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Video Games? – Just another tool.


video games


I was shopping this week for a new DVD player/Netflix streamer and was asked by the clerk helping me if I had a video game system I could use instead to do the streaming.  A wave of joy and contentment and relief flooded my entire body quickly as I happily said ‘no – those days are behind me… or at least they are for the next handful of years until my first grandchild is old enough to want to play with one.’  I will enjoy those interim years, alot.

I have three grown children, 2 boys and a girl. My boys loved video games, my daughter could have cared less.  In the early years of their interest, I resisted the whole phenomena, believing them overly focused on violence and mindless entertainment, preferring to create fun opportunities for outdoor adventures, wild and crazy fun with forts, treasure hunts and friends galore.  When my oldest let me know that all he cared about in life was acquiring a Nintendo and the hot game at the time, Street Fighter, I knew it was time.  He played that game and many others for hours a day, for years.  His younger brother by 6 years followed suit years later with other game systems and games, all increasingly violent and really, really confusing to me.  I tried to play with them because I saw how much enjoyment they got but I could never get my interest level piqued enough to put my heart into it, so observer remained my role. 

The games and playing ebbed and flowed over the years.  My oldest, having gone a handful of years with no game playing at all, lapsed into a 16 hour a day immersion with World of Warcraft when he was in his early twenties that lasted for about a year.  Wow, that was tough.  When he ended it, he claimed to have learned everything he needed to know about how the world works, starting and growing a business, and more.  He wrote a great article about it in our first issue of Rethinking Everything Magazine (you can read it online now at the magazine sites) and hosted whole sessions about it at my Rethinking Everything Conference. 

I have been fascinated to watch my uber violent video game playing boys grow into adulthood … and discover nary an interest in violence, weapons, war or the military.  More critically, I am profoundly struck with their immensely meaningful relationships with sexual partners and friends … without a trace of machismo in conflict resolution or worldview.  Do violent video games cause violent behavior in their users?  The research wants us to believe this is so.  I disagree wholeheartedly.  Turns out kids know the difference between fantasy and reality, duh.  Turns out behavior and worldviews develop from real interactions, not the pretend ones in video games.  Duh.  Learning all the time, yup, that’s what I do, and it feels good.


I have a ‘gamer.’  He’s almost 9 years old and has been fascinated with video games – from Wii to World of Warcraft – since he was about 5.  And, although I have known girls (and women!) who are into gaming of various sorts, my daughter is more of an active observer as am I – unless the microphone comes out for Rock Band!  I have experienced personal resistance to gaming – especially the more violent video games – but, with the encouragement of my husband (a lover of video games), decided to take my cues from my ever-present son.  After all, he learned to read (swiftly and far beyond his ‘level’) and started doing some very complex mathematics for his age playing Need for Speed!  That was certainly not something I expected.

When I resisted, he pushed back so hard, wanting and needing to make these decisions for himself.  I took the role of actively engaging him and listening to him tell me his stories and experiences with and about gaming.  I have sat with him while he explained various aspects of the games he is playing.  We have talked about time management, the needs of our family community, and his own bodily needs – all of which have become issues due to extended periods spent gaming.  What is fascinating is that he is highly capable of, when supported, making decisions about his time management that are healthy and respectful as long as that is how the situations are approached.

A couple of RE Conferences ago, there were parents who were unsettled by violent and non-violent video games being played in the same room.  They didn’t feel their children should be exposed to the violent games whether because of age or personal preference.  I had a great conversation about this with my kids.  We were trying to troubleshoot for solutions to this issue and talked about parents worrying that violent games would affect the behavior of their children.  Pause.  “But, Mom, we know it’s not real!”  Lightbulb.  There were other epiphanies like this- too many to mention.  It seems simple to say but they’re right.  If anything, video games have given my son jet propulsion.  He gains a sense of mastery that created an extrovert from an introvert.  His self-confidence and self-esteem are through the roof.  But I have noticed no difference in his sweetness, his repulsion to actual violence, and his intense connection with nature.

And so, I allow myself to get completely wrapped up in his excitement over the games he is loving at any given time.  We role play, talk about gaming all times of the day and night, strategize, and figure out ways he can connect with his friends online.  He creates pretend/role play scenarios in real life in which we play characters and duel and has initiated a Live Action Role Play (LARP) group with friends to continue his love for physical play, strategy, story lines,and role play. We have family game nights on the Wii which is really fun – playing sports and board games on the big screen.  It cracks me up when I think of the me that would have considered this less family interaction, less wholesome, less anything.  We connect and laugh and strategize and compete and work together.  It’s really quite wonderful.

I consider violent video games, TV programming, and movies to be a scapegoat for those worried about the violent behaviors and tendencies of their children.  They are certainly not the cause.

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58 Comments Post a comment
  1. osie #

    another beautiful post. Barb, itfelt good tohear your perspective on how you supported your boys as an observer–coming from unschooling, not the mainstream, i am not worried aboutthe kids playing games, i often see othermoms playing or getting the rules, playing, asking real questions about the action on the screen, and felt like i was doing something “wrong” by not actively participating. truth is, i dont like/brain doesnt work that way compex strategy games and am happy to sit, watch, listen but have no desire to play. i get confused bythe second sentence…unless, like Sarah’s daughter, it’s Rock Band, and that is OK, too.

