My Son, The Dragon Slayer: The Risks And Rewards Of Growing Up Gaming

Carey's 8-year-old son Tully plays the game "Skyrim" on their family computer. (George Hicks/WBUR)

Carey’s 8-year-old son Tully plays the game “Skyrim” on their family computer. (Susan Hagner for WBUR)

BOSTON — “Oh, God, I’m going to die now,” my 8-year-old son, Tully, laments. “Come on! How am I supposed to press Tab that fast?”

He’s interrupted by a serene but authoritative female voice from the speakers. “You have five minutes left,” it says. His computer time is almost up.

Tully started playing video games when he was still in preschool, first driving games because he was obsessed with cars, and then more elaborate games of exploration and battle.

His game-playing sparked the only major parenting conflict I’ve ever had with my husband, a software developer who’s worked on games and wanted to introduce Tully to their fun challenges. As a mother, I felt all my alarms going off: too much violence, too much screen time. At one point I even played the crack-cocaine card, as in: “You’re introducing our child to the media equivalent of crack cocaine!”

But then my attitude began to shift. Tully picked up reading early because he so wanted to decipher instructions on the screen. He started to spout historical facts. And he played one particular spelling game, “Bookworm Adventures,” that was undeniably violent but also clearly educational — and I loved it. You got a grid of letters, and the longer a word you spelled, the harder you got to clobber a mythical enemy.

So I’ve ended up… confused. In over 30 years — a full human generation — computer games have evolved from primitive ping-pong to rich, immersive worlds, some with more content in them than “War and Peace.” Many children now spend more time with games than with books or even TV. Critics warn that games may be addictive and lead to aggression. Supporters say that games may be the best educational tools ever. But what do we really know about their long-term effects?

I’m not the only one posing this question. Last week, President Obama asked Congress for $10 million to fund research into what causes gun violence, including possible links to violence in the media.

“Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds,” he said. “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic.”

Surveys find that nearly all American children play some sort of digital games, whether it’s “Fruit Ninja” on a phone or “Halo 4” on an Xbox. They’re growing up at a time when games out-earn movies and television. “Clearly games are the 21st century’s most important form of media,” says MIT professor Eric Klopfer. So what does it mean to grow up gaming?

Sharply Divided Research

Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, says it’s hard to get definitive about games when they’re evolving so quickly. They are, he says, “a rapidly moving, morphing and diversifying target. And second, the concerns people have are usually ones of long-term outcomes, so while the research can look at short-term outcomes, we need to have decades of time between when the 4-year-old plays the game and the 24-year-old is out in the world, to see if there are any long-term changes in brain development, in learning and in behavioral expectations.”

At this point, the field of video game research is sharply divided between two opposing camps.

There’s a whole book that has alternating chapters with names like “Violent video games cause aggression” and “Violent video games do not cause aggression.” Or, “Video games help children learn” and then “Playing video games causes poor grades.” Or, “Video game addiction is a legitimate addiction” versus “Video game addiction is not a true addiction.”

On the one hand are findings that fuel parents’ concerns. Dr. Rich, who says he sees young patients every week for game addiction problems, lists a few: Violent games may increase some children’s fear and anxiety, desensitize them to violence, and, in some cases, may lead to aggression; some early research even implies that games may make kids worse at contemplative reflection. He says he hears from some teachers that they can identify which kids are the big video gamers.

“They’re not as socially comfortable interacting with real people, they don’t look you in the eye, they’re not able to read cues,” Rich says. “They are not as able to take in information, synthesize it and bring it back. They’re more involved in reflexive responses to things — they are looking for the trigger.”

Click to hear four video gamers weigh in on their playing and its effects.

Click to hear four video gamers weigh in on their playing and its effects.

On the other hand, some researchers point out that over the last generation, gaming has gone from fringe to almost universal and yet violent crime among youth has gone down.

“Often you think a kid is repeating some violent act over and over in the game and they’re learning to do bad things, they’re trying, they’re processing that into their brains,” says Dr. Cheryl Olson, a public health researcher and co-author of the book “Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games.” “But really, when you think about what’s happening, they’re often learning how to solve problems. ‘Hmmm, what happens if I open this chest here? What if I go into that room there?’ ”

She continues: “What are video games doing? If you have an age-appropriate game that’s not too easy or too hard, a video game is teaching a child how to cope with failure, deal with frustration, delay gratification, and often doing it in a social context, where they’re learning to negotiate with their friends, working as a team, or ‘OK, I beat you, you beat me, how do I handle all of these things?’ ”

That teaching can be so powerful, Olson says, that “One thing people are looking at now is, can schools use video game methods to teach better?”

The research by Olson’s Harvard-based team, carried out under a $1.5 million grant from the federal Department of Justice, is the biggest study yet to directly address the question of whether video games cause violence.

