When you think of a gamer with kids, what comes to mind? Some might think of a cool parent, enjoying games with their children, while others might think of an irresponsible parent, ignoring their kids in lieu of Call of Duty, Warcraft or (heaven forbid) Farmville. If you asked someone who knew very little about video games or gaming as a whole, the response you receive might be an upturned nose, or a proclamation that anyone who plays games past their teenage years is immature and irresponsible.
Why is that the case, though? The portrayal of anything to do with fun lately has had housewives and people with too much time on their hands in general up in arms over anyone not living the dream life: kids, a soul-sucking job, a house your corpse will still be paying off, and so on. These roles are older than some of the old comics I have from the 1950s, and equally as absurd when it comes to modern society.
That’s not to say that everything is sunshine and roses for gamer-parents and their little crotch goblins. One of the most notorious cases reported in the media involved a Korean couple who let their real baby starve to death while raising an online baby in the game Prius. The familiar story of neglectful parenting has been a subject of controversy when it comes to not only gaming, but even Korean culture. Valerie Veatch, who directed the 2012 film Me @ the Zoo, produced another film called Love Child. The film took a hard look at the tragedy and how parenting has changed in Korean culture. The parents met online via the now defunct Prius, and Love Child documented how they applied the skills they learned in the game towards their child. Naturally, such skills were not even remotely enough to care for a high maintenance pet, much less a tiny, helpless human being.
The Prius affair aside, there have not been many cases thus far of neglectful or abusive parenting happening as a result of gaming or video game addiction. Some webcomics have poked fun at a parent who was screaming obscenities and ignoring their child while playing Call of Duty, as well as the addictive nature of games and how easy it can be to lose time while playing them. The general disposition is that gaming can be an incredible, worthwhile experience as much as it can be a vice. This isn’t unique to gaming, however, and seems to be true of any hobby or passion. Too much of anything can be detrimental, yet many huffy soccer moms are quick to point to violent or sexualized games for the apparent corruption of children today.
Here’s the thing: not only have studies shown there are numerous positive effects for children who play video games, but it can be as much of a bonding experience as taking your son fishing or your daughter shopping (as the stereotypes go) used to be. Sources such as Psych Central, Daily Tech, and even professors such as John L. Sherry at Michigan State University, have noted that children who play games get benefits such as: critical thinking, emotional outlets, educational benefits and social development. This might all seem like nonsense, but people have to take a hard look at the quality of parenting all over the world before pointing the finger at cartoons, video games or even lack of religion. It’s easy to pretend we’d live in a utopian world if there was no sex, violence or anything remotely offensive to the conservative Christian or nuclear family to be seen anywhere. The repression in this sentiment is not only set in the ’50s, but it’s been shown to be absolutely ineffective in almost all cases.
A parent who will not talk about sex, violence, emotions or anything that the world might one day throw at their children, shouldn’t be surprised when their kid finds out on their own and makes their own decision. Using a sexual education program that teaches abstinence instead of safe sex, for example, has only produced a rise in teen pregnancy and STDs over the last few years. While this doesn’t pertain to games, the point stands that ignorance, close-mindedness and denial leaves the child ill-prepared to deal with anything in the real world.
A parent who can sit down and game with their children or at least keep it as a casual hobby may not be an ideal parent either. The truth is, no matter the hobby or vice, parents are all different and their parenting methods do not depend on what they do with their time.
What I question is, who is the more irresponsible parent? The parent that refuses to teach anything beyond the regurgitated shit they’ve learned from their parents, the news, and their pastors and leave their child unequipped for the adventure ahead, or the parent who games with their kids?
The social stigma needs to change or be closely examined. I’d personally take a dad who kicked my ass at Tekken any day over the one that did raise me, but again, the hobby doesn’t define the parent or their relationship with the child. In the end of all this rambling, I think what we need to re-evaluate is who we are turning our noses up at and who is doing the most harm before judging the easier target.