    November 25, 2011
  2. osie #

    also, my kids (3/4) are very good at separating reality from pretend, always have been. i will have to ask how they felt aboutthe game room at RE, they never said and never spent much time in there. but i think the violent/nonviolent isnt just a parental construct (ie violent games are bad for my kid) but also a real thing for many people, adults and kids both. i dont like therealistic killing games, it upsets me to watch blood and gore. i dont like horror movies for the same reason. i always interpreted the split to be about that AND a out giving little guys a fair chance to play as wxcited big guys werent always kind about turn-taking…

    November 25, 2011
  3. osie #

    sorry, i meant 3 of four kids, not hat my kids are 3 and 4. my 4th is teaching me great life lessons about questioning everything i know for sure. long and complex story…i was going to write about that, huh? so much new stuff i cd write a better article now…

    November 25, 2011
    • I wonder about the folks who create the games for kids, knowing that they are not kids themselves… and wonder how they ever came to know that kids would be drawn to fantasy violence. When you look at the work of Bruno Bettleheim for example, and ancient stories like Grimm’s fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel, the Three Little Pigs and many others, one can’t help but notice the violent, threatening themes that they are centered on. I used to reject these stories for my kids as well until I did some more research that convinced me that children naturally want and even need to fantasize about ‘worst case scenarios’ of violence, loss and destruction as ways to help them ask the big questions, work through the what ifs and arrive at solutions, if only fantastical in nature. I began to experiment with the stories with my kids and discovered that not only did they love the stories (and being scared) but the residual fears were non existent as well. So interesting, the powerful human brain. So wonderful, learning to give up fear.

      November 25, 2011
      • mbh #

        We have done the same with zombies. My son and all of his friends LOVE zombie anything. They make up stories about them, imagine the world filled with them and they even have plans on where to hide and how to kill the zombies when they come back. I love to hear their ideas and plans and fantasies. He has even gone so far as to categorize zombies based on different zombie characteristics.

        November 25, 2011
      • Amy #

        Thanks, Barb. The kids over here enjoy hearing various stories and talking through real life fears. To me, that’s different than reading a story that uses violence for problem solving as the end all be all.

        I think there may be a bit more to some old stories than just a desire to facilitate talking through tough stuff, though. Some stories seem to erupt from a sense of instilling fear in children so they will obey. I’m not sure that it always works, but I would be curious to find out the motivations of the authors of some of those old stories.

        November 25, 2011
        • Amy, I so relate to what I think you are referring to here in so many children’s stories – that moralizing, ‘character building,’ ‘teaching kids lessons,’ etc. I find them simplistic, condescending and dumbed down. My daughter loved reading and being read to and it became downright challenging for us to find storylines that were not trying to achieve some of this hyperbole. I’ve spent a good amount of time wondering why there are not more writers who just tell great engaging stories without all the insidious moralizing. Yuck!

          November 25, 2011
  4. Amy #

    “I consider violent video games, TV programming, and movies to be a scapegoat for those worried about the violent behaviors and tendencies of their children. They are certainly not the cause.” – Sarah

    I find this an interesting comment to make about the feelings of others. I am a parent who does not support the playing of violent video games in our home. 🙂

    As I ponder the comment and discussion what comes to me is the concern we all have for our children and the willingness we have to consider both our own feelings and theirs in our decision making.

    My son, who would be the one in our family who may be inclined towards war types of games, when asked how he feels about me not wanting violent video games to be played says… “I don’t mind at all.” He also reports that he does not feel that he is missing out by not playing such games. This is all answered without pressure from me; I wanted an honest answer when I asked because I realize that if a child feels held apart from something they really want, eventually they will resist/detest that which they feel holds them apart and they’ll get it in some form anyway. It appears that he accepts it as something that is just the way it is in our home. He is part of the choice because he chooses to handle problems nonviolently. He plays fun, active games; we just don’t spend our money or time on games that promote a way of being that we don’t agree with or find effective in our everyday life. Possibly the fact that we are transitioning from ineffective ways of being into a more collaborative relationships has provided us valuable contrast to make such decisions.

    I don’t necessarily see violent programming/games as *the* cause; they are a symptom of the larger society – a society that values violence to solve problems. Yes, many children can see that this is not real and if they have home environments that truly offer alternatives to this type of problem solving it is possible they will see its fallacy. If they are in an environment where violence or blaming or irresponsibility is the norm then the programming supports their reality. Then it is part of the cause and not just a scapegoat. 🙂

    November 25, 2011
    • As you say, Amy, violent behaviors in children are part of a bigger problem- real life modeling, abuse, use of violence in the home to solve problems, violent punishment, etc. In this situation, I would assert that violent video games may even assist these children to regain their sense of power/control if only during their playing time. Taking them away (against the child’s wishes) is yet another form of oppression against which to resist. The key to all of it is communication with the child – not assumptions. A great many parents would love to point the finger at the TV or the video game system rather than digging deep to consider their own influences.

      November 25, 2011
      • Amy #

        Thanks, Sarah. I appreciate this discussion because I think it points to the tendency to come to such discussions with a position, then defend it endlessly. These are the types of discussions that can, depending on how handled, can divide parents or bring them together. I hope that we can see that there are many ways to rethink video games and rethinking is not subscribing to the thoughts of others, unless of course those thoughts mirror our own. 🙂

        I remember a few years back Scott Noelle having a conversation with some parents about the subject of TV as control. From what I recall some parents said TV should not be controlled or limited by parents at all. Another view was that TV is a control mechanism in itself by design so it’s not a neutral device that we can just say… “Here, do what this what you want and there will definitely be no ill effects.” Limiting may have some benefit for some families while some families will leave it up to the kids to decide. There are so many variables to consider…

        I feel similarly in response to what you said about violent video games possibly assisting children to regain a sense of power/control. Any type of power and control that comes through over powering another is illusory, albeit I suppose it could provide a temporary outlet for the feelings a child may have in an oppressive situation. That’s just an outlet though, not a solution to the problem. Kind of like a drug or pill. May take the edge off the symptom, but does it really help? I am sure some will argue that it does. Others will argue the other side. Ultimately it is up to each individual to really dig deeply to find the answers for her/himself and family. And continue digging through asking questions…

        Is it the technology that is the issue… or the content? Is it that the parent is also a techie and not available to connect? Is it that the parent is afraid to say no or communicate boundaries? Is the environment safe for the child? Is the child encouraged to communicate about his desires and is the parent willing to listen and consider his input? Is the focus of the communication to connect and collaborate or just for the parent to make all decisions? Is the parent putting aside her own values and feeling resentment for the sake of the child being able to play whatever he wants? Do we ever all get exactly what we want when we want it and should we? Is it okay to choose a way that other people disagree with? Is it helpful to experiment with power and control in ways that do not harm?

