My son is a gamer.
The sort who wears brightly colored headphones that match his blue-and-black patterned desk chair. The kind whose computer keyboard flashes colorful lights. Whose mouse does the same. He has a “gamer tag” light with his gamer name etched on it, which can change its LED colors. He could spend all day, every day in front of his computer playing and be perfectly happy.
You know the type. And chances are, unless you are the type, you then judge the type.
We roll our eyes. We sigh. We grumble. We growl. We mutter about bad habits and bad lessons and how socially awkward they’re likely to be, how they’re wasting their time and ruining their eyesight and compromising their moral structure and rotting their brains.
I’ve probably done or thought all those at some point. Then…my perspective changed.
In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis observes that humanity is incapable of noting a difference without making a judgment. Comparison, by our very nature, turns into preference, and preference soon takes on moral implications in our mind.
Which is to say, if you note that this shirt is red and that one is blue, the next step is to decide which you prefer. And once you decide you prefer red, soon you’re claiming it’s because the red is simply superior. And if red is superior, that means blue is inferior. Which means it’s bad. (Which is a moral judgment.) We then start looking down our noses at anyone who chose the blue shirt instead. We start looking for reasons to dismiss them. To judge their other stances. To decide they are Wrong because we are Right.
Okay, so that’s a super-simplified example, but it illustrates the point. This is a well documented quirk of the human, tribal mind. There’s no point in arguing with it or saying we don’t do that—we do. We simply do. It’s fact.
But once we understand it, once we accept that the human condition does mean making decisions emotionally and then justifying them with logic after the fact—another very well documented quirk of being a person—then we can start to understand ourselves, and our reactions, a little better.
When it comes to my gamer son, I can tell you the exact moment my perspective began to change: when Someone Else judged him.
This was years ago at this point. My son was already pretty obsessed with Minecraft. I indulged it to an extent, and I complained about it after that extent. He’d show me what he built, and I’d say what a great job he did and then mutter under my breath that if he spent half that amount of effort on his school work, he’d be two years ahead. He’d watch YouTube and I’d tell him he should be reading a book or playing outside instead.
Then one day, someone else dared to say the same thing about my son. They said he was wasting his time. Rotting his brain. How she just wished he would get away from that stupid screen, and how he’d regret spending his childhood there someday.
Cue all the Mama Bear instincts. First came the lashing out in my mind: Do you really think watching YouTube is any worse than all the horrible shows you watch on TV all day long? Is his playing games any worse than how you spend YOUR day? What a hypocrite!
Aloud, I reigned myself in and gave some less emotional arguments (though totally fueled from that immediate gut reaction): “Actually, he spends his days building—just like he used to do with Lego, only they don’t break apart if you shift wrong. He’s learning about computers, which is crucial in this day and age. Playing with others online has forced him to learn how to spell and read quickly and efficiently. He often recreates historical landmarks in Minecraft with nothing but a single picture of a thing. You should see his Arc de Triumph! And half of what he watches on YouTube are educational videos. He watches science experiments. Stuff about physics and animals. Every time we open our science book in school, he already knows everything because of the videos he has CHOSEN to watch. On YouTube, you can pick what you see from a virtually endless library, unlike traditional television.”
Did I convince his critic? Probably not. But I convinced me.
And ever since then, I’ve been seeing him and his gaming from a very different perspective. And I’ve learned a lot of life lessons…some taken from the gaming itself, and a whole lot about how our perspectives inform our judgments, and how dangerous that can be.
What do you do for fun? What hobbies can you pursue for endless hours when you have the hours to spare?
For me, as a kid it was reading and playing make believe with my friends. As someone who now supports her family writing novels, I can say, “This was a great thing!” To other people, it might not look that way.
I remember reading L. M. Montgomery’s Emily Series as a kid and being horrified at how Emily’s aunt viewed reading and writing fiction as morally dubious and a waste of time. What?? I cried inside. How can she be so shortsighted and cruel?? I knew that fiction reading was the Best Thing Ever. I knew it because that was what I loved.
