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.
I’ve tried to get into online gaming, but always encounter two issues. The first is the hostility that you point out. To a certain extent this is a problem for other things (like blogging and message boards) that also allows for anonymity, but you’re right about Xbox being a sewer. The second issue that I run into is that online isn’t well suited for the casual gamer. Even the games that I’m good at, I get schooled in and it sucks all of the fun out of the game when you are winning less then 10% of the time. I’m not sure how others are able to get help from the more seasoned players, but have found that they are more interested in blowing me out of the water then in helping me get better.
A while back, I think that you had suggested a casual gamer community or maybe it was an over 40 league and I think that that could really help. 14 year olds are the ones who have the time to get good at a game and their behavior reflects their age. If I had an opportunity to go up against other working stiffs who want to relax after a hard day’s work, I think it would be a more enjoyable experience. As is, online gaming is less of an option for me now because I’m not willing to pay $15 a month for 6 hours of entertainment on a game like WOW and I’m not willing to pay Xbox anything because the experience is so frustrating.
Kaboom and Wing Commander engaged more of my formative years than certain school grades. Who can forget the joy of editing autoexec.bat and config.sys files so that you could get such incredible game enhancements as seeing the pilot’s hand moving my ship’s stick? My pilot, the cleverly named “CatSlayer,” was the envy of the Tiger’s claw.
On topic, I played CoD online for about ten minutes before I realized that getting head sniped by racist pre-teens just wasn’t the charge I was looking for. That followed a 30-minute exploration of Gears of War, an experience enhanced not only by getting chainsawed every 45 seconds, but also the constant racial slurs.
There are reasons I play Rock Band, by myself, at home.
Davis, in some of the ZNF comments and the TCF I’ve seen at least one or two mentions of adult gaming groups – I assume it would limit some of the silliness.
I traded in my Xbox for a PS3 and the Xbox at least allowed me to rate asses and in extreme cases report them. No such feature on the PS3 as far as I can tell. I’ve been playing CoD4 and SOCOM withOUT my headset – less community feel, but less stupid people.
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