Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gamer Chick

As my friend and neighbor reminded me, I haven't updated this for a while.  There's so much I could write about: Julia found her thumb and sucks it now, she's almost completely lifting her head up, and her and I have little laughing contests.  She's really much more interactive than she was, and she seems to discover something new every day.
So why am I writing about gaming?  Those of you who know me know that I'm not much of a gamer (now there's an understatement).  I just never really understood the allure of video games versus something like running or reading a good book or watching a cheesy romantic comedy.
But for father's day, I bought my husband this little onesie for Julia (it says Gamer Chick), and I thought it would be cute to put her in Ben's chair and give her one of his controllers:
Julia loved it, and this started me thinking about gaming and the way Ben and his friends feel about it.  So I decided to read up on it and read this article:
It's a really interesting article, but I'll just comment on a few main points.  I, too, used to share that stereotype of games as isolating, Rickets-causing, violence-inducing activities.  Yet what I see from Ben and his friends is that they are indeed "intensely social."  Since his closer friends and his brother live far away, he uses games as a way to connect and talk with them.  And what really impresses me about this version of socializing is that it's done at home, often with other family members around.  Ben's brother's wife might be watching, and his friend's children are often around, audible in the background.  When I lived in Hungary, one of my friends used to go out with us, leaving his wife at home alone to care for the baby.  This activity is done in the context of the home- of family- and is so much healthier than binge drinking or eating copious amounts of pork rinds at a sports game.
The point about visual-spatial skills, "which are typically less developed in girls," is also well-taken.  I myself suck at reading maps, putting together furniture, or coordinating which way my video game character is looking vs. which way he/she is moving (it doesn't help that I grew up in the era of Donkey Kong).  Especially for kids like Julia, these skills are incredibly important, as gross motor function might be delayed.
The place where I get tripped up is thinking about types of games.  So, for instance, we just got a new Kinect, which I enjoy playing with.  I also like Rock Band, and I tend to like puzzle games like Angry Birds.  But what about a game like Grand Theft Auto or Halo or the current favorite, Dead Again?  I have to admit that all of the shooting, the gore, the constant violence just turns me off.  Yet this study claims that exposure to fear is beneficial to children if they learn how to work through it:

                        " Victorian-era parents acknowledged that children would inevitably confront fear-inducing situations; the prevailing view was that learning to face or even master fear could improve character. “Good” modern parents are supposed to limit their children’s exposure to “negative” emotions, including fear, rather than celebrating their ability to cope with and overcome fear."
I agree that Victorian and Romantic-era fairy tales are far more gorey than the sanitized versions we share with children today.  I also agree that teaching a child to "cope with and overcome fear" is really healthy and necessary, but I'm not sure I get how games would do this?  And I'm not sure "fear" would be the dominant emotion- the one expressed earlier in the article is "aggression," which seems to far better fit the bill.  Maybe some of my gamer friends can help me out and comment on this.
Last but not least is the issue of gender.  I do wish that female characters weren't hypersexualized.  While I'm glad they are becoming more powerful, a young girl shouldn't have to grow up seeing female power as affiliated with having huge breasts or a tiny little waist.  Since more and more girls are playing video games, I wonder whether this will change.  Maybe we will evolve to genderless characters, characters who don't impose masculine or feminine, able or dis-abled, values on the players?  That would be a true method of escaping society's constricting norms.
I clearly have more questions than answers, but I at least realize that the issue is a complex one.  One thing I know for sure: I want Julia to grow up to be a kind, giving, accepting person.  When I think about the people with whom my husband plays, they are some of the most giving people I know.  Lee will patiently explain to me the rules of a game, and he will equally patiently give me a hug or listen if I'm upset.  Greg is equally giving, and his game-playing actually fits with his interest in medieval history and literature.  My friend Cassie is a gamer, and she too can put herself in so many people's shoes, assuming (as it were) different avatars.  And I've already written about Maggie, who is so patient when she watches Lee play games.  I wish I could be as selfless in supporting Ben's interests, and I would be proud if Julia grew up to be like them.
So despite my misgivings and my questions, I'm willing to see that gaming does offer lots of positives.  It might not be like running, which is painful at first and gives rewards much later...although now that I think about it, learning to play video games must also be a long, frustrating process.  It's probably even better than watching cheesy, mind-melting romantic comedies, and I do enjoy those.  If she chooses gaming as something she enjoys, I know I will support and take pride in my little "gamer chick."

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