Before I write another word, let's be clear about what this article is not. It is not a commentary or critique on any parent's idea and practice of screen time. Every parent gets to decide what works best for their child, and no random lady on the internet should ever make you feel bad about it—just take it all as information that you can have in your tool belt if you're so inclined.
Now that we got that out of the way, here's my hot take: if given the choice, I would get my kid a game console before I give him a tablet. If he is going to be in front of a screen, I would prefer it to be a video game than watching a show.
Video games have always had a bad rep, especially while I was growing up. As a child of the 90's, I was there for games like Mortal Kombat, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto hitting the market and throwing parents in a tizzy. News stations ran stories about how the Columbine perpetrators enjoyed violent video games, suggesting to worried parents that there was causation here, not just correlation. Forget the fact that they were teenage boys and teenage boys... well, enjoyed video games. It had to be the other way around.
But not much has changed in the last 2 decades either. Video games have become a familiar face in the list of scapegoats for the National Rifle Association to blame when a school shooting happens and the organization feels the heat of gun-control advocates. This is all despite a 2011 US Supreme Court ruling that protects video games as part of the First Amendment, striking down a ban in California on selling violent video games to children. And while this pandemic has shown us that peer-reviewed scientific papers might not mean anything to Americans (ha!), there have been studies and meta-studies that found no relation to video game violence and aggression—in fact, they have found that any studies done in the past had a huge bias towards making a connection to aggressive behavior and thoughts.
My husband, an avid gamer since he was old enough to hold a controller, said it best for me: “Saying that video games make you a murderer is like saying all butchers will go on to become serial killers.” How wise. Must’ve been all the hours playing video games cultivating that kind of wisdom.
All joking aside, it does make sense why video games have been dragged into the discussion for everything from aggression to obesity. It’s a glamorous industry, it’s got money, it’s young, and people think it’s dumb. Those are pretty much the criteria to make a good scapegoat.
With all that said, it’s unfair to look at the worst games and make a sweeping statement about them. These “horrible” games that they talk about have an age restriction on them, just like any violent movie. Sure, kids get their hands on them, but they’re not supposed to, and as much as I understand it’s often out of the parents’ control, it still is under our jurisdiction as their guardian.
So yes, I would much rather my son play on a gaming system in the living room than watch TV, but that’s not to say I would allow him to play games that aren’t age-appropriate. That is a different discussion altogether. What we’re talking about here is that I believe playing video games can have more positive outcomes than it’s given credit. For one, there IS a physical aspect to video games. Anyone who’s tried playing a fighting game and got their asses handed to them will know that it requires quick reflexes and really good hand-eye coordination. It also nurtures mental resilience—when you get frustrated, you will want nothing more than to throw that controller in rage but you have to learn to control it. And just like any other game, it teaches you that there are rules to follow.
Not saying that these lessons and skills can’t be learned elsewhere—of course they can. Lessons and skills are just like nutrition, and you can get whatever you need from many sources. What I am saying is, if there is an activity that I find to be fun for both the one playing and others watching, that could teach some lessons I want, and can be a bonding moment for my kids and my husband to share a hobby together, then I’m all for it. After all, in the almost 19 years of being with him I’ve probably watched damn near 15,000 hours of my husband’s gameplay based on our very accurate and super scientific calculation (can you tell yet that my love language is sarcasm?) What’s another few hours added to that?