So it was last Friday night, my wife and I were going to a former student’s grad school graduation party, and our twin boys, 15, were staying home for the night. In my day, this often meant instant party as soon as parents left the block. And that may still happen, but this is also a different generation, living in a completey changed world. Yes, my sons hung out with their friends all night, and they wore the headsets to prove it.
That’s right, my fifteen year olds happily spent the evening in their bedrooms, online, with at least a half-dozen of their friends, ridding the virtual world of Nazi zombies, with an occasional sidetrip to play in the Super Bowl.
“Hanging out” no longer means freezing on a corner, or in front of the Seven-Eleven, or in some hallway, as it did when I was a teenager. My sons were with their friends the whole
evening, but they were safe at home, too. And it has been the weirdest thing for me to get my head around.
Are kids really socializing when they play online, in specialized “rooms” exclusive to just their friends? Is it truly socializing if it is not face-to-face? What is the side effect of killing Nazi zombies for six hours at a clip? Are we raising a generation of tech savvy socialites, or breeding the next Tuscon shooter?
I listen to my guys when they are on XBox Live; they are joking, goofing around, and bickering in turn. It seems no one is taking the zombies or the killing seriously; manuevering and cooperation seem to be bigger issues. Okay, so some of them coordinate better, others like giving orders, and still others like going their own way in their simulated world. Sounds normal to me.
But the hours. Six hours Friday night. Five hours Saturday. Five more Saturday night. Another six on Sunday. Twenty-two hours of killing zombies or playing Madden over two-and-a-half days. And this is a weekly habit. That concerns me on several levels. One, they aren’t getting exercise during all that time. Two, they are cocooned up in their rooms, interacting only virtually. Three, they only meet who they invite in, like a clique. Four, this arrangement prevents them from meeting other people, like, say, girls. Five, Nazi zombies or not, they were killing for most of those 22 hours, while simultaneously laughing with their friends. Desensitization, anyone? Six, what new information are they taking in? Yes, they may be learning to wield their controllers more efficiently, slaying more of the undead, but what are they achieving? What skill mastery are these hours moving them towards? If 10,000 hours is the tipping point to excellence, are we breeding a generation that will only master gaming skills? Are we prepping them for some dead-end computer processing cubicle job, or worse, a short, violent life as a military grunt?
On the other hand, they socialize with plenty of girls in school and on Facebook. One of my sons recently began going out with a real-life girl, and I know it is real because he changed his Facebook status. More significantly, at their age, I would have been freezing on some park bench or in some hallway, illegally drinking beer or Jack Daniels, or both, and trading insults with “friends”.
So is it possible that their social situation, complete with virtual mass murder, is better than mine was at that age, when I drank and dissed friends for almost the same amount of time? Is their virtual hang out healthier than my real, but alcohol and abuse-laced social reality of the past? Are virtual parties, Facebook, AIM, etc. the new norm, to be considered advancement? Am I correctly sensing a danger or am I just clinging to a long dead past? Is it okay that this generation lives through their thumbs?
I look forward to your views.
Christopher Ryan is author of City of Woe, available on Kindle and Nook, and in print. For more info, click here.
I can speak to this question from the perspective of being just at the cusp of the facebook/ video gaming generation. I’m 26, so by the time facebook etc started, I was already in college and had my social patterns set – therefore I am both submerged in social media, and yet apart from it as well. Anyway, I just wanted to say that my husband grew up in exactly the same way – and he is a big gamer to this day. He is married, just got accepted into dental school for the fall, and is an exceptionally good person (so I think we can agree he turned out well). He believes that gaming developed his hand-eye coordination, which is one of the major reasons he wanted to be a dentist or some other sort of doctor. He aced the hand-eye coordination simulation on the DAT, something he couldn’t have done without years of computer experience. It also develops logical and strategical skills, and it gives them something to be passionate and excited about, which, let’s face it, is much better than your ennui-filled, self-deprecating teen. So, from personal experience, I can assure you that it is possible for a gaming teen to go on to live a fulfilling, normal life, where gaming moves into the category of a hobby. I Hope that helps alleviate your worry to at least some degree.
What an outstanding response. Thanks so much for your time and thoughtful reply. Very cool of you.
And it is great to hear how well playing video games positively affected your lives. That is a tremendous thing to read, especially for someone who grew up with pinball being threatened by … Pong!
I hope to hear from you again. What a gift your thoughts have been.