything) is a lot better than being a sad and overworked teenager. What I’m getting at here is this: Please be respectful of your children’s hobbies, because they might play a more integral role in their lives than you think.
I’m lucky because my parents also like video games. They don't keep up with current titles, but the old arcade games and early DOS games are their bread and butter. They’re also engineers, so they immediately saw the analytical teaching value in games. If I wanted a game, I had to buy it. Economics and I quickly became well acquainted. When I’m thinking of making a purchase today, I still think about it in terms of games (“Whoa, that’s expensive. That’s, like, seven brand new games.”). Video games are an important part of my life and they always will be. And if I can grow up to be OK, so can your children.