The Wall Street Journal reports that researchers found that girls aged 11 to 16 who played video games with a parent reported better behavior, more feelings of familial closeness and less aggression than girls who played alone or with friends. Hooray!
“It’s the face-to-face time, the interaction, that matters,” said psychology professor Sarah Coyne, the lead author of the study. “Videogames are kind of an adolescent thing. When a parent says I’m going to sit down and do what you’re going to do, that sends a different message entirely.”
For boys, playing with a parent, didn’t seem to have any measurable benefit. That’s probably because the time boys play with parents is just a “drop in the bucket,” compared to the overall time they spend gaming, Coyne said.
While I’m pleased to read these findings, I’m not surprised. As a child, I spent hours playing video games alongside my mother. Hammering away at our Atari 5200, we mastered Pac-man, Defender and Dig Dug among many others.
My mom’s love for Pac-man was so great that she named our dog after the game.
And while it’s true that I played video games without my mother during my teenage years, my hardcore gaming didn’t really begin until I had moved out of the house at age eighteen and games like Warcraft (the original), Unreal Tournament, and Diablo were released to the PC. For most of my teenage life, I was playing video games at the arcade for actual quarters or in the living room, either with my mother or with her in the next room.
So unlike the boys studied in the recent research who spend the majority of their time playing online or with friends, the great majority of my gaming was done with my mother. So the effects that the researchers found in girls may well have applied to me as well.
Except they didn’t.
As far as better behavior goes, I was not well behaved in my teenage years. I was sneaky and subversive, and still received my fair share of after-school detentions. My behavior outside of school was atrocious.
As for more feelings of familial closeness, I moved out of my parent’s house upon graduation and returned less than half a dozen times over the next three years (skipping Christmas twice) before my evil step-father lost the house to foreclosure.
And in terms of less aggression, I played a lot of pick-up football in those days with the sole purpose of hurting people.
I also learned to punch people between the eyes rather than the mouth when engaged in a fistfight. You can cut your fist on someone’s teeth while your knocking them out of your opponent’s mouth, and the blood that fills the mouth as a result can lead to a surprising amount of rage that your opponent can use to fuel his internal engine. Between the eyes is always the way to go.
Needless to say, I was aggressive as a kid.
But there were other benefits to my mom’s love for video games. As a result of her near-obsession, she was quite familiar with the video game lexicon, and we possessed a shared experience that allowed us to talk about gaming at the dinner table or in the car for hours.
She also had the ability to sit down and laugh with her no-doubt surly, rapidly retreating teenage son for hours at a time.
How many mothers of teenage boys can claim this?
I tend to think that my mother’s proclivity toward video games had more to do with her genuine love for gaming than with some Machiavellian plot to infiltrate herself into my life, but who knows?
Maybe some of the reason that she enjoyed Pac-Man so much was that her eldest son was sitting beside her so often.
It’s nice to think that this might be true.