Her work isn’t perfectly reassuring. It initially found a correlation between heavy playing of games rated “M for mature” and involvement in real-life fighting and bullying. But, she says, further analysis showed that aggressive personality traits and high stress levels in this subset of children accounted for the apparent link.

“You can say ‘Oh my gosh,’ but you have to unpack it further,” she says. “That’s why research doesn’t lend itself well to soundbites.”

Harvard psychiatry professor Eugene Beresin wrote last month about that research:

Is the tail wagging the dog, in other words? Are the children who are thought to wander towards aggression as a result of playing video games in fact attracted to video games because they are already prone to aggression in the first place?

On the other hand, the researcher found that parent involvement and parent/peer support seemed to be protective of these negative behaviors. The study did in fact find that aggressive kids seem to be drawn to these games, and that these games might have affected them differently compared to the other kids who are not angry or aggressive.

However, there seems to be a relationship between about 5-6% of kids who get into trouble, sometimes violent, and the amount of time playing violent games. It must be emphasized that there were no CAUSAL relationships found between violent games and violent behavior, just CORRELATIONS, and this could mean there are other things in life that may be involved.

My son Tully and his friends do act out computer game battles in real-life play sometimes, but it’s no more or less violent than when kids of my generation played cops and robbers, or acted out cowboy movies.

What I do see that’s different — and fascinating to me — is a style of play in which kids take on the role of the computer game itself, and offer each other choices and plot lines just as a game’s creators do. In this imaginary game, which he calls “Mage,” Tully’s giving me a mission from an alchemist:

Go to the money market and steal back my recipe, defeat the guards, and then I want you to sabotage the production field on the way out. Oh, by the way, this is a very advanced quest, so I wouldn’t do it until much later, or at least some later when you have better equipment and more life and stuff.

Gaming’s Effects On 20-Somethings

How might all this translate into real life when Tully’s grown up, one of those “24-year-olds out in the world” that Rich mentioned? At Intrepid Labs — a co-working center for tech start-ups, particularly game companies, in Cambridge — 20-something gamers abound, including Alex Boerstler, the 25-year-old creative director of a company called Joust.

“Gaming has affected my life in a huge way,” he says. The effects have been “overwhelmingly positive, though I will admit there are a lot of dark spots where gaming gets out of balance.”

Boerstler says he spent a good five years of his youth playing “World of Warcraft” very heavily, and though he acknowledges that it got obsessive, he says it also brought him myriad benefits, including friendships that pointed him to art school and into Web design. And some of the skills honed by gaming have proven surprisingly relevant in the workplace.

For example, he once helped orchestrate 120 other “World of Warcraft” players in a mass attack on enemy cities.

“Whether you’re leading people to create a new [user interface] or leading people to fight a big troll, it’s fairly similar principles.”
– Alex Boerstler, 25

“I had to command them, I had to make sure they were strategically in the right place – basic squad leadership-type stuff,” Boerstler says. “Well, I just got into project management earlier this year, and that experience actually applied fairly directly.”

Boerstler’s team has been working on a new user interface, or UI.

“Whether you’re leading people to create a new UI or leading people to fight a big troll, it’s fairly similar principles,” he says.

Not far away, in Cambridgeport, 24-year-old Spencer Cook recently unwound from his job in advertising by playing “Counterstrike” with his roommate. They play in different rooms, but they’ve got each other’s backs.

“I blew it! I panicked,” he berates himself, laughing. “Ugh, if only I was a second later. Coming in to you with a shotgun…”

Cook says he plays games because they’re more active, more mentally challenging than movies or TV — and though some are violent, their appeal centers on the strategy they require: “It almost becomes a game of chess instead of a game of ‘Shoot somebody’s head off,’ ” he says.

Like Boerstler, Cook says games have benefited him in many ways, from a sharpened ability to find his way around a new city to practice at setting his sights on major goals.

“In college and even in work a lot, we’ll have smaller projects along the way and then there’s kind of the big project right at the end, where it’s pulling together all the skills you’ve learned through each project,” he says. “And it’s something that’s very similar in a video game. You’re going around a world and you need to get the key from this person and a sword from this person and a map from that person, and use those all together in the end of the video game.

“Video games do kind of help you see the bigger picture,” he says.

Does The Game Itself Matter?

MIT’s Klopfer, who researches educational games and has a son about the same age as mine, sums up: “Not all games are created equal, and not all kids are playing the same games.”

“My son is an avid fan of ‘Minecraft,’ ” he says, “and it’s a super-creative game, all sorts of complex things you can build in the world and systems that you need to understand, and I think kids who play that game are gaining a lot from it. I think there’s other games you can play that are not particularly deep thoughtful games.”