        Is it oppressive to remove something from a child’s life that is oppressive in nature – something violence oriented? What if the parent decided to allow violent material such as rape pornography? Would that be okay as long as the parent was in communication with the child? Is it really that different from being in the position of an aggressor with illusory power to kill another? What differentiates rape from killing? Sure, it’s not really happening, but it is something the person spends time with and we can’t just remove experiences we have at will from our minds and emotional bodies… even if they’re “gaming”.

        I ask these questions because they are very important to consider when we are thinking of how we make decisions as parents. I agree that communication is key and that the approach the parent takes while making decisions – power with instead of power over makes a huge difference – determines the results.

        November 25, 2011
    • Here is another take on fantasy violence written by the author of “Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence,” Gerard Jones:

      Another great book that talks about the benefits of all types of video games is “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal.

      November 25, 2011
      • Amy #

        Thank you, Karen. I appreciate the alternative views on the potential benefits of violence.

        I feel that this particular articles points to the benefits being able to work through problems with an accepting space (stories) and art. That’s a little different than claiming violence is good for kids, but I am glad that some people find this type of play genuinely helpful.

        It sounds like the issue is that children are taught to repress violent feelings and violent games allow them to experience them fully. I would go even further to add that they are not really allowed to experience the signal of strong emotions such as anger, rage, and hatred through violence. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. What’s underneath those feelings? What more is there to discover when we really inquire into the experience of our children and allow them to fully feel their feelings while learning effective ways of acting on them that work for everyone in the environment.

        Years ago, and probably still, it was suggested when angry to hit a punching bad, scream into a pillow, or pretend the person you are mad at is an ant and squish them with your shoe. All of those ways of dealing with anger completely deny it’s purpose and the valuable signal it is communicating. It teaches a person to stuff it further, really, in most cases because the person doesn’t learn the signal inside of the anger. Possibly the signal is that the person needs to speak up, make a change, get help, etc. It’s hard to discover when we redirect what we are feeling into something else… even a video game or violent media. On the other hand, stories can be extremely healing and open the space for introspection or discussion as well.

        I’ll have to check out the book. 🙂

        November 25, 2011
  5. Amy #

    I feel it is worth adding that if a family is working through violence to learn alternative ways of problems solving then taking out anything that supports violence (verbal or physical) as a measure of problem solving can be especially important and helpful.

    First, the parent can benefit from checking her/himself. If we’re setting a violent example then our kids are getting such tendencies from us and we need to learn other ways. Then we can model and teach them to the kids. This is real life stuff and some families must start here.

    In addition, the elimination of violence based programming can communicate three messages: we don’t support the use of violence to solve problems, we are learning alternatives, and we *do* value time together, like you mentioned Sarah, playing *other* types of games such as sports or whatever else.

    Kids learn what they live and vice versa. We all do.

    November 25, 2011
    • Amy, with regard to your comment ‘we don’t support the use of violence to solve problems’ as a message to your children about why you will not permit the playing of video games, well… this is actually the central point of this blog post. The notion that are kids will learn violent behaviors or violent methods of conflict resolution via the playing of violent video games. Sarah and I have both noticed – profoundly – that this is not the case. Kids know the difference between reality and fantasy and can stay completely in tune with their heart centers during their stages of game playing. Also, take a look at my response to another poster above and tell me what you think about that.

      November 25, 2011
      • Amy #

        I appreciate what you share, Barb and Sarah, because it provides a platform to discuss challenging subjects. 🙂

        It sounds like your kids have no issues with violent video games. That’s lovely. We’ve not had them in our home although my son has played some online. I do “allow” hunting games. LOL I’m sure some would disagree with that, but he’s a hunter even though he’s a beginner at age 8. 🙂

        In our home we really focus on alternatives to violence because we’ve experienced the other side. I used to punish and my first marriage ended in violence. So… for us it works to focus on other ways of experiencing *true* power in talking through tough stuff, taking walks when we’re upset if we need space, breathing, exercising, wrestling, dancing together, whatever. We experiment. I don’t shape them although my actions influence them. They shape me and demonstrate that violence doesn’t work and we need alternatives. 🙂

        I realize each family is unique. I also realize that we all get to rethink this stuff through continuously to make sure we haven’t just settled into a blanket position that may not work for everyone. 🙂

        November 25, 2011
        • I think conscious parenting is where it’s at – that flowing, ever changing process of watching, listening, responding, learning, changing that we do not only with our kids, but with ourselves. What I came to see was that if I could remove any preconceptions or dogma before communicating with my kids, and be completely open to whatever felt right and true, useful and loving, supportive and honest, I would be able to easily move in the direction that felt the best – knowing that it could all change in an hour. I saw that that gave my kids a powerful sense of responsibility and control in their own lives as well, and no need for feelings like rebellion, resentment, helplessness.

          November 25, 2011
    • Except fantasy violence is not real life violence. It’s fantasy. It’s like saying bad dreams are real life happenings. They are not. Fantasy violence is similar to bad dreams in that both give us meaningful practice working through difficult scenarios. Those scenarios don’t need to be about violence. They can be about lack of control, fear of our emotions, coping with complicated social dynamics, etc.

      We, as parents, tend to fear fantasy violence because we get it mixed up with real world violence. Kids don’t see it that way, and we don’t do our children any favours by confusing fantasy with real life. In fact, we do them a disservice by fearing the very tool they use to make sense of their world – play. Play isn’t always nice a tidy and clean and happy, because life can be unfair and messy and dirty and difficult. We need tools for all occasions.

      I have to say, my son is one of the most peaceful kids I have yet to meet, but I love to take over the world with him in fantasy land once in a while too. We are both better people for it, and deeply connected because of it too.

