On Gaming and Cultural Literacy



If you are a parent or you plan to be one, you’re gonna need a gaming console unless you absolutely can’t afford it. Sooner than you think.

Gaming has been a pervasive part of the culture for so long, it’s not unheard-of to meet a 50-something gamer. Half of hardcore gamers or former gamers are women. So there’s a good chance that once your kid starts school, he or she will have at least one friend who’s not only REALLY into gaming, but has a parent or grandparent who actively encourages the interest and is willing to share tricks.

The old stereotype of the gamer as a disaffected white teenage boy using the games as an escape from society hasn’t held for at least 15 years, if there was ever any truth to it at all.

Lots of successful, well-adjusted people of all backgrounds are gamers. It’s a legitimate, mainstream social activity.

I’m a longtime gamer and I remember the early days. Video games have sucked away untold hours of my life. I have an elementary-age grandson who is a social butterfly and a great problem-solver. We’ve been gaming together for a couple of years now. As I’ve watched him grow and learn to express his own preferences, my attitude about children and gaming has evolved.

When he was a toddler, my view was that gaming should start around eight or nine, and I did my best to delay the introduction to the X-Box for as long as possible. This is partly because I think that level of maturity is good for teaching responsible gaming. It’s partly selfish.

I’d been out of gaming for years before I started back up with the kid. I knew I would need to supervise him closely once he started, and that supervising would entail carving out playing time for myself. I can’t stand to just sit and watch when someone else is playing a cool game. I want my turn, too!

By the time he was done with preschool, though, his friends were already talking about video games. He started asking for a console and for specific games. When he stayed over at friends’ houses, he always came back talking about how he’d played some cool game or other.

By the time he was halfway through kindergarten, my opinion on the appropriate age to start a kid gaming had changed. I’d begun to realize that if he didn’t know enough about games to understand what his friends were talking about, he’d be excluded from a lot of conversations. And if he didn’t learn some skills soon, he would end up being the kid in the crowd who sucked at every game. No one wants to be that kid.

At this point, I view console controller skills to be every bit as important as keyboarding, but in a different way. Where the keyboard paves the way to a lot of professional opportunities and social media empowerment, the controller opens the door to a whole spectrum of in-person and online social interaction ranging from  multiplayer gaming to water cooler conversations.

I also think it’s important for kids to start learning to consume media critically before they are even old enough to comprehend the basic concepts of media and criticism. Gaming is a good teaching tool for that, which makes it an important component of media awareness and cultural literacy.

So we started gaming together with a few specific rules.

  1. The online profile is only for streaming services and product registration. Signing into the online profile without permission and supervision makes the XBox go away for a month.
  2. Gaming time is limited, and severely limited on school nights.
  3. Grownups decide what’s appropriate to play and how often.
  4. Any time a game begins to inform our non-gaming behavior too much, we have to stop playing that game and play others for a week, or a month, or whatever length of time is appropriate.

That last item is critical. Although there is no causal connection between video game violence and real-world violence, even many of the most cartoonish rated-E games involve some form of combat. Since the younger kids are, the more malleable they are, gaming has to be closely supervised. It’s also important to emphasize, over and over, that video games are no more real than movies, and violence is never o.k. except in a couple of very specific circumstances.

So I game with my grandson often. We started out playing Kinect sports and racing games, then graduated to more complex activities. We rarely play competitively. We’ll run street races or jump into the Disney Infinity Toybox and smack one another around with lightsabers now and then, but for the most part, if we’re playing together we’re cooperating.

He started asking for first-person combat games almost from the minute he got the X-Box. Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed are definitely out. He drools and pleads when he sees advertisements for those franchises, but they aren’t age-appropriate, and I am not sure when they will be. Which brings me to Halo.

I’m not sure where Halo ranks on the list of all-time most popular franchises, but it’s pervasive. Even as early as first grade, many of his classmates and a lot of his friends knew all about Halo and had played some version of it with older siblings. Until Halo 5, which is rated for Teens, these games are all rated M.

Now, I love a good first-person shooter, but I was clear I didn’t want a FPS in the house until I said it was ok. I didn’t claim the sole right to make that call because I’m the head of the household or the “man.” I claimed it because I’m the only adult gamer in the house and that makes me the most qualified judge of what content is acceptable for a seven-year-old and what’s not. And I stuck to my guns right up to the day Halo: Reach slipped into the house under my radar.

It happened during a period where we were checking out games at the library as a way of sampling different things without spending money. The local library doesn’t have a very good selection, and most rated E games get a “meh” from the kid because he reads the marketing images as babyish. Add in the fact that he’d been feeling deprived for months because we were keeping him away from the combat games, and a meltdown with an adult who doesn’t know gaming very well was sure to occur eventually.

If you don’t know Halo, it’s a series of military science fiction games which play like first-person shooters and have linear storylines. The franchise is known for realistic physics, vivid characterization, and exquisite cut-scenes. It has an engaged, sometimes rabid fanbase. It’s made a ton of money and spawned numerous spinoffs in other media over the last 15 years.


Comment: Maybe in the near future, conlanging won’t be seen as geeky either.

4 thoughts on “On Gaming and Cultural Literacy

  1. Why this post?

    And did I just get autoblogged, or are you up to something entirely different?

    I know what conlang is. Don’t know why it’s relevant to use my writing to promote the conlang.

    Did I just get autoblogged???? Are you a bot?

    1. My point is that the geeks of today can be the cool guys of tomorrow. At this moment, to conlang is still seen as geeky.

      But how could I prove that I am not a bot?!

      1. haha! You just proved you are not, I think. Did you reblog this? My whole question about the bot thing was about how much of my text ended up here, but there was a comment at the end so I was thinking . .. no. Had to ask to be sure. Far as conlang goes, it will always be geeky, but geeky is is a plus in the circles I run in. Conlang will always be more trouble than it’s worth to your fiction, unless you are super-good and just love to build languages, though.

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