Because video games are such a powerful teaching tool, Rich, of Children’s Hospital, warns parents to be mindful of which games their children play, because they will learn from what they play.

“The simple approach is: Give your kids games that teach them what you want them to learn,” he suggests. “If you want them to learn how to kill terrorists effectively, then there are some great games out there…”

I asked Tully what he thinks he’s getting from games.

“They’re fun. And they’re kind of educational, and they require me to think, unlike some homework…”

And how do you think that games help or don’t help kids?

“Well it kind of depends on the kid,” he says. “Like some kids get so addicted that they play games games games games games games games nonstop and they don’t do other things. Most games have hidden education and they’re so addicted to it and they want to play it so much they miss the education, so games only hurt. Luckily I’m not one of those kids…”

(Parental note: Many games are designed to be addictive. We’ve been very happy with the time-limit software we long ago installed on the computer. Dr. Rich favors teaching kids time management over using time-limit software. My response: I vote for the “choose your battles” school of parenting.)

Olson was part of a group of researchers and video game makers who met with Vice President Joe Biden last week to help the White House develop its strategies against gun violence, including the call for more video game research.

“We’re really in a golden age of video game research,” she says, “in the sense that a lot of people are looking at it from more perspectives with a lot fewer assumptions.”

Olson particularly recommends more research focusing on kids who are at high risk for violent behavior, but she says parent need to know much more, to figure out how to supervise their kids so that they get the least harm, and the greatest benefit, from games.

So, are children being harmed by playing these games? Olson says that at this point there is no research to show that game playing causes violent behavior, but some games might frighten or psychologically harm children of certain ages, or those with preexisting problems.

I think I speak for many parents when I say yes, we need to be vigilant, and yes yes yes, we could really use more good data to base our decisions on. A lot more.

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  • Reasonable?

    Really good story on this morning’s segment.
    I recommend checking out Jared Diamond’s new book, “The World Until Yesterday.”.
    There is an interesting section on childhood play its purpose in traditional societies that could serve as an interesting basis for comparison to our current discussion on gaming.
    Tom Ashbook had Diamond on a few weeks ago, but I don’t think they delved into that particular topic.

  • skeptic

    Interesting story. I’ve heard defenders of gaming say that kids “learn” while gaming, even if the game is violent. I presume they mean kids develop problem solving skills, but I wonder if that’s true. Do they learn any skill that can translate into greater general or emotional intelligence applicable to real life? I don’t play games or have kids, but I am sure there are other activities, in which kids can engage, that are far more enriching. Also, spending a lot of time staring at a screen creates anxiety and irritability.

    • Josh

      For video games, generally strategy and FPS and fighting games are considered the “best” for you. This is usually because of the rapid decision making and strategy that plays into the games.

      On your second point, Its not a question of if activity A is more enriching than activity B, but what skills they enrich. Having a balance of games, be that sports, board or video games will help children significantly.

      • Responsible Adult

        FPS considered best, by whom? Point and click adventure games, well made ones, that require real thinking and analysis, not just ADD-friendly twitching, work the mind more than FPS.

        • http://twitter.com/Siantlark Siantlark

          Well it depends on what mental activity you’re trying to exercise. While it is true that deeper thought is more stimulated by point and clicks, visual novels, or even games like EVE Online the difference is in what is considered “best.” If you were trying to improve rapid decision making and strategy, like Josh said, then strategy and FPS games would be considered the best for the person rather than point and clicks.

          For example FPS games tend to stimulate the brains ability to perceive and process information faster leading to quicker decision making under pressure and helps the brain pick out requested images faster. I don’t have the study with me right now but patching the strong eye of an individual with lazy eye while he’s playing an FPS actually strengthens the lazy eye and promotes development over other games like Tetris or The Walking Dead.

          • Responsible Adult

            I agree that FPSs require thought. But it’s a type of thought kids won’t benefit from practicing. I have left intense FPS sessions with what I swear is a minor case of PTSD. Not so great for a real young kid.

            I am not against kids engaging in non-gruesome FPS at some age in a time limited way but it is well documented (as in the one-marshmallow-now-versus-two-marshmallows-later study you can Google. NPR itself has done one or two stories on that study) that the ability to succeed later in life correlates closely to a kid’s ability to sustain concentration and forego immediate gratification early in life.

            FPSs tend to feed the quest for immediate gratification with their adrenalin infusing pacing, one rush after another, excitement after excitement, which is what makes them so addictive.

            Point-and-click adventures, on the other hand, the best of them at least, supply an attractive package for kids to do the very kind of analysis and sustain the very kind of concentration that would otherwise be required by homework, which doesn’t often come in such an attractive package, and can serve them later in life.

