Tonight 60 Minutes Australia aired a piece pretty egregious story that focused on gaming addiction in Australian kids. If you’re a parent of a child who loves gaming, particularly games like Fortnite, you may have found some commonality in the experiences covered in the show, so consider this an open letter to parents.
During the segment, we met a series of parents, most of which have their own issues, that struggled to get their kids off games. These same parents paid for the game, for the console, for the TV and who continue to pay each month for the internet connection their kids use to play online.
The struggle often comes from a generation of parents who didn’t grow up with video games and look at the issue from outside, who don’t understand it and often try to ban it, or artificially restrict it.
Games are engineered for replayability and some element of addictiveness with reward systems for investing hours a day into them. From a gamer’s perspective the games are fun, they enable you to escape from reality for a while and engage in a world that is far from their own. This is particularly appealing to those who have difficult circumstances happening around them in the real world.
If kids are in the middle of a marriage breakup, or they’re getting bullied at school, or struggle making friends face-to-face, then gaming is a natural, comfortable home for them.
What was not covered in the story, was the amazing benefits that gaming offers, like learning collaboration, team work and how socialising online is just the modern method of talking with friends at night. Where gaming crosses the line is where the child isn’t engaging at any level with family, with friends or particularly when they are absent from school.
Logan was a kid who had ‘refused’ to go to school for 2 years. This is unacceptable. School is not optional, it teaches you the skills you need for life and parents who allow their child to miss school are really short changing them in life.
Here’s where most parents go wrong. As a parent, you need to understand games, playing them yourselves is a great way to do that, even if you don’t enjoy it, if you’re going to engage your child in conversations about gaming, then you need to speak their language.
Many parents don’t understand the natural break points in games that are practical opportunities to exit the game. Often parents set arbitrary times where the kid is yanked out of the game, wifi turned off, or even the power plug pulled out. Naturally this is going to result in an eruption of emotion from the child, so you shouldn’t be surprised to have a fight on your hand if this has been your tactic.
If you knew Fortnite or PUBG, you’d know the game is a Battle Royale style, 100-player battle to the death and to have the best chances you enter the arena with online friends to team up against the world. Rounds are over not when the clock shows a round number, but when you get killed. Players are likely to want to stick around until their team is all out.
It’s at this point the kid has an opportunity to opt out of the game, however this often needs to be pre-arranged as teams go into battle together. The point here is to have the conversation about gaming with your child, don’t call up 60 minutes and complain how you have a bastard child that’s been lost forever to a gaming addiction, that’s complete rubbish.
Personally I grew up with gaming and my early years were spent first on the NES, then on the Nintendo 64, Gameboy, followed by PC. I learnt from an early age that if I wanted to get new games, I needed to work to pay for them, so quickly turned to babysitting and house work to pay for them. This taught me about finances, responsibilities outside gaming and generally how life works.
In terms of where the gaming happened in the home, that was almost exclusively in common areas like the lounge room. Sure in my teenage years, I had a PC in my room, but I then played games like Return to Zork that taught me about adventure and how your actions can have an influence on the outcome. By the time Duke Nukem 3D had arrived, I was getting creative with a level editor.
Gaming has evolved to a much more connected experience, but that connectedness comes from one central point.. your router. That means if you bother to educate yourself about what options lie inside it, you can have control over internet access in your home.
If your child knows internet goes off at 8PM each night, they won’t bother committing to their friends that they’ll be on till 10PM, because they know it’s technically not possible. This can only happen with open communication about why you’re limiting access and discussions around when those restrictions will be lifted (i.e. certain age or maturity level).
Raising kids isn’t easy, but parents should never forget, you ultimately have control over how that happens in your home. The answer will never be to go on TV and get a TV doctor to come up with a fake diagnosis about how your kid has killed their brain and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Please, talk to your kids about their online use and how they could be investing their time wisely (learning everything about the world) that’ll pay dividends in the future. Don’t be afraid to let them play (age appropriate) games, it can do wonders to develop them as people. Online friends are real friends, never forget that. Games are awesome and if you’re trying to sell them on kicking a ball outside, you better have great justification for why that’s a better use of their time.
If nothing else, what you should ask your child is have they ever thought about what went into creating their favourite game and if they’d like to consider that as a career. Helping them understand there’s nothing different about them and the game creators, other than knowledge which is now easily obtainable with content like Udemy, along with passion, which is a decision they are in control of.
Also I’m not sure if you’ve noticed what’s happening with eSports lately, but it’s exploding. If your kid turns out to buy you a house one day, I think you’ll probably be ok with their addiction to games. Just pay attention, find balance and encourage them to be the best in everything they apply themselves to.