I’m going to be honest, when I hear the word gamer I think of a pimply faced guy living in his parents’ basement wearing headphones and blasting away in fake Call of Duty combat with virtual competitors in some other country. It’s mean. I know. But it’s one of the images that the word Gamer conjures for me. The other is that of The Husband, near comatose as he stares at fake football, controller in hand, for hours and hours on family vacation, to the exclusion of anyone or anything else in the room.
I’ve been hesitant to introduce too many games to my kids as I don’t want them to become the couch vegetable that my husband turns into or the socially inept dude who can only interact with fake people through his television or computer screen.
I have given in to the Wii and the older kids have a few DS games but it was all very limited and they were o.k with that.
Then The Baby turned to a boy and now he wants nothing but video games. He knows titles I’ve never heard of. He plays better than I can; routinely beating me at nearly every game we play together-handily.
It was a no brainer then, to bring him as my guest to Activision’s Games for Girls event in NYC yesterday. I know, The Baby is not a girl, and techinically he is under the age that these games are made for, but I was curious about the event because frankly I’ve not seen too much to this point that would fit with my girl (and there was babysitting) so off we went.
I learned a lot at the event, hosted by the lovely Jessica from Momma’s Gone City. Not only did we get to try six of Activision’s newest games, but we heard some interesting statistics from the tech savvy Suzanne Kantra of Techlicious. She shared results of two different studies of kids who were gamers.The results were exactly the opposite of the (apparently very wrong) recluse or checked out dad images that I had in my head.
Kids who played video games not only showed better eye hand coordination and increased spatial skills, but they also helped others more and they had a better concept of goal setting and accomplishment which led, of course, to higher self-image.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, probably the same thing I usually do when I hear about “studies” like this: these results are given by the game makers, of course they say great things about kids who play games. Statistics are very easily manipulated to suit whomever needs suited.
I agree. But I also see these results with my very own eyes.
Yesterday, my Little Gamer was in his element. He was surrounded by games with characters he loves like Zoobles and he had access to a game system to play them on without the maddening distraction of older brothers and sisters.
You know what I saw from him? A more patient, social, roll-with-the-punches kid than I’ve EVER seen in a group situation.
My littlest boy is my toughest child. That is a well documented fact here on this site. He is sensitive to sound, light, touch, crowds, tastes, changes in schedule, the air. You name it and the boy is thrown off by it. And if he doesn’t get his way or the schedule is not to his liking? Dear Lord run for the hills.
Needless to say, a trip on a train to New York City followed by an event with a room full of strangers in a large, loud hotel conference room was enough to keep me up for nights with worry about my little Sensitive Soul melting down all over the place. Why did I bring him at all you ask? Well, I suspected this might be just the thing that would help him get over all that other “stuff”. There was a chance he’d lose his sh**, but there was also a chance he’d do just fine and the payoff of video games and alone time with mom would be worth the noise and the walking and the insanity of conference rooms and city hikes.
Guess what? He was perfect. He chatted with the PR ladies who asked about his favorite game, making eye contact and everything! He whispered during the presentation so as not to disturb everyone who was listening. He asked to leave two times and when he was told, “not yet” he simply said, “fine” and returned to his game. That was nothing short of a miracle.
So, when Suzanne read all those facts to us about kids who play games handling challenges better, working better with others, learning perseverance and feeling good about themselves, I believed her and the study she was referencing.
Because I see it, not just yesterday, but whenever my Little Gamer plays Wii or DS. He acts like a kid who knows what to do. Even when he gets angry at Wii (yes, at Wii, as if it’s a person) for beating him, I see him work out how to practice and move on from defeat and keep going until he gets the high score. He is goal setting. He is learning how to handle defeat and persevering and feeling good about himself. All of the things Activision hopes for when they design their games.
But yesterday’s games were for girls and I am talking an awful lot about my boy. That’s just because he has proven to me that Gamer is not a dirty word. As for The Girl, she loved everything that came home. She hasn’t touched her DS since around February when the holiday newness of it wore off. In fact, it broke a few months back and it barely even registered on her radar. But yesterday? Well, yesterday with the barking dog game and the recognizable characters of Lalaloopsy, Squinkies and Zoobles, she was gathered around her brother’s DS for the entire two hour limit that I learned I should impose on game time.
There was one DS and three kids so you can bet we worked a lot yesterday on turn-taking and sharing and getting along and helping out; other things Activision had in mind when it designed these games of exploration and creativity for girls. Add playing well together to the list of Gamer pluses.
Two days now I’ve watched as all three kids, of increasingly different ages, play together. They’ve both shared the DS and spent time off it, recreating the imaginary worlds their games have introduced them to. I know it’s new, and this may wear off, but just like yesterday’s little miracle, I’ll take the sweetness while I can and thank Activision for their part in it all.
Then I’ll be sure to wipe those negative Gamer images right out of my head. (Don’t get too excited Husband, I’m still not letting you get a game system for yourself.)
I was given complimentary copies of the Activision DS games for the kids to play but the pictures don’t lie, the kids loved each one enough that I would buy them with my own dime.
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