            For the record, I agree that Civilization 4 is a world away from a twitch inducing FPS. I’m not saying anything against certain strategy games (though I think C&C is very shallow and not much different from an FPS).

            One problem for parents is that many are clueless about the content of a lot of games, what they are really about and what they are really like to play – not many know the names Sid Meier, Richard Garriott, or John Carmack. It’s a whole culture, and they are on the outside wondering what the heck it’s all about. To plumb the depths of a single title, especially an RPG, could take over 100 hours. They just can’t do that. So ratings become more important than they are for movies or books, which a parent can screen in a reasonable amount of time.

    • Kabc Gabc

      My kid DOES pursue a LOT of other activities. When I was a kid, I sat around drinking soda and eating chips while watching TV for several hours after school. Still did my homework and ended up at an Ivy. But if instead I could have played a video game like Skyrim, it would have at least taught me something.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004372931370 Pablo J. Gonzalez

        HaHa. This is perhaps the best response so far. The idea that there were “better” alternatives for non sport-oriented kids when we (parents of kids these days) young is laughable. The opportunity for mind exercise with computers and games is astronomical compared to the times when brains were more consistently soaked with inane TV shows and *commercials*. I spent *way* too much time watching bs TV when I was young. Now *that* affected my concentration.

  • Mysticeti

    You almost lost me went you said “Bookworm” was violent. If I hadn’t followed the link and realized you were talking about Bookworm Adventures, a very different game compared to Bookworm I would have though the author clueless and stopped reading.

    Don’t Canadians partake in the same violent games and movies/TV? Yet there are far fewer school shootings in Canada. I suspect it’s more US gun culture and about mental illness than video games.

  • DoYourResearch

    Um, Skyrim (pictured) is rated M, as in Mature for ages 17+. The game contains a fair amount of ‘intense violence, simulated alcohol use & sexual themes’ according to ESRB. Carey, wouldn’t you do the minimum amount of due diligence for this kind of thing before showing your own 8-yr-old son playing this game?!

    • careyg

      (From Carey) Yes, we did do the due diligence and are aware of the rating and the content. It’s also one of the richest, most incredible games ever made — I hope this illustrates the kind of dilemma games can present: It’s a game with huge upsides as well as some content that is questionable for kids. As one gamer pointed out, you could say the same of Harry Potter…

      • martye

        I think it’s irresponsible to let an 8-year old play this. There are plenty of age-appropriate games to choose from that we let our kids play, yet they still complain of kids like yours that are allowed to play inappropriate games like Skyrim. It’s really just lazy parenting IMHO.

        • Ethan

          I disagree – in this particular case – and I’m relatively certain by your post alone that you have never even touched Skyrim or anything like it for that matter. Skyrim is given it’s rating partly due to the mild violence and language present, but more so the amount of freedom that is given to the player. It is a game of consequences and in that sense has a number of valuable lessons to offer to a young(er) audience. The amount of violence present in this game is no greater than that of your average T-rated game.

          Yes, in many cases, ignorant parenting has resulted in underage children playing hyper-violent games, or games excessively dealing with “adult” topics such as sex and drug-use. This is not one of those cases.

        • http://twitter.com/Siantlark Siantlark

          That’s ridiculous. “Age Appropriate” games like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney, Terraria, Legend of Zelda, Ni No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch, and other “Kid Friendly” games contain violence, drinking, murder, gambling, theft, and a whole host of other “bad” influences.

          Skyrim is hardly the worst offender and it’s only fault is a heightened more detailed world full of good and bad consequences. Disney films have content as bad as Skyrim and with terrible role models for children as well.

          • Responsible Adult

            Age appropriate games do not contain detailed ultra-realistic violence in detail. There is a HUGE different between Wiley Coyote flattening himself against a giant rock and a violent adult movie; as there is between cartoon violence in Zelda, and the twitching burned half flayed body struggling for survival seen early in Max Payne 3. It is hard to ignore the high quality of games such as Skyrim and the very veyr grim Max Payne 3, but they are for adults; I would NEVER expose them to a child.

          • Kabc Gabc

            Skyrim is not Max Payne 3. And did you tell your kid about Newtown?

          • Responsible Adult

            I did not say that Skyrim is Max Payne 3. I said that realistic violence which triggers the M rating, isn’t appropriate in games for 8 year olds. Both games have that much in common. I’m not sure why you mention Newtown. That’s a non sequitur. I do not believe games turn people into killers. But you don’t have to believe that to think an ultra violent game or movie is inappropriate for an 8 year old.

          • http://twitter.com/Siantlark Siantlark

            True there is a huge difference in presentation and style but it’s the same exact violence being portrayed. The only difference is that the violence is “Stylized” and therefore “sanitary” and “safe” for child consumption. That’s bull. Trying to argue that age appropriate games with violence that’s less detailed is somehow better for children is ridiculous.

