What happens when serious gamers become parents? A recent article in the Deseret News (Vol. 5/No. 13) caught my attention in this regard. It stated that while excessive use of the Internet by children is a concern, we can’t overlook the effects on parents who have grown up with it. The present generation of young parents is the first to have had access to the digital world from birth onward. The article points out that these parents will have access to technology that will in fact be very helpful in raising children. There is, for example, a bouncy chair that has a secure rod that suspends a mirror overhead that doubles as an iPad holder. There’s even a potty chair that features a tablet holder. Some of these inventions are marvelous. As far as I am concerned the DVD player for the car is a godsend on long trips. But how will their Internet skills cross over to parenting—that most demanding of “people skills” on the planet? Will they be able to transfer their ability to fight trolls and dragons, accumulate points and acquire weapons in the unreal world that the Internet provides?
Since the beginning of the 20th century a variety of media—from dime novels to radio to television—have taken us from the active world of the farm and the machine to a society of readers, listeners and watchers, all from the cozy comfort of our living rooms. Yet we have managed in that time to parent effectively enough to raise the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. We have adapted—reading along with our kids, monitoring our screen time and assigning our TV shows as being appropriate for “mature audiences only.” But it seems to me that the current generation of parents or would-be parents who have been raised with the Internet or who may be involved in serious gaming present a bigger and bolder challenge. This is true in part because technology is moving so rapidly—changing at a pace that few over the age of 30 can even comprehend. For the first time in human history our children are ahead of us in basis and essential skills, i.e. using computers. How can parents monitor the activities of their children when they don’t even understand them?
Perhaps more importantly how will these children, raised in a world we have never known, learn how to parent? The skills that serve them well in a video game don’t necessarily apply to parenting. In considering this question I went back to the interview with my 11-year-old grandson, Kaylor. He explained to me the factors which make the virtual world so attractive. As far as I can tell none of those elements would contribute to the skill set of an engaged and effective parent. Kaylor identified 6 factors as follows:
1) Imagination/Creativity: you can design your own character; choose his armor, his colors and his weapons; change your guy to look cooler and improve your stats; you can fly space ships which you can’t do in real life; you can shoot other people; save your world by destroying robots; you can eat the souls of other species and turn them into minions of darkness; you can’t do this with humans because they are too complex.
2)Heroism: Sense of Accomplishment—you have expanding options so that you can keep improving your skills; everybody thinks each other is awesome; you get better each time you play; you are not attacking but defending your planet.
3) Socialization/Friends: you play with others in ways that you can’t in real life; you can play without having friends; you meet new people.
4) Competition/Aggression: you react instantly; the games are an alternative to getting mad; you can kill people but they aren’t really dead; death does not take place.
5) Relieving Stress: you can take out anger in video games; if you are mad at your teacher you can imagine that she is the “final boss.”
6) Meaning/Immortality: You are saving your planet from destruction; you cannot die; if you die you come back to life.
Let’s look at them one by one to see how they apply to good parenting. 1) Imagination: You have to really be creative to make diaper changing, soothing and the 4 am feeding imaginative. 2) Heroism: Childcare is heroic but no one knows about it until your children are grown. You can’t accumulate points and no one thinks you are awesome (unless you count the first time your baby smiles at you.) 2) Babies are social but once again it is largely a nonverbal tactile world in which they exist. 4) Competition: It’s really not much fun to compete with a baby. If you are in a power struggle they will probably win anyway. Their endurance is unbelievable. 5) Relieving Stress: Hah! Babies wrote the book on stress! 6) Meaning and Immortality: Okay. You might have something there. Some people say that babies and children are the only meaning that is worthwhile. And yes. They do provide immortality.
So can gamers apply these skills if they don’t have them? Of course they can. But I fear they must do so with real people, real babies and real children. We are entering a whole new world in which we must be incredibly adaptive. We can’t stray too far from our roots however. Like baby animals we like to create, connect and cuddle!
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.