Family

Video games have literally been around for more than 60 years. Many credit Bertie the Brain, a tic-tac-toe game created for the 1950 Canadian National Exhibition, as the first. Video games became mainstream when Pong was the first mass-produced arcade game in 1972, the same year Magnavox introduced its Odyssey gaming system, the first system hooked up to a television. 

In 1977, Atari® released its own gaming system, spawning a glut of competitors and an eventual industry crash in 1983. In 1984, Russian Alexey Pajitnov introduced Tetris®, a puzzle game which remains the highest-selling title ever (170 million), one of two video games to sell more than 100 million units. Minecraft (144 million), which was released in 2011, is the other. 

Since the early days of video games, both gaming systems and games have become more high-tech and popular. According to statista.com, in 2016, the U.S. had 200 million gamers, a group which spent $36 billion in 2017.

Today’s parents are challenged with the task of balancing gaming in a child’s life. How long should kids be able to play games? What games are appropriate for their age groups? Will they end up spending money even if they are playing a “free” game? Are kids mature enough to separate reality from a game world?

The Dark Side of Gaming

Parents and spouses of avid gamers and others who do not play often wonder what detrimental effects gaming has on players. Following the tragic mass shooting at Colo.’s Columbine High School in 1999, one underlying storyline was the possible role first-person shooter games Doom and Quake might have played in influencing the shooters. After similar incidents, the potential role of video games in shooters’ lives has been debated ad nauseum, a proposed link between games and violence many longtime gamers dispute. 

Frisco resident Rob Baptie has been gaming for more than two decades and remembers what great stress relief games provided when he worked a job driving a truck for 10 or more hours a day. “That kind of sentiment (that games are always to blame for violence) is ridiculous,” Mr. Baptie says. “At the end of the day, I would go home and play a violent video game. Why? Because it kept me from doing that in real life. It was a great stress reliever.”

John Hardie, a co-founder of the National Videogame Museum, which opened in 2016 inside the Frisco Discovery Center, agrees video games are often a scapegoat when tragedies occur. “This may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe people use video games as a crutch for when things do not go the way they expect them to,” Mr. Hardie shares. “In my opinion, it comes back to parenting. How are you parenting your kids? It is easy to say, ‘Well, they are acting up because they are involved in video games,’ but who is letting them play? Up to a certain age, you have control as to how often they play and what types of games they play.”

Holly M. Lockett, a Frisco-based licensed professional counselor (LPC) who sees more young people addicted to video games than before, agrees parents need to be aware what games their children are playing, how much they are playing and who they are playing with. “I am a parent and I practice what I preach,” Ms. Lockett says. “I tell parents they need to check out their profiles and be in their social media and gaming world for two reasons. One: we must know what our kids are up to. Two: it connects us with our kids. If our kids think we have an interest and support them, they are going to be way more open to talking to us if they have somebody bullying them online.”

When a parent brings their child to Ms. Lockett for video game addiction, the first thing she does is determine the root cause of this addiction through several basic questions. “What we really try to look at more than anything is ‘why?’ What are kids getting out of it? They will all tell you it is a great escape,” Ms. Lockett says. “They can be whoever they want to be online whenever they make their profile and it is easier to make friends that way.”

A Force for Good

What are the benefits of gaming? The most obvious positive is improved hand-eye coordination. However, gaming also bolsters problem-solving skills, memory, math skills and attention to detail, depending upon the complexity of the games being played. “Depending on what you play, you are looking at either problem-solving, planning, execution, follow through, various things,” Mr. Baptie says. “If you play MMOs (massive multiplayer online games), you play with a guild, clans, etc. A lot of what you learn is planning, teamwork, working with others and execution.”

Mr. Hardie, who is in his 50s, agrees improved hand-eye coordination is the biggest benefit for the younger generation, but admits his age group can also benefit since gaming helps keep their minds sharp. “The whole connection between your brain and your hands, doing everything and being aware leads into multitasking. Once you improve those skills, you start to be able to maneuver through a maze or do other things while you are aware of your surroundings, operating two different things at once. I always like to call it ‘getting in the zone.’ You have a task and you are focused on that, but, at the same time, your peripheral vision is going and you are aware of your surroundings. Definitely a big benefit.”

For Ms. Lockett, the social side of gaming can be a big positive for younger players. “If you have trouble making friends in person, it is a whole lot easier to try out some things when you are online because if you screw up or you stumble over your words, you never have to talk to them again,” Ms. Lockett says. “Then, you get this innocent do-over. I think that can be a positive. We live in a very achievement-based society, so anything that can give kids a sense of ‘hey, I did this,’ is a positive.”

Ryan Hockemeyer, 20, and an avid gamer who primarily plays Fortnite, feels one of gaming’s underrated benefits is improved reaction time. “I think, depending on the game, that it can really increase your reaction time. I know a lot of athletes who play video games and I know a lot of dancers who play video games. I think it can really help in that aspect.”

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that gaming boils down to moderation — a healthy diversion provided it does not interfere with real-life responsibilities.