            It’s the same violence, the same situations, and the same solutions. The only difference is society’s acceptance of it.

          • Responsible Adult

            Its not bull. For one thing, very violent games and movies give kids nightmares. Pokemon and Warner Brother cartoons do not. That’s a big difference all by itself. The exact same violence being portrayed? Really? I have yet to see a man slam into a rock, take on the proportions of a pancake, and waddle away in real life or in a movie with real actors. I am sure all readers of these comments can appreciate the difference in their own experience of viewing violence in a Warner Brothers cartoon as opposed to in slasher movie or other very violent film. The different ratings in games given to such different presentations as you call them, are based on the different impact they have on the audience and the fact that the ratings system takes this into account is justified and sensible.

          • http://twitter.com/Siantlark Siantlark

            I apologize. My argument was based on illogical assumptions and false reasoning and I was talking out of anger.

            However, if the child is mature enough and is able to handle the content then the parent is not at fault if they acknowledge the violence inherent in the game and discuss it with their children. If anything what the author of the article is doing is far better than merely ignoring a child’s tastes in games and restricting their consumption based on quick reactions and flash judgments without proper thought. This, to me at least, seems a far better solution than to react as some have done and underestimate the ability of children to make their own thoughts and conclusions based on the information and media given to them.

          • Responsible Adult

            I appreciate your reply. I know not all 8 year olds are alike and that dividing lines for age appropriate material are not scientifically accurate to the day for all kids. If the son in this story were 15 and not 8 I might have wondered if letting him play was a good idea, but I wouldn’t have posted any objection. But an 8 year old is just under half the age of a 17 year old, the rated age, a chasm of a difference.

            I agree with the basic principle of your above post, but in this case think the age difference is so great that it takes things outside the scope of the reasonable. And I’ve played Skyrim for many hours, so I’m not just relying on the official rating. So, agree on principle, disagree on how it should be applied in this case.

          • booseek

            I’m sorry, Responsible Adult, but you’re just wrong, and martye is out of line calling Carey an irresponsible parent. I got my first console (SNES) before starting elementary school and my first computer in the second grade. At this time, I thoroughly played and beat Doom 1, Doom 2, Wolfenstein 3D, Mortal Kombat, Dune 2 (one of the first strategy games ever made and where you can run over enemy soldiers with tanks, leaving a blood splat), Duke Nukem 3D (strippers, gore, violence, and foul language) and a grade or two later, Command and Conquer, Red Alert (with sexual and violent themes in which Stalin’s mistress was wearing a nightie and on top of him, and is shot dead in front of the player after poisoning Stalin; Stalin also orders a whole civilian village killed by poison gas in the first Soviet mission), WarCraft 1 + 2, and in 7th grade, StarCraft, Diablo 1 + 2, Max Payne, Baldur’s Gate 2, and many great and violent games, as well as many great nonviolent games, that are way too numerous to name here. By the way, my twin brother also played all of these games at the same time. We also watched all of the Hellraisers, The Exorcist, Terminator 1 + 2, Robocop 1 + 2, and so many more before we finished the 5th grade. I will also admit that we had illegal cable that provided us hours upon hours of pornography and pornograpy-like movies (channels 37, 64, and 65), which we watched since the 2nd grade. (Oh, the trauma!) We also listened to and loved all types of music, including the most hardcore of rap, since the 6th grade.

            What’s the result? Well, we’re now playing Max Payne 3, StarCraft II, and Diablo III (the newest renditions of these classic games), among others, in our mid-20s. But I also graduated summa cum laude and he graduated valedictorian from college. Both in the honors program. I’m going for my master’s in computer science now. And as a painter and sculptor, I dream to combine my love of art and video games into different forms of interactive media, including video games, once I’m done with school.

            To say that these games had a lot of impact on my life is an understatement, as they pretty much DEFINED my life. I wrote stories as a child inspired by video game storylines (and, even as a non-English-speaking immigrant, became a much better writer than most of my peers) and painted/drafted worlds inspired by game worlds (which is why I became an artist). I also used game editors to make levels, sketched out “dream” games with their core rules, and made game manuals for these games in whatever the Microsoft Word-equivalent was on Windows 3.1.

            No criminal record, no desire to hurt anyone, no addictions (I’ve never smoked and do not even drink), plenty of pets. Tell me again why it is irresponsible to have a child play Skyrim or any other such game? I wish I had a game like Skyrim when I was young, but they did not really exist, and the ones in that series (Elder Scrolls) do not compare to what the company (Bethesda Softworks) makes now. Games have always inspired me and they can inspire anyone who wants to play them, including 8 year-olds.

