There’s an interesting article up on MSNBC right now regarding kids and online gaming. Some highlights:
Game experiences “can be quite valuable from the standpoint of civic and political engagement.”
Video games can provide hands-on learning opportunities for kids that can be much more meaningful than reading a textbook. For instance, you can play a mayor in “SimCity,” and get a close-up look at what it takes to build and maintain a community.
Helping a newbie get his sea legs in a game simulates the real-world experience of volunteering. And playing games online can expose kids to people with worldviews that differ from their own — in positive and negative ways.
Many of the of the 1,102 teenagers polled said they’d encountered hostility, racism and sexism while playing online — stuff that can certainly happen offline too, says Kahne. “Just as some playground experiences are enriching and some are unpleasant for young people, one can imagine that that would be true in the game world.”
I’ve played games “online” for two decades (I used to play Populous against people over dial-up back in the 80s). I’ve played pretty much every category of game online, from real-time strategy (aka RTS, like StarCraft or Command and Conquer) to first-person shooter (aka FPS, like Doom, Quake, or my current fave Call of Duty 4) to casual games (like Hearts, Spades, Scrabulous). And while I can’t claim to be excellent at any of them, it’s certainly clear that I’ve wasted many many hours of my life so far.
After reading the MSNBC article I couldn’t help but wonder how much video game playing the researchers had done. First, comparing any aspect of SimCity to running real cities is like comparing playing Call of Duty 4 to, say, war. I’d say the most practical skills I’ve gained from video games include my abilities to use a bucket of water to catch rapidly dropped bombs, I’m pretty damn awesome at shooting down evil catpeople in spaceships, and I’ve always been more cautious around @’s, D’s and L’s than I am near o’s and g’s (bonus points to anyone who can name all three games).
Also, the comments about helping newbies are very domain-specific. There are some games where this is true, but I’d say the majority of n00bs (as they are actually called) pretty much have to fend for themselves or have a real-life friend come over. Playing Call of Duty 4, for example, has near-constant mockery of anyone making basically any mistake, or even using certain weapons. Playing RTS games, on the other hand, you are more likely to get some constructive help/tips, but this generally comes long after being demolished in the first 10 minutes of the game. I am not a World-of-Warcraft player, but I’d assume that’s an easier place to make friends.
I think it’s also pretty clear that the researchers haven’t spent much time on Xbox Live, which is the den of monsters as far as terrible online behavior is concerned. I’ve never heard such a quantity of hate-filled kids (and sometimes adults, but mostly kids) in a room, and it’s clearly language they’d never use off-line. There’s something very wrong about the amazing level of anonymity the Xbox Live experience presents, as I sincerely doubt we have a generation of evil-minded children running around the country. But I do ponder the particular home scenarios for these kids, and wonder about their unsupervised and more importantly, uneducated time online.
A few years from now my wife and I will have to decide about what we’ll be comfortable with in our home regarding Internet use, which will specifically include gaming. I think it’ll be important for us to teach responsibility and general codes of conduct. I’ve never felt the ability nor desire to become a racist arrogant sexist moron while playing video games online. But maybe that’s because when I was a 14-year-old gamer, I didn’t have 35-year-olds to beat up on all day and all night.