In the years since, I’ve learned enough that I could give you Real Reasons—like the fact that reading fiction is scientifically proven to increase empathy and sympathy in the reader, and that following the thread of a novel requires so much cognitive function that it’s one of the top recommendations for maintaining good brain health as we age and fending off dementia. FICTION IS AWESOME!
But detractors will always say otherwise—because they don’t like it. They’ll say it’s a waste of time. That it’s filled with lies. That we could be reading better things. Or better still, be outside. Be in nature. Be talking to people. They might claim that reading is by nature solitary and prohibits good interaction, that we’re not building relationships with the people around us if our noses are stuck in books. That we let our health suffer through lack of activity. That we ruin our eyes.
Those are all arguments I’ve heard. I dismiss them, because I love reading. But you know what? Their points are all valid. It’s just that I’ve decided that those things aren’t what matter to me.
Criticizing gamers or “computer geeks” is easy too, and Hollywood has helped us out with that. We have an image of 40-year-olds still living in their mothers’ basements, a dark cave with only the glow of their nine monitors lighting their sickly, pale face. Discarded chip bags and empty pizza boxes around them. Okay, sure, maybe those people end up hacking a key system for the action hero and helping to save the day, but no one wants to be them. Ew.
We can say it kills their eyes, it rots their brain, it teaches them or at least desensitizes them to violence, it hinders relationship building, negatively impacts health, and so on.
The thing is…the science doesn’t actually bear that out. Sure, backlit screens can be hard on your eyes…but so is reading. Sure, there’s plenty of mindless entertainment and even questionable content on YouTube…but there’s plenty of that on television too, and in their friends’ houses, and in everything else we come across—because there’s plenty of it in our own minds. Violence? Anyone who’s read the Old Testament or classic literature can tell you that humanity has been teaching and desensitizing itself to violence since the dawn of time. We are a violent race. We always will be. That doesn’t mean we should glory in it or approve it…but we do. Those violent games? They’re used in military training. And we call those who do it in real life heroes.
Interestingly, recent studies also show that online gaming promotes relationship building, even when they’re not talking to each other. Making decisions with other gamers creates neural pathways in the brain that exactly match playground play. When they’re interacting vocally as well, that only grows. Kids who play games with other kids build friendships—doesn’t matter if that’s in a park or on a server. They learn how to problem solve, they learn conflict resolution, they learn how to work together.
And here’s something I’ve learned just watching my son. He’s passionate about what he creates in those imaginary worlds, in the same way that I’m passionate about what I write in my own. He’ll spend hours, days, weeks crafting one building, brick by brick. He builds castles and cathedrals and libraries. He builds ships and airplanes and houses. Brick by brick. He crafts landscapes and cities and worlds and universes and multiverses. Brick by brick.
You know what that is? Dedication. Perseverance. Passion. The same things that make a successful businessman, a successful professional, a successful writer, a successful creative. We don’t apply that dedication to everything. But we apply it to what fascinates us. What we love. And we chase that into our own futures. My son does the same thing. He chases what he loves until he knows it inside out, until he can build it from the ground up, until he can solve problems and rewrite solutions and innovate.
That’s going to serve him well someday. Just as my habit of daydreaming and storytelling and reading has served me.
Here’s the thing—we’re all different. From our families, from our friends, and certainly from other generations. The pastimes you grew up with likely won’t appeal to kids today. And what they grew up with won’t appeal to their own in the future. This is just life in our ever-changing world. And that’s good. That means each generation will adapt and grow from the foundation we’ve built already. That means progress will continue. Understanding will deepen. New things will be discovered and developed. It means medicine, science, literature, leisure, and art will continue to progress at lightning speed as it has for the past couple hundred years.
Maybe, instead of immediately judging the “other” as “bad,” we should instead stop and wonder…what can we learn from them? And how are they more like us than we might first think?
For me, it started from an instinct to defend the boy I love. But from that, it’s grown to a new understanding, a new appreciation…and an excitement to see where this passion and dedication takes him in life, and how I can apply the same lessons to my own.