      • Responsible Adult

        Yes it is one of the richest games ever made, and the movie, Taxi Driver, was nominated for 4 Academy Awards. That does not mean it is fit for viewing by an 8 year old. Only a subset of rich incredible things are appropriate for young children.

      • dinkster

        Harry Potter is extremely dark for the targeted age group. The last three novels in particular. Compare it to the light hearted nature of Percy Jackson…

    • deanrd7

      I can just see it now: “Turn off that vulgar video game and get back to studying your bible! Now where were we? oh yes God had just told his people to murder their neighbors and rape their women and bash the babies heads against the rocks. Isn’t this just so much more wholesome dear?”

      Of course god did not say to rape the women but did say it was ok to rape them as long as they married them.

      • Kabc Gabc

        What do you expect from someone who bases a religion on Him raping a virgin?

        • Responsible Adult

          That is not the basis of Christianity. You don’t help your arguments by posting insults to people and what you assume their beliefs to be.

    • Kabc Gabc

      DoYourResearch, you did everything but actually play the game. There is a decapitation shown, you can “sleep with” people (no graphics of such activities that I am aware of), and you do go around killing things and people. Yet I would much rather have my young daughter play Skyrim than watch iCarly where people are treated like garbage, and it is the funniest thing in the world.

  • DaveLister

    My daughter is 13 now, and she’s been playing World of Warcraft, at this point, since she was 7, actively plays Minecraft as well as the (clearly misunderstood by people posting) game Skyrim pictured above. She excels at math and science, has been reading books well beyond her years her entire life, regularly partakes in stage musicals, has plenty of friends, and of course being 13 drives me and my ex-wife bonkers. In other words, some ways she’s just your average young teen, while academically she’s ahead of the “curve”.

    Now, do I attribute who she is becoming to her video game playing? No. Not even a little. I attribute it to her upbringing, to her nature/personality, and to her being cared for, paid attention to, spoken to, praised when she does well and punished when she’s a stinker. I’ve been playing video games almost since there HAS been video games, and even at 44 I still play them. As yet I haven’t gone running through a crowded place shooting at innocent people. Why? Because while I had just as messed up a life as anyone, I was loved and raised well by my parents.

    VIDEO GAMES are not to “blame” for some kid/person going bonkers and shooting people or committing crimes. Are parents to blame? Personally my opinion is yes. Of course, there could also be chemical imbalances to be sure, but if a child is being raised in a house full of turmoil and hate, even if they don’t play video games, they’re going to have problems. If a child has a mental imbalance that’s chemical/genetic, they’re going to have problems. But this little kid pictured above playing Skyrim, is that “rated M for mature” going to mean in a few years he’ll be wandering about slashing at people with swords? No, particularly considering that his parents clearly pay attention to him, set limits, and love him. The suggestions here that his video game playing is going to “harm” him somehow is not only unfounded, but sheer buffoonery.

    • C.E. Frederick

      Glad to see this comment is at the top. Parents who freak out over this kind of stuff instead of providing guidance along with access are too blind to realize their kids are getting it anyway online or at a friend’s house.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shefiguresitout Sarah Duncan

    Loved this story!

    First of all, Tully is adorable, and I love what he said about games vs homework: “They [games] are kind of educational. They require me to think; unlike some homework.” I think he should become WBUR’s youngest commentator and share more of his perspective on things from time to time.

    Secondly, I’ve long thought educators and video game makers should get together and leverage video games for teaching while keeping them every bit as entertaining as they already are. I’ve long wondered why school has to be done in such a dry and boring way instead of making it fun. I personally loved almost everything about school, but most of my peers did not. It seems like it would be so easy to make games that take place using 3d footage from actual cities far from where the students live, use actual historical events where the students play the part of a participant, teach foreign languages in a really fun, interactive way, etc etc etc.

    Finally, I recently visited my nephews, who I don’t see very often. They’re very absorbed in Minecraft. I like this facebook comment on the subject by my brother:
    My 6 year old – Dad I want a hoe for my birthday.
    Dad’s thoughts…..Christmas is barely over, a Hoe????what kind?????
    Dad – What do you want a hoe for?
    Luke – Did dig up seeds and plant them
    I guess not all video games are bad, for those of you who don’t get it, that is my 6 year old being addicted to minecraft and learning to be a farmer or miner.

    • martye

      Yeah, totally adorable to see an 8-year-old child play an age inappropriate game. Will we see them drink beer next?

      • http://twitter.com/Siantlark Siantlark

        :/ Minecraft… Inappropriate… What? Do you know what Minecraft is? Have you played it? Do you even play games? Do you look at what your kids play? Have you even seen a VIDEO of Minecraft?

