Sitting around killing your friends: Just another day on Playstation

It’s not exactly the way Beaver Cleaver would spend time with his friends–you know, killing, stealing, punching, slashing, crashing–all those everyday Playstation past times.  But Beaver had his problems too. There was more than one occasion I recall Beaver having to confess bad behavior to his father.

Bad behavior, however, has taken on an interesting virtual twist over the past few years. More and more guys spend their “bonding time”, their “friendship-building” time, playing Playstation with their friends.  And, unlike years past, they don’t have to be in the same room to enjoy each other’s company.  That means friends from across the city and across the world can come together and spend some good “man time” engaging in war, assassinating each other, stealing and crashing cars together, subduing hot-looking women, scoring touchdowns, and playing the guitar.  The question is, how are these interactions impacting their relationships.

Clearly, some games are worse than others.  Most parents have probably already had to decide which video games are OK and which ones are not.  And, just one word–if you haven’t sat down and watched your child play their newest video game–it might be worth the time.  Some games are actually interesting and help kids improve problem-solving skills or hand-eye coordination.  Some games, however, are full of sex and violence, and invite your child to engage in bad behavior–all in hi-res blood-spurting color, highlighted by digitally-mastered groans and screams.

My question is–how does the virtual communication and game play impact relationships?  Do normally kind children who spend their afternoons trying to kill each other somehow cultivate poor relational dynamics?  Many guys begin online gaming, including the chat functions, when they are in 5th or 6th grade. Is this somehow different than spending time trying to smash each other playing football on a real-life field?  I have not had the opportunity to watch kids use the chat functions on these games.  I wonder if they feel less inhibited than they would in real life to be tougher, raunchier or more aggressive. I have seen the names they use.  A sweet-looking tall, skinny 6th grader may become mrkillingmachine online–and be proud of it!  Kids seem more willing to swear and act in ways that would make their mothers gasp and fall over.  I have also seen how Playstation and X-box can help freshmen guys feel included and safe as they spend time getting to know other freshmen guys over an evening game of Halo 3. It bonds kids, giving some of the less confident guys a way to interact and build relationships.  That, in turn, gives them something to talk about next time they spend time face to face.

For better or worse, video games have become the new interpersonal playground.  It is where guys come together to hang out.  But…I can’t help but wonder how Beaver Cleaver would have turned out if he had had the opportunity to beat up that rascally Eddie with the newest version of Assassin 2. Maybe he would have been a little more confident and successful, or maybe he would have just ended up with a minor role in tasteless repeats of Jail Break.

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