      November 25, 2011
      • Amy #

        Thanks, Karen. I don’t fear fantasy violence or play. I see that some methods of play are more beneficial for certain people and situations than others… and again, each situation is unique. 🙂

        There are different schools of thought on what is really helpful for children working through violence. I suppose there is not one definitive answer although repressing or resisting emotions certainly has negative effects. As to whether video games provide a benefit, even therapeutic, for children to work through violence is up to the child and family. From the people I have witnessed it only goes so far if the end solution is the violence. If it *works through* violence that is another thing.

        November 25, 2011
        • >>As to whether video games provide a benefit, even therapeutic, for children to work through violence is up to the child and family. From the people I have witnessed it only goes so far if the end solution is the violence. If it *works through* violence that is another thing.<>What if the parent decided to allow violent material such as rape pornography? Would that be okay as long as the parent was in communication with the child? Is it really that different from being in the position of an aggressor with illusory power to kill another? What differentiates rape from killing?<<

          My initial reaction to this was to be insulted, honestly. I have never known a parent that would consider allowing children to watch or play games with the content of rape and pornography. I would sincerely hope that most children playing videos are yet blissfully unaware of that aspect of the world. There is a big difference between killing fantasy monsters and playing at raping or exploiting others. If you don't believe that difference is huge, I can understand your objection. But, you live in a much scarier world than I, if killing pretend pixel monsters is anywhere close to rape and pornography.

          November 25, 2011
  6. mbh #

    I have often been surprised how my child does much of his best learning. He hated school and resisted reading and writing but, when I finally “gave in” and allowed texting and Facebook, I realized that he was spending hours every day “practicing” reading, writing, and spelling. Why had I resisted so much?

    Video games? He is allowed to play whatever he wants, although I don’t participate. It’s not my thing. I do cringe at the violence I see. I’m honest with him about my feelings and he is reassuring to me, in return.

    I think what is really an important take-away from this article, for me, is that we pay attention to our children as they explore. I heard each of you talk about your own fears and also about how you stayed tuned in to your kids to recognize that the video games were indeed not harmful.

    In your cases, you observed that your children experienced hours of fun and learning. But, your children are what I would call a small sample. Of all the kids in the world that play violent video games, if they were all treated like you treated your kids, would they all have the same experience? I would venture to say that there are perhaps some kids who process the information in the games differently and may, perhaps, have some issues dealing with the experience. That is why I think the key is to be tuned in as a parent and to set any limitations based on your child’s experience, not your own fears.

    There was a period in my son’s development when we realized that his watching of violent television was affecting his emotional health and behavior. We put some temporary limits on his exposure and watched to see if there was a difference in him. (We did this honestly and openly with him, explaining what we saw and why we were setting some limits.) We saw a huge improvement in his emotional health when we made the change. He was even thankful. Over a period of time, with his guidance, we removed more and more limits until we are now, again, without parental limitation.

    I think video games are great. I also know that I have to stay turned in to my kid to ensure that the experience continues to be positive for him.

    I like the idea of separate rooms at RE Conference for violent and non-violent games. It honors the fact that even though we all are re-thinking, we may not necessarily come to the same conclusion.

    November 25, 2011
    • I absolutely love this comment and think you’ve really hit it for me. It’s not about the games; it’s about the relationship, awareness, open communication, and problem solving. I talk in my part of the post about how we dealt with issues that came up with my son’s gaming. The primary thing we agreed on was a time cap so his game play was not to the exclusion of our family activities, playdates, clubs, etc. He noted that he would get so wrapped up in the game, that he’d forget to eat, go to the bathroom, and wouldn’t be able to recognize how long he’d been on. He sets his own timer and keeps track of how long he’s been on. That way, he knows he’s getting his time and it doesn’t interfere with other aspects of our lives. We can move the time around according to our day. Communication of everyone’s needs and problem solving accordingly is a growth and learning experience for all of us.

      November 25, 2011
    • what you say mbh about parental involvement and connection with the child is critical, of course. for the abused or neglected child, one who is exposed primarily to negative or harsh environments or criticism, he may see the fantasy violence as reality and behave completely differently than has been our (mine and Sarah’s) experience. with that said however, the focus culturally must be placed on improving the nurturing and unconditional support that a child needs to thrive, and not on blaming video games.

      as for violent TV, I think that’s a completely different matter, as real people are doing the acting and TV, aside from science fiction, is written to appear real. how many adults do you know who actually believe that law enforcement is like CSI or some of the other legal shows? lots of them, from what I read and hear from legal experts. if adults can’t distinguish unreal TV from what is real, or know how to access the information to help them make the distinctions, it certainly is challenging for kids.

      as with the video gaming, violent TV can be ok for kids who ask to watch, AS LONG AS THE PARENT IS WILLING TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for watching the show(s) with the child and dealing responsibly with the questions and fears that result. this might mean real work for the parent in researching the reality of such situations, laws, ramifications of violent actions, etc. etc. what an education for both parent and child!

      November 25, 2011
    • There are some really great comments on gaming in this TED talk given by Gabe Zichermann – the most important one being *play the games with your kids.*

      If our children are attracted to violent games (any kind of games, really), play with them so you can understand the appeal and address the needs. Most times there is so much more going on that we, as parents, could possible see taking an observers point of view.

      November 25, 2011
      • Amy #

        Playing with our kids is definitely a way to observe and inquire into the motivations for playing; plus it allows us to spend time connecting which is valuable beyond measure.

        November 25, 2011
    • Amy #

      Yes 🙂

      November 25, 2011
  7. mbh #

    At our family Thanksgiving get-together yesterday, my sister, who is a teacher, was on her soap-box about the bad influence of video games. She said, “In video games, they [the kids’ (characters)] die and they only have push a button to start their lives right where they left off.” More loudly, she said, “And THEN, they come to school thinking they can take a test, fail, and get another chance.” I sat stunned for a moment, thinking about what she had just said. I wondered to myself, why not? Why can’t we fail and try again? Isn’t the purpose of learning… learning? And do we have to get it right the first time?

