Gamer Kid.

Owen really, really, REALLY likes video games. He went through a massive Minecraft phase a while ago, which I justified was okay because it was actually teaching him life skills and he was creating things, and, in survival mode, was eliminating ghosts and zombies, which aren’t real.

But now his activity of choice is Roblox on the computer, which is essentially a site with a bunch of crowdsource-developed games. Some of these games are pretty neat. But really, he spends most of his time playing Murder Mystery or Assassin or some tycoon game where he has to amass the most wealth in a short period of time.

I can’t overstate how ambivalent I am about it all.

On one hand, who am I to dictate what my kid does with his free time? And he loves it – enough that he tells me stories about what he’s doing and how he’s made another level and how much he loves that he got a radio in one of his games. I love that he’s found something that challenges him and sparks his imagination and excitement.

But he gets sucked in, to the point where, left to his own devices, he’ll play for HOURS without a break, and we have to force him to do actual human things like use the bathroom or eat or OMG JUST GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY BEFORE YOU TURN INTO THE ZOMBIE OF COMPUTER DOOM.

Then I remember when I was a kid, and I spent my summers in my room with books, getting sucked into them and not wanting to stop, my parents coming in my room and telling me I needed to eat lunch or go to bed or to just take a break, because geez, Karen, it’s summer! GO OUT AND PLAY.

So clearly I had similar focus, except with books.

Still, though, I worry about the other people in this game. Roblox isn’t great with the parental controls – you can designate him as being under 13 and turn off the overall chat function and make people friend request him in order to chat. But in every game, there’s a chat function where you can talk with the other people playing the game, even if you’re not friends. And that can’t be turned off.

We have told him that he needs to tell us if he wants to accept a friend request of someone he doesn’t know, so we can show him how to verify it’s a real person, at least, instead of a marketing bot, and if someone starts chatting with him that feels like a tricky person, not to respond, and NEVER, EVER, EVER tell someone on the computer you don’t know your address.

But then I look at my own life, and I feel like a total hypocrite. I met two of my very closest friends through the computer. I have received and sent dozens of things to people I only know through the computer over the past decade. I have met up with people I only know through the computer on vacation.

Not every person on the internet is a stalker or pedophile. I know this.

But you guys, this is my KID we’re talking about.

And then there’s the fact that he’s playing games which require him to kill or be killed, or focus on amassing a lot of money any way he can (if that means stealing, so be it). It goes against our family rule: we don’t hurt things or people. And I don’t have the words to tell you the depth of my worry that the act of killing people in a game when he’s 9 will somehow escalate over the years.

This fear keeps me up at night.
But mom, it’s a GAME. It’s not REAL! I’m not hurting anyone. It’s pretend.

Which is true. For him, the games represent imaginary play, which is so important. And outside of the computer, he’s well-liked and kind and loves our dog and kittens and still cries whenever I yell and loves baseball and soccer and is super loyal to his best friend and takes care of younger kids and really likes to swim. 

He’s a good, intelligent, kind, fairly-well adjusted, curious kid.

Playing a game of Assassin on the computer won’t turn him into a monster. I hope anyway.

Still though.

It would be so much easier if he loved books.





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One Response to Gamer Kid.

  1. Turia says:

    This is maybe going to sound judgey and I don’t mean it to be- he is your kid and you know what is best for him. Just offering my perspective because you sound conflicted in your post.

    I have good friends I met online and other people I consider to be friends (like you!) I’ve never met IRL. But I know I would feel deeply uncomfortable with E conversing with strangers on the Internet at 9. I think it boils down to the fact that E is a kid, and I am not, and my brain is mature and has finished the parts that let me assess risk, etc, and his has not. I don’t think I would want him playing games where you couldn’t turn off the chat function (I don’t play any video games so I have no idea if shared chat is standard for pretty much all games).

    And I also would really really struggle with the idea of him playing violent games. Again, I don’t know the games you mention, but I don’t think I would allow E to play anything that was a first person shooter style, especially if he was shooting people. Something like Worlds of Warcraft where there is a strong fantasy element would feel different, but I still don’t know I’d let him play that at 9.

    I don’t know what the alternatives are for games but when I did play them as a kid there were wonderful quest/adventure/puzzle games that really captured my attention. I would take the view that in my house we simply don’t play games that are based around violence (in the same way that I don’t watch ultra violent tv and movies) because the visual image is much more powerful than the written word. I really don’t think reading books for hours and playing video games for hours are the same thing (especially not in terms of imagination).

    If I wouldn’t let E see that idea of violence in a movie, I wouldn’t let him play it in a game. And for me that represents the act itself, not just how gory it is.

    Does he have to use the site and the games that make you uncomfortable? Maybe if he wants to play video games it has to be in an environment that doesn’t keep you up at night.

    Total assvice obviously since I have no experience with this. Ask me in a few years when E is older (although given he still finds aspects of Paw Patrol scary he is a LONG way from games…).

    What are his friends doing? Are these games rated? And what does he have to “graduate” to (ie what is more adult oriented that he isn’t playing yet)?

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