        • Responsible Adult

          I think martye was referring to Skyrim and not Minecraft.

  • old mama

    Fascinating and well done — but this appears to be only about male gamers: every gamer you discuss is male and (as in so much research!) females are invisible. You should say it when your research and findings are about only males, instead of assuming what we learn about them is also automatically true of females. It is entirely possible that there are significant differences between the genders when it comes to choice of games, level of interest, long-term brain development, addiction, etc.

    • careyg

      Such a good point. Boys do tend to play video games much more than girls, but several people have made similar comments and now I want to do a follow-up piece on those gender differences…Please stay tuned!

      • KGN

        Great piece, asking questions I have often had myself. Regarding a follow-up looking at gender difference, I would be interested to hear about 1) how the genders of the main characters in popular role playing games impact boys and girls (are there an equal number of strong female roles to play?) and 2) how gendered portrayals of male vs. female characters in the games affect a child’s developing sense of their own and other’s gender identity (are games reinforcing negative gender stereotypes?) What I’ve heard about the portrayal and treatment of female characters in Grand Theft Auto makes my head spin.

      • Kabc Gabc

        The only gender difference is in the pants – there is NO difference between girls’ and boys’ brains, just cultural and family influences that twist us to think so. Mothers are no better or more important than fathers. Men are not smarter than women, and women are not smarter than men. Gender differences are pushed for the same reason as the “inferior Negroid” was pushed – there is NO difference between any people of any particular descent, and there is NO difference between men and women. And until people like you realize it, there will never be “equality” for women because YOU don’t want it.

    • Kabc Gabc

      No, there isn’t much of a difference in choices. Anyone with a shred of intellect picks similar games.

    • careyg

      Brief follow-up: Our fantastic colleague Tina Barseghian at KQED (her Mindshift blog is must-reading for anyone who cares about kids and tech) has done two highly relevant posts on this topic:

      Girls and Games: What’s the Attraction?


      And in 2011: Video Games Built Just For Girls


  • Barbara Moran

    This is a thoughtful piece on a touchy subject. Thank you!

  • Responsible Adult

    What are you doing letting your 8 year old played Skyrim?!?! If he went into a store and tried to buy it they would not sell it to him. It is rated M for mature.

    Do you also take your son to Tarantino movies? Maybe pack his school lunch box with a bottle of whisky, a Hustler magazine, and a pack of cigarettes? Pardon me, but at least insofar as you let him play Skyrim, you are an irresponsible parent.

    Try Pokemon. If you want him to learn to think try the Professor Layton series, the Broken Sword series, Gabriel Knight series, Tex Murphy series, and the LucasArts games by Tim Shaffer, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, not to mention the long running Nancy Drew series; then there’s The Last Express. So so many titles that involve plot and problem solving, not killing. Those are what kids should be playing.

    • Kabc Gabc

      Skyrim is not that bad, have you played it? The movie at the beginning was by far the worst part of the violence.

      • Responsible Adult

        Yes I have played untold hours of Skyrim. I have nothing against Skyrim for adults; Bethsoft is brilliant; but it is not for 8 year old children.

    • deanrd7

      Yeah plant your kid in front of the TV to watch mindless cartoons instead like the “responsible adults”.

      • Responsible Adult

        No in fact I do not. I pointed out that cartoon violence and realistic violence are extremely different.

  • http://twitter.com/MikeLICSW Mike Langlois, LICSW

    Hi Carey, great article. One thing that may be a little off though is the comment that boys tend to play more video games than girls do. The research from Pew Internet Project indicates that while 97% of boys play video games, 94% of girls do, which is pretty close. While I don’t recall that the survey drilled down into data about amount of time spent playing, it seems that boys tending to play more is a thing of the past. Thanks for writing about this topic! Mike Langlois, LICSW

  • Info

    I see the “think of the children!” scolds have made their appearance, eager to condemn the horrible parents who let their children play Skyrim! The fact that they know nothing about it doesn’t seem to slow them down.

    People, Skyrim is not that violent. PG-13 at best. The blood and gore are quite minimal, actually. By design, the children in the game cannot be harmed in any way. If the player chooses, they can play the game without having to kill any human beings at all (well, perhaps one or two evil necromancers, but still.) Sometimes it’s way more fun to outwit them; create a diversion, pick-pocket their key, and sneak past. Or charm them with a spell. It’s fantasy.

    The imagery is no more violent than Star Wars, and less so than the Grimm fairytales (aged Wiccan ladies cannibalizing children, for gosh sakes!) If your child is 12 and up in maturity level, they’ll be fine. If someone can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy at that age, they have other problems, irrespective of the type of media.