    At the same time, in response to this post, I asked my son this morning what he thought about violent video games. He said that it depended on the age. He said that when he was younger, if he had watched violence in video games, he may have been more likely to be violent in how he dealt with his problems. He says that now that he is older, he understands the difference. When I asked if he learned anything positive from video games, he said, “no.” I questioned him further about if he had learned collaboration or strategy. He said that, for the most part, he didn’t unless he wanted to learn how to slash some guy’s throat. He said that the exception was with World of Warcraft, where he could learn a lot about strategy, cooperation and collaboration. I am not going to judge his answers; I just thought I would share his perspective.

    November 25, 2011
  8. Amy #

    Speaking of fantasy violence, has anyone heard of revenge fantasy where kids fantasize hurting those who victimize them? Some children act out these fantasies. Possibly another subject, but related. Violence in the environment (video games, programming, or otherwise) can affirm that violence is a solution. Can we fully deny this correlation? What if we offered solutions for people to work through these feelings of rage into an actual solution, rather than acting them out imaginatively? Possibly some of the games people are using do just this?

    Mainly when I think of “violent” video games I am thinking of those that use aggression as the solution to a problem.

    If adults get confused about the difference between fantasy and real violence what stops children from doing the same or choosing to perpetuate a mental fantasy into reality?

    I imagine this all comes back to the approach, environment, and individual uniqueness. 🙂

    November 25, 2011
    • Have not heard of revenge fantasy, but it sounds like fun indeed! : )

      Violence is absolutely present in the real world and present because people think it is a solution. This is where great conversation begins! This is where your ability to role model peace as a mature adult, in your relationships with your kids, spouse, extended family, friends, etc. really come into play. My very astute daughter called me a hypocrite more than once when she was younger as she witnessed me saying one thing and doing another. Because I was absolutely determined not to react defensively in the face of her challenge, I was forced to examine myself and … change.

      November 25, 2011
      • Amy #

        Absolutely, Barb. 🙂

        November 25, 2011
  9. (I’m sorry to repost…my earlier response seemed to have gotten cropped. Please see in full below:)

    >>As to whether video games provide a benefit, even therapeutic, for children to work through violence is up to the child and family. From the people I have witnessed it only goes so far if the end solution is the violence. If it *works through* violence that is another thing.<>What if the parent decided to allow violent material such as rape pornography? Would that be okay as long as the parent was in communication with the child? Is it really that different from being in the position of an aggressor with illusory power to kill another? What differentiates rape from killing?<<

    My initial reaction to this was to be insulted, honestly. I have never known a parent that would consider allowing children to watch or play games with the content of rape and pornography. I would sincerely hope that most children playing videos are yet blissfully unaware of that aspect of the world. There is a big difference between killing fantasy monsters and playing at raping or exploiting others. If you don't believe that difference is huge, I can understand your objection. But, you live in a much scarier world than I, if killing pretend pixel monsters is anywhere close to rape and pornography.

    November 25, 2011
    • Darn. I’m sorry my comment is not coming through in full. I will post my response on my blog for anyone interested in reading it in full. Thanks for the interesting discussion!

      November 25, 2011
    • Amy #

      Hi Karen, I am sorry you felt insulted and that the points I brought up were limiting to the discussion. That was not my intention.

      In reflecting upon your full reply at your blog ( I feel this brings up a few questions…

      Where is the line with violent play and can we really determine if it is helpful? Ultimately, does it teach a child how to navigate emotions and solve problems with awareness? Possibly we just think it is helpful because we view it from that perspective (or vice versa). We must each decide that for ourselves and our families.

      Also, what limits a discussion? A contrary view or opinion? Is it possible that such views come up in the process of rethinking? In my experience they do. Many questions deserve answers, just like with curious children. Please do not feel I am questioning you personally, just throwing out what comes up for me in the context of this discussion.

      When I compared rape pornography to killing I was thinking of graphic games that allow the gamer to be in the position of a person killing another person, punching until the person is bloody or passed out, dropping bombs or other real life violent action. I’m not extremely knowledgeable on the details of various types of games because we don’t buy them, but I am aware of what’s available. I read summaries, reviews, etc.

      Sexual violence is a form of violence. It is horrific. To me, violence is violence, though, and all violence begets violence.

      I admit that I don’t know everything (so glad for that) and that quite possibly there is some benefit to children being able to kill pixel monsters on a screen. If it works, it works. 🙂

      November 25, 2011
    • For me it’s not a matter of condoning rape or pornography or violence, etc. It’s about trusting my child/teen’s need/desire and ability to move toward the thoughts/activities/outlets that FEEL GOOD to him.

      If I observe that my child/teen has chosen to partake of a video game that reinforces rape/violence, I am definitely concerned and will engage him – not blame him or punish him or harass him or belittle him – to understand what his needs are and how he is processing the information he is seeking. If I disagree with him I will tell him, but he will know that my thoughts are not more important than his.

      There are so many questions in life and we’re pretty darn fortunate if we can manage to answer the ones we ask ourselves, much less the ones our children ask for themselves. So many variables, so many external events and stimuli that factor into a person’s psyche and behavior. As a parent, I feel good creating an environment of unconditional support, such that my child/teen knows that he is free to think, question and experiment with the world on his terms. He also knows that he is responsible for his decisions, can ask for advice, expect respect and be loved unconditionally.

      November 26, 2011
  10. Amy #

    Here’s an article that points to some of the questions I have about violent video games…

    We do enjoy other types, though. 🙂

    November 25, 2011
    • Amy #

      I think it’s funny that they use the word ‘wrong’ when so many people reject that term, but if you read through you can see what they are talking about.

