“Times, they are a-changing.” You can hear it, can’t you? Bob Dylan mumbling arguably some of the most timeless lyrics possible. Times will always be changing, especially for us as parents. Not a week goes by that my son doesn’t turn to me after watching an ad on TV and say, “Daddy, I don’t like making wishes…but I really want one of those toys for my birthday.”
Son, in 11 months, you’ll want something new.
However, it’s not that his wants are always changing. It’s that what is offered to him is. This is a massive pain point for many parents, especially currently in the area of GAMING. Computer games, Minecraft, PlayStation 4, you name it. Games are where young people currently live.
IT’S NOT AS BAD AS IT SOUNDS
Gaming gets a lot of bad press. This is mostly due to the fact that the games showcased are usually fighting games, the shoot-em-up games, the games that when paired with rampant bullying and isolation and a need to exert power and mental uncertainty, will no-doubt cause problems in players. But no more so than the influence of Hollywood. Arguably we’ve just become more used to Hollywood.
But these are the exceptions, not the rule.
Games are immensely social. In fact, 65% of pre-teen gamers play with friends present whilst 70% of players play games with their parents regularly as well. It can be a family activity! I personally know many families who have formed clans in Clash of Clans and other such games.
Studies show that kids who play action games have sharper vision and process coordination and visual information faster than those who do not. They also show advance problem solving and logic skill.
For this reason, and the fact that “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”, many Fortune 500 companies, such as IBM and my personal favorite, Cold Stone Creamery, use games for training.
IS IT ALL JUST ESCAPISM?
Escapism is a funny term. However, as a Christian writer and game developer, it is something I’m constantly accused of offering people. As if it’s a bad thing?
I’ll agree with the critics – escapism for escapism’s sake is a very negative thing, and it’s an opportunity that can be provided by books and games. However, it’s often the exception – not the rule. Books and games tell stories and, if used well—if embraced, are a refuge, not an escape. Refuge is a place of preparation for what is to come, of learning and of either solitude or close companionship.
The cave we find Elijah hiding in becomes a place of refuge as he listens to the still small voice of the Lord (1Kings 19). He leaves the cave prepared for what is to come. Often, what starts as escapism, ends as refuge.
Refuge is never a bad thing. In fact, it’s a phenomenal opportunity. Let me explain the reason for this descriptor. Games can teach—they offer problem solving, and they offer a safe place for all of the above.
The game, SnowWorld, was refuge for a badly burnt marine, allowing him respite whilst surgeons operated on his burns. He thought about pain 25% less of the time – when not playing the game, the pain occupied 75% of his headspace.
GAMES GIVE US MEMORIES, OPPORTUNITY TO ‘FAIL SOFTLY’
Stories, especially stories within games, allow us to have a voice on the journey, allowing us to experience a story. Within this experience we are able to make mistakes or see mistakes made. These mistakes could be socially devastating—and through experiencing them here (in relative safety), we learn how to behave in real life.
We allow people to fail softly.
In our game, The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance, we allow players to experience ‘first hand’ the results of Alexander’s (Abraham’s) inability to trust God fully. This lesson sticks with the player as memory—not simply as a passage or verse because it has been experienced. The player has been immersed in the moment, in the text.
Games offer unique teaching and learning opportunities. But let’s not also neglect the danger they can pose. As parents we need to be constantly engaged with our kids’ playing behaviors and the games they are playing. Times are “a-changing,” and we need to change with them. Play games with your kids and their friends, adopt some of the games as your own. Who knows, you just might learn something.