Today we are talking video games. It’s a subject that comes up as often as what math curriculum to use. Ben, Harrison (our almost 13-year-old son) and I had a conversation about them. To listen to the podcast, subscribe to The Modern Homeschooler podcast! Here’s a blog post based on our conversation.
Ben grew up on an apple farm. He spent his days doing homeschooling and then working on the farm. He also spent hours playing video games. Since the mid-1990s Ben has been on the bleeding edge of technology. He started his love for tech as a teenager, working at an internet provider store as tech support. 25 years later, has something to say about video gaming. For the past 19 years, Ben has worked at the power company. His job is to ensure the phone and networking data systems functionality and are secure; a.k.a. he is one of the men who control the physical power of the Pacific Northwest- because power is controlled, bought, and sold via the internet these days. 😊
What is the bleeding edge of technology? It’s the unproven, first release of technology. Meaning, we pay a lot of money for the first edition of electronics! Haha! Frequently, Ben knows about something new before anyone else does. Also, it means Ben is an Alpha and Beta tester for industry-wide electronics. Said all this to say, if you want an extreme example of using technology in a family, welcome to the Nickles’ household! Ha!
More than anything else, a homeschooling mom is wondering: are video games mind-numbing? Will allowing her children to play them affect her kid’s mental function in learning?
Believe it or not, video gaming has been shown to increase physical gray matter in the brain. It literally makes your brain bigger, in the best way possible. (read the article here)
Here’s a list of things that Ben personally knows he has experienced with video gaming (and some articles for further reading!)
- Fact learning opportunities. Adelaide mentioned she didn’t know that sand turns into glass after blasting it with heat. Thank you Minecraft. There’s a lot of stories like that with my kids!
- Problem solving. Creating a plan and executing it to win a game is a lot harder than us moms give the games credit for. I can’t win a game to save my life! It can be very difficult to strategize and find a solution. Think of all the different ways problem solving and detailed thought processes are needed in life.
- Social interaction. Harrison loves chatting with his buddies online. Most boys aren’t going to MarcoPolo their friends or talk for hours on the phone. Harrison is a conversationalist and LOVES talking with his buddies. The most approachable way to do that is while building a city in Minecraft together. They talk about life and school, right along with building. In Destiny2, Ben and Harrison have found a Christian clan to join. They have to give their testimony online when they join the group, so the group can know that the new member is a believer, who wants to stay above reproach in their actions. They have had many wonderful conversations about the Bible and Christian living all while killing the bad guys in the video game.
- Conflict resolution and team work. If there is one thing to test patience and graciousness, it is boys playing video games! Learning to communicate lovingly while not being face-to-face with someone is a massive skill that needs to be addressed. Emails, texts, and social media are a hornet’s nest of miscommunication due to not talking in person. This can be taught through video games. I’d much rather have my son on video games than social media any day!
- Fast Multitasking. Talking to friends, trying to fight the bad guys, and listening to Mom ask a question from upstairs requires a lot of multitasking! That is a great skill in the workplace. Ben frequently gets complimented on his ability to do multiple things at once.
- Jobs that require extreme hand-eye coordination. Surgeons who use robots to perform surgeries; flying drones for weapons in the military (many of them use the actual Xbox or PlayStation controller for these) and flight simulator creators for teaching pilots to fly, are just a few jobs where gamers have one up on their non-gaming playing peers.
Many like to complain how today’s video games are addictive. It is easy to say this because it’s true! Old video games were boring. There was little problem solving or interaction with others. The technology was so new, they couldn’t make the games complex. Today’s tech is so advanced, we now have virtual reality games where people feel like they are in the game! We compare this to a 4-hour intense board game of Settlers with all the expansions and a simple game of cards that you can do with your 6 year old while eating lunch. The two don’t equate. Kids today want to play video games longer because they simply take longer to solve a problem. They require a lot more thought. Yes, it would be hard to stop a game when you haven’t solved all of the problems in the game. As Christians, we believe men need to be the leader of the home. Being a leader tends to lend itself to being a problem solver. Just like a woman would say, “I couldn’t put that book down!!” or religiously watching a favorite t.v. show is the same as “10 more minutes of video games”. Yes, a child needs to be ok turning off a video game, but if they are struggling with turning it off, you need to ask yourself why that is. Do they love problem solving or storytelling and do they have another activity that will fill this innate desire?
Storytelling. This brings us to reading books. The almighty ideal of every homeschooler! LOL
What’s the difference between story telling and problem solving in a video game and reading a classic novel? The video game architects create a fictional story that you interact with. A writer creates a fictional story that you interact with. But how you interact with it is different.
Harrison appreciates video games because he is a storyteller. He wants to control the narrative. With a book, he has no say over how the story line progresses. With a video game, he is actively participating in creating the story. If you are reading a fiction book; we don’t see a difference between a movie, book, play, or video game. For school, Harrison writes critical thinking papers on his thoughts in a particular dilemma in the book. In a video game, he decides and acts on the dilemma.
High reading comprehension can come with playing video games. When playing video games, you can not miss a step. If you skip over things, you will loose. You must follow directions, read the manual, or watch how-to video to help with the quest. To be technical, you must take your time. Slow reading is better than fast reading if that means comprehension is higher. Through years of doing technical work, Ben must read and understand technical books. Many fast, avid fiction readers will “get the jist” of the paragraph while reading quickly to see what comes next. But ask them detailed questions to the minor parts of the book and they might not be able to give an answer, all the while letting everyone know they read 100 books that year.
Many people place being an avid reader on the top of the academic cool factor scale. In the homeschooling world, avid video gamers are seen as less-than. Our point in talking about video games is to say that we don’t believe it to be so. It’s a hobby just like reading novels. Reading novels can build character and mind growth by drawing from theoretical examples. Video games can bolster character and mind growth in real-life. One is taking time to ponder how, the other is acting it out.
Thinking and acting are both needed. So, where is the balance? Make sure to read a lot. Harrison can easily play 2 hours of video games a day. He also reads 1.5-2 hours every night in bed. He listens to audio books while he’s doing chores and other things around the house. I read 45 minutes to an hour aloud to the kids every school day.
If you are ok with video games, but also want them to love reading, then you have to model that too. I read just as much as I watch tv. I LOVE tv and movies. The average length of a book is 10 hours of reading. I watch that much tv every week.
I am not saying that, being in nature, playing a sport, and simply reading a novel aren’t great things. Being active and enjoying God’s creation are imperative to being a well-rounded person. My point is that video-games can be a positive and productive part of your children’s childhood development WITHOUT THE GUILT!
Also, if you are, or know, someone who thinks video games are the worst, I hope our talk with help ease those thought to at least a neutral ground.
After all, a video-game loving, classic novel disliker, hater of hiking is one of the few men who keeps the power secure from terrorist for the PNW; fixing my friend’s computers so they can continue to talk about homesteading. All while making sure our churches’ videos can be streaming every week while we are still in Covid-lockdown.
No one is better than anyone else. Just different.
For further reading