    Games like Call of Duty, which involve killing on a “realistic” battlefield are far creepier, in my mind. They are rooted in actual, recent history (WW II, etc.) and portray violence in an all too jingoistic manner, in my opinion. They’re kind of the spiritual successors to those awful Golan-Globus films from the 80′s. A little too close to real life violence and war to make for tasteful entertainment, in my mind. They make great recruitment tools, though. If you are worried about violence in the media, consider educating yourself about the close relationship between the Pentagon and (some) movie- and video game companies.

    • Responsible Adult

      I am one of those people and I know Skyrim very well. As Skyrim’s rating indicates it is utterly inappropriate for an 8 year old child, a second grader.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004372931370 Pablo J. Gonzalez

      My son is now 14 and when he asked us about buying Skyrim (at age 13) because his friend had it, we had a look at it and said “No”. The violence was too up close and too personal. Though he played other violence oriented games, we thought this crossed the line for our comfort level. He will be 15 soon and has not persisted in asking for the game again. He plays a lot of muliti-player Minecraft while Skyping and a couple of other more war-oriented games. And as a note, most of his game time is spent with friends in the room or while Skyping, constantly communicating, scheming, planning, etc. He does not like sports (he never has, even before gaming) but he does a lot of outdoor activities with the family. If he asks for Skyrim again soon, at 15, we will probably oblige.

  • Responsible Adult

    It is worth noting that the Bethsoft Site for Skyrim requires entry of a birthdate to bar those under 17 from entering the site. As easy as it is to lie and get in anyway, it shows Bethsoft’s own awareness that the game isn’t appropriate for younger kids.

    In addition, for those wondering the specifics of why Skyrim received an M for Mature raiting (not for sale to anyone under 17) here is an explanation from Escapist Magazine, which credits Eurogamer for the story. No individual author is credited or I would have given that here.

    The below is pasted from The Escapist with my one comment in brackets [] –

    Start of copy-and-paste–
    “As players engage in melee-style combat, some sequences are highlighted by slow-motion effects, particularly for decapitations,” the official report [from those responsible for giving the official M rating] reads. “Large blood-splatter effects also occur during combat, and some environments are stained with blood or body parts (e.g., heads impaled on spikes). Some sequences allow players to injure/kill non-adversary characters [I can confirm this], including prisoners chained to a wall; they scream in pain amid splashes of blood or fire.”

    It then continues: “As the game progresses, the dialogue and on-screen text contains references to sexual material (e.g., “. . . all the whores your heart, or any other organ, desires,” “She . . . raped the men as cruelly as Bal had ravished her,” and “Remember when you thought [he] was . . . intent on making you . . . into his personal sex slave?”).”
    -End of copy and paste.

    –While I believe this is all well and good for adults, I think anyone who believes this is suitable for an 8 year old should have his head examined.

    • Alex

      I hope when her kid turns into a serial killer, he comes and gets you first.

  • KayMay

    “We could really use some more good data.” No, that’s not what you need. You need to trust yourself as a parent and turn off the games.

  • BoneToPick

    Is it just me or was most of this article focused on male gamers and the impact of gaming on them? I and many of my friends have been playing video games all our lives, including many Mature and/or controversial games, yet no one has questioned the impact on us. No one wonders if our poor decisions were a result of gaming.

    So we’re playing many games that boys play (not all of us play digital dress-up!). Yet we aren’t known for our aggressive behavior. Could that be a sign that gaming isn’t the end all influence of young men’s behavior?

    (granted I could be completely off-base and there are women who are so perverted by gaming that they commit unspeakable acts – yet we’re still not reporting or investigating them?)

  • circuitbent

    Can someone please tell me the song at the end? Really digging that 8-bit/hip-hop mash-up.

  • John Wayne

    Whatever happened to “parenting”? Let’s start there. Time to put parents in jail for the actions of their underage children. I see a trend of kids still living at home past 25 years old. Here is there choice. Join the military or get a job in a trade.
    Tough love. Time to kick the dragon slaying birds out the nest.

  • john

    Bottom line.
    The very reason we are concerned about games – violence relationship, we must understand, BECAUSE OF EXCESS VIOLENCE IN OUR COUNTRY. The issue is not violence in our lives per-se. It is the fact that its TOO MUCH.

    Ask yourself. if we were not a violent nation, would we be having that big a concern about games being violent. NO. Violence is a part of our life and will always be, in our music, drama, etc.

    Therefore, to the extent that games could corrupt the mind of the young (which is a very volatile system) we should continue to monitor for things that are excessive. But, the main issues remain, parenting, gun culture, etc that are the real causes of the EXCESS in violence.

  • 12banjo

    Video games are show business and if Ralph Nader calls them child molesters I laugh with delight.

  • jockamo

    Why does this article not mention female gamers at all?

  • Hunter Labbe

    Super Mario Bros Mele!

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