      November 25, 2011
    • I liked this paper, thanks for sending it along. There is definitely a big element of mystery surrounding the ‘playing’ of such games, but a few things occur to me:

      – why would a child or teen or adult even choose to play such hideously violent games?
      – if they do choose it, why would I say no to it?
      – if I trust my child (teen, adult child or spouse) to know what feels right and true to him, and honor/support their desire to experiment with life on their own terms, is there any room for me to veto such a game’s use?

      I remember when my oldest son was just three years old. We hadn’t begun watching any TV in our home yet, and our experience together was pretty ‘lilly white’ – fun, easy, loving, stress free. He told me at this young age that he ‘wanted to be so scared from something that it would make him cry.’ Huh? It took us awhile to grasp something that would accomplish this for him, talking to him of options we came up with that we would feel ok about. We settled on watching a Stephen King movie called ‘Cujo’ about a rabid dog that does crazy dog eating things. He was excited and we went out to get the movie. We sat down together, watched the first, oh, 20 minutes or so, and he had accomplished the feeling he was seeking, said it was enough and we turned it off. Back to play and nary a future interest in needing to feel so scared that he would cry. Hmm. Mysterious. Need met. Easy. Done. Something from a past life? Something from an unfinished nightmare? No idea.

      November 26, 2011
      • Amy #

        Thanks for the discussion, Barb. I agree totally with not shaming or otherwise making kids wrong for decisions. Choices and decisions have results and we each get to experience them; I’m not into manufacturing them for the purpose of teaching although it’s been a process to let that tendency go! 🙂 I work toward open, accepting discussion with the relation of cause and effect, potential “reasons” one would want to engage, asking questions and lots of listening…. and yes, staying open to the mystery. 🙂

        November 27, 2011
        • Great discussion. I was taken aback by the mention of games involving horrific violence and rape and wondering to myself in what situation my child would choose this. As with Karen, the violence in the games my son plays involves medieval weaponry and/or fantasy monsters. But you bring up an interesting point, Amy. At first I thought, “well, that would never happen. My son would never be drawn to those types of games.” Resistance. I resonate with what Barb is saying about my children only doing and engaging in things that feel GOOD to them. In years past, though, I might have said the same thing about Nerf gun play, boffer weaponry, and World of Warcraft. “My son would never be drawn to those types of games.” Until he was.

          So I think it’s all valid to discuss with the openness of supporting our children’s experiences how we approach ANY situation in which we are taken by surprise by a need or desire that our child expresses and how we put aside our own fears and baggage to address it. “Engage, asking questions and lots of listening” – indeed.

          November 28, 2011
  11. Amy #

    I think that most people who are drawn to really heinous violence probably have something they’re working through… like Barb said, past life stuff, possible abuse, something. It just doesn’t “come out of nowhere”.

    If a parent can really neutrally observe/pay attention maybe they can provide and/or seek assistance in helping the child work through the stuff instead of indulge it through various means. I don’t mean indulge as if it is bad, but when it comes to the violence of rape pornography or something equally horrific then indulging such fantasies probably has a basis worth discovering and working through.

    I say this from the experience of knowing people who had tendencies toward violence and really needed to address the underlying issues to experience healing so they no longer had a desire to act it out in one way or another.

    November 29, 2011
    • Intuitively and experientially, I think there is an artistic combination of both indulgence and talk communication that is required, especially for children who are not as mature or articulate as adults can be. I think what is critical is that there are no RULES that are to be followed, but rather intuitive connection, soft presence, unconditional support. What follows will vary from person to person, situation to situation.

      November 29, 2011
  12. I disagree- As a formerly avid video gamer myself, I believe that video games, like TV, have negative effects on the brain. There is research that supports that the brain goes into a hypnotized, numbed, suggestible, brain-depressed state when watching TV and playing video games. The body is also generally sedentary when playing video games and watching TV. In contrast, when reading a book, even if the child is physically sedentary, the brain is fired up, stimulated and activated in every region. Imagination flows, critical thinking is strong and there tends to be an elevated feeling when the book is put down. After watching TV or playing video games, the brain is in a depressive state, and often a sense of slight lethargy or restlessness comes over the person when the screen is turned off. I know this view is not popular or wanted by unschoolers, but I am an unschooling parent, and my son and I have researched this together. He has been clear with me since he was 12 to NOT allow him to play video games, because he admitted he can’t stop himself once he starts. While he plays them occasionally at a friend’s house, he even turns me down when I want to bust out the vintage Atari or Nintendo, saying, “Mom, even those games will get me addicted.” Movies and DVDs of TV show episodes without commercials that we can turn off after one episode are what we use as an occasional treat. My son has amazing amounts of time to do so many diverse activities that I can’t keep track of them all, because he doesn’t spend hours in front of a screen. When we DO watch something, or, like on a plane ride to RE, play the DS, it is a special treat that is appreciated and interactive- Lots of pausing to laugh and repeat funny phrases, fall to the floor, “die” from a great line or ponder issues.

    December 9, 2011
    • Thanks Laurie, for sending some great links on this topic. Since I have witnessed so much benefit from game playing, and love to rethink everything, here are some resources that support reasons TO support this activity:

      What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee

      Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

      Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age by Kurt Squire

      Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn by Cathy Davison

      The reality is that there is ample research on both sides of this issue. Wading through it, thinking and rethinking, watching and listening to your unique child, engaging with them on multiple levels, supporting an environment for freedom and expression and creativity, I think all of these are required as part of what we do as responsible parents.

      December 12, 2011
      • Barb,

        I AM a gamer and used to play regularly as a teen and in my 20’s. I own 10 game systems, from vintage video game consoles such as the Odyssey and Atari 2600 and rare gems like the recalled Atari 5200 to more recent systems such as the DS. I know video gaming well and even inside and out. Brycen still catches me in pawn shops searching for rare Nintendo Entertainment System games. I could easily become addicted if I picked up a joystick right now. I am not an anti-gamer who is clueless about the rapture of staring at a moving screen and beating my thumbs on control pad button, screaming at the screen when I lose a virtual life. TV was the background noise of my childhood; I wasn’t from any radical home.

