Rich and Susan have four sons ages 9, 11, 14, and 16. They are good parents who provide a loving home to their four boys, but when I spoke to them recently, they echoed a concern so many parents are voicing today: “We don’t know what to do with our kids’ video game addictions.”
To clarify, Rich and Susan are not prone to use hyperbole. They are not dramatic in their verbiage nor are they prone to exaggerate—so when they use the term addiction, they are dead serious. Their boys are gaming five to seven hours every day. Sometimes, it is difficult to pry their fingers away from the controllers to go to bed. As I listened to them, these parents expressed how they struggled with a balanced set of house rules. Should they take away all video games to free their sons from their addictive behavior, or should they let them spend endless hours gaming to maintain an open relationship?
This led me to search for some insight from an actual video game producer.
An Interview with a Video Game Producer
I recently had the privilege of conversing with Randy Varnell, who works at Gear Box, a video game production company located just outside of Dallas, Texas. In our conversation, I asked him to “keep it real” and share what he has witnessed over the years as video games have taken over the lives of so many tweens, teens, and young adults.
Talk about your company.
Gear Box is a company that creates “mature” rated games. One of our most popular series is called “Borderlands,” and we just released “Borderlands 3.” Video games often get blamed for the ills of society, but they possess both pros and cons, depending on the game. Many build skills that can be repurposed. During our lifetime, video games have joined the ever-growing entertainment industry in America.
What do you recommend parents and teachers do about video games?
Most video games have a story that the user helps tell. They are narrative games. In the industry as a whole, there is a wide range of video games in tone and content. It is important for adults (parents, coaches, and teachers) to get educated on them—especially “Fortnite” and “Destiny,” the most popular games currently. Adults should be familiar with their kids’ activities, just like they’re familiar with their kids’ friends.
Where are video games heading?
It is safe to say video games are not going away anytime soon. The top-selling game, “Grand Theft Auto” has sold 105 million copies worldwide. More people watch or participate in “League of Legends” than the World Series. When I reflect on where we are going, I see video games entering the conversation about cultural issues—racial issues, social justice, equality, gender issues, etc. There is a game now where the user must officiate a gay wedding, which would not have even been part of a video game narrative in earlier years. I love that we’re helping to widen ethnic diversity as well as have different gender groups represented, but I wonder about the agenda of gaming companies, especially for younger children. We will see more of this in the future. We will see games push on-line and community interactions—games that are cooperative, competitive, and social in nature. Game makers now want to make their games a social experience by streaming them.
How are video games replacing traditional social nuances?
For one, video games provide a micro-community. Just like high school campuses used to have various cliques on campus, now cliques can exist online. Interactions can take place well after school is over. Video games both reflect and direct our culture. Kids can find a niche, watch or participate in the streamed experience, and when others see you do something they like, they can join a chorus of people shouting your name in affirmation. A simple screen can affect the mood of a teen either positively or negatively.
What are some positives to video games?
- They offer a global community; they help users connect with others.
- They provide a platform to learn problem solving and creativity.
- They help widen acceptance of outside ethnicities and different genders.
- They furnish the satisfaction of accomplishment and progress.
- They can help users learn to read and search for answers.
What are some negatives to video games?
- While joining a community is positive, social gaming can be toxic. Anonymity allows users to be bigger jerks than they’d be to someone’s face. Criticism and bullying are huge.
- Current video games allow users to make weird and destructive choices without showing the downside or consequences to those choices. Violence is just entertainment.
- Fantasy fulfillment takes place with no authority and few guardrails. You can do whatever you want to others and begin assuming its normal.
- Games are addictive. This year, parents sued “Fortnite” for its addictive elements on their son. Video game companies build in addiction mechanics like Las Vegas slot machines.
While there is interactivity on every level—the storytelling, the communication, and the avatar—the game maker often has an agenda. Caring adults must help kids interpret what is going on with the landscape and narrative of the game. For instance, looped boxes are random packages you open in a game that encourage gambling. Parents may want to host a conversation before their child gets too far into it.