        However, now I “rethink everything” about the mainstream. I consider the agenda of the government and how media is used as a tool for public manipulation. I consider Capitalist society’s purpose for distracting people with mind-numbing media. Based on my own experience with video games, my son’s similar experiences and the experiences of hundreds of other kids I’ve worked with who talk about their gaming and TV habits, I “rethought” media enough to do something radical- Not indulge in it.

        How is it “rethinking everything” if we are simply following along with what the mainstream is doing every day? How would it be “rethinking everything” if I just continued to use media as I did for the first 25 years of my life? Rethinking everything, in my understanding, is about challenging the the status quo. There is nothing radical about children playing video games and watching TV. What IS radical is detoxing from it (either by remarkably reducing it or using it only rarely) and spending the time inventing one’s own experiences, not the virtual worlds of video games and TV.

        December 12, 2011
        • I think we are all obligated to ourselves to think and rethink the motives behind all of our thoughts and actions, of course. As a counter to your stance, I see mainstream thought regarding video games as one of resistance and fear and thwarting, not allowing, trust and joy – this is with regard to children and teens in particular.

          Your experience with gaming was self admittedly dysfunctional but that does not mean that’s the case for everyone else, in fact that form of dogmatic thinking is precisely what ‘gets us into trouble’ as a culture. When we use our personal idiosyncratic experiences to form beliefs that we then come to hold as a standard for everyone else to follow, we are no different than any fundamentalist religious group who cannot allow for the differing beliefs of others.

          I am not suggesting that video gaming is good for everyone or that it should somehow be required for holistic learning – eek, no. All I am suggesting is that when a child or teen is drawn to video gaming, I, as a parent want to support it, whether I understand or agree with it, because I trust my child/teen’s ability to choose the thoughts and activities that allow him to feel alive and fulfilled and excited and growing. Even when I observe my child/teen regressing or backsliding, I know he is still growing because the dark sides of our psyches are as important as the happy and alive ones. When I trust my child/teen and don’t second guess his ability to know himself, there is no resistance, no battle, no rebellion to overcome and I know he will move through his questions/experiment into growth and further knowledge and empowerment. Yes, this is absolutely how I believe it works.

          December 13, 2011
  13. Osie #

    Barb, Karen was responding to Laurie’s post re her research with her son. I remember this debate with Laurie at RE. I am sure she had research she believes to be valid, others argue you can get research to say what you want or that unschooled kid’s haven’t been studied or that this whole addiction/brain trance stuff is not their personal experience with their kids.

    I’m uncomfortable with the language of the whole thing, because I do have one child that has issues that make him more likely to use different tools to the detriment of his and other’s lives (he is on the feta alcohol spectrum, there isn’t a guidebook and we plod along, bring, present, worrying less about rules tan what he needs/is happening Right Now. We have felt better and betteras we learn to be his advocates and support, not trying to fit into is it unschooling, is it right or kid’s with autism-like beaviors, but is it working–is he happy, basically, is he exploring the world with joy and curiosity, as much as is possible for him? So through trial and error, after two girlswhere it was much easier to see how freedom worked better for everyone than restriction, have tried a variety of approaches over the years. First, there is so much fear in labeling–video games are bad, kid’s with fetal alcohol damag can’t learn, whatever, I like to offer more instead o less, alternatives instead of restrictions. Like, my kid likes sweets, and I mean, like as in, steal his sister’s from their rooms, eat sugar out of the box, lick the top of a cake! Well, I don’t suggest sweets, I offer tons of other food h loves, readily available, we offer walks and trampoline jumping and loved physical activities IN ADDITION TO games, not instead of. My kid can do so much on the computer and very little with a pencil, he is successful at the games–trance-shmance, seriously. I guess after rambling my main point on the topic is: fear is so constricting–labeling things as good or bad, addictive, useless, forbidden, adding choices is expanding, literally, and feels much better for exploring and peacefulness.

    December 9, 2011
    • I agree that an honest examination of fear is critical in everything you do, every decision you make. If you are acting in response to fear, it is dysfunctional and less than ideal. All right action is motivated from joyful desire. If it happens to include the playing of video games, then embrace it and move forward, if only one step at a time.

      One can find statistics and research to support any point of view, so it all must be either taken with a grain of salt or, more extensively, followed to the source: who is supporting the research, where is the money coming from, who benefits from the outcome, etc. For years research has proven that non-meat eaters are deficient in nutrients and cannot thrive yet demonstrably we know just the opposite is true, for example. Our world is filled with contradictions! For years, coconut oil was considered a harmful, taboo oil and now it’s considered a miracle cure for almost everything under the sun. How do you wade through the right and wrong of it all? Think for yourself, that’s how: always move in the direction, and support your child/teen to do the same, of what feels exciting, alive, joyful, etc. Don’t act from fear – it will not benefit you.

      December 10, 2011
      • There are so many ways to manipulate studies- demographics, samples, statistical analyses, every aspect of a study is prone to bias without careful attention not to do so. Anything that is loaded with social bias is especially prone to this. Hell, in my master’s nursing thesis we were instructed to select the most ‘appropriate’ method of statistical analysis to support our initial hypothesis. Reading only the summary without carefully analyzing the entire methodology of the study is a potentially very erroneous and persuasive pill to swallow. But analyzing them takes a tremendous amount of knowledge about research process which we don’t all have.

        So now what? First, I’d say that when we’re pinning behaviors, actions, etc. on any one thing as being the source of the problem, we’re probably not looking deep enough. What is my role in this? What are my expectations? Are they realistic? Are they helpful? Am I coming at this from a place of resistance? Why? What are my concerns? Are my child’s needs being met? Is this a passionate pursuit or a method of relaxation/decompression? (if the former) How can I effectively facilitate this passion? (if the latter) Are there other methods I could introduce to facilitate lowered stress and relaxation or can I rationalize that we all have ways of processing and resting ourselves?

        December 12, 2011
      • mbh #


        I have my degree in experimental psychology and I know just how hard it is to ensure that studies are measuring what what we think. Considerations from sample size, to definitions, to methodology, to other variables, including experimenter expectation can skew results. I am always very cautious about bias (or ineptitude) when I read any research. With that said, research can be a very helpful tool is used wisely.

        Your comment: “Is this a passionate pursuit or a method of relaxation/decompression?”

        It reminds me of a part of that video by Sir Ken Robinson on education ( He talks in one part of his lecture about ADHD, but his words are applicable to the gaming experience.

        He says something like, “An ‘aesthetic experience’ is an experience when the senses are operating at their peak. You are present at the moment when you are resonating with the excitement of this thing that you are currently experiencing, when you are fully alive.

        ‘Anesthetic’ is when you shut your senses off and deaden yourself to what is happening.”

        I find this an interesting measuring device when I use it to look at my son’s game playing. Am I seeing him engaged in an “aesthetic experience” or an “anesthetic experience?” For the most part, I usually see an the former.

        December 12, 2011
  14. Osie #

    Omg sorry for the grammar/spelling/autocorrect it’s late! Hope I made sense. Fetal alcohol, more choices example with food and activities instead of restricting foods or certain activities….calling it an addiction, focusing, saying, CAN’T stop is taking away my child’s confidence in his ability to figure these things out for himself, very disempowering. Going to bed, happy to clarify in daylight 🙂

    December 9, 2011
  15. I guess what is so frustrating to me is that whenever there is a viewpoint, a legitimate, evidence-based view point that shows that mainstream practices such as moderate media usage or inflammatory, processed foods, are not in line with holistic health, those comments are just cut down by the unschooling community as “fear based” or not allowing children “choices”. Yet when people post about allowing their children to eat foods that are linked to cancer and use media to fill up large chunks of their day, it is welcomed and viewed almost like the “speak” of the movement. That doesn’t represent me, and I am equally a voice for the unschooling/AP movement. This is one reason why it is difficult to have conversations with the unschooling community about these issues, just as difficult as trying to have a conversation with the mainstream about unschooling or trying to have a conversation with a feminist about male victims of domestic and sexual assault- People have already made up their minds, so any alternative view is seen as “fear-based” or unevolved. In my eyes, I see holding onto mainstream ways despite evidence that it is altering our culture for the worse (and is not in line with nature’s intent) as unevolved.

    December 10, 2011
    • Laurie, only YOU know whether your thoughts or actions are fear based. No one else knows this about another. We are each responsible for our thoughts and actions and dissecting the motivators that spawn them. The fact that you chose to take offense and react defensively suggests your own possible discomfort with your decisions, but even in saying this, I am not accusing anything, only observing. And I would also like to add that I think it’s unfair of you to lump all unschool thought together, like there is some widespread conspiracy. I have never felt this, but perhaps it’s just my own circle.

      December 10, 2011
  16. osie #

    so, completely unrelated to this discussion, my daughter and i have been hanging out tonight, and at one point she asked me to come watch her play Minecraft. i am just not goid with complicated games, even board games, i rarely understand what’s going on. but she *asked* and i can *watch,* right? ishe showed me some stuff she was doing and i asked questions i wish could be about the meat of it but are more basic, like do you like playing by yourself (as she plays roblox too, and very interactively whike skyping(
    does your character get lonely off the server on her island, she said no, she likes building and figuring things out her own way in peace. she WAS figuring out stuff, talking to me about what she was doing, and i noticed that my eight year old touch-types as fast as i do– and then i thought about this thread and the idea that she could be experiencing a negative, inherently bad, hypnotic state was just totally wrong. this world is the one our kids live in, its how they communicate, heck, maoinstream parents wlament their kids’ computer time as they imagine their kids succeeding in careers that involve a ton of computer time. i am not saying, also, that any of us as a mom doesnt know our kids and their reality better than any unschooling “consensus”- and i think the hardcore my way or the wrong way unschoolers arent the RE crowd. i was an obsessive reader to escape from a lonely, sad childhood. in my teen years, i found better escapes, even. that doesnt mean taking away books or forbidding the other stuff was the answer, which would have been to add purpose, joy, love, attention to my life. i have one child that can get lost in activities or rituals to avoid his difficulties with people, noise, the confused working of his mind and nervous system. i do definitely pay closer attention as to when he seems to be not doing somethibg for joy but spending long periods eating, repeating the same show, etc, for anxiety relief. one goal is of course to help him deal with the anxiety, and another is honest trusting conversation, ie at the sjating rink, he zoomed in on a stack of mini cupcake tins they had out for the kids. after a few minutes, i distracted him away to skate. when i saw him over there again and again, i talked to him about that i worried about him continuing to eat all those cupcakes, that two dozen cupcakes is pretty bad for his stomach, how i was worried coz if i kept eating thay many, my stomach would really, really hurt. i let him make his own choice in the end, and he does have a tough time with sugary stuff (i mean, we eat fairky healthy but not gardcore, not like he hadnt seen sweets in a month, its just a switch that goes off when the stuff’s in sight. forbiddibg (as i know fro childhood and from trying as a mom) just backfires into shame, hiding, control, distrust. its not a pat answer or a matter of enxouraging behaviors you see are detrimental to YOUR child’s life, not some research. and then ask yourself how to best handle that within your family, your beliefs, your relationship with your child…i dont think its a topic that cant be discussed among sane, nondogmatic radical unschoolers, the resistance in me was from the “research says that it does this bad thing to all kids” geberalization. have not had any issues around gaming at my house. i am i think very present with my kids and gaming is an enjoyable part of their lives. TV watching, too…luckily we have family consensus on Hulu/Netflix/computer/DVDs and no cable, therefore the annoying, distracting, and generally the part i hare about watching arent there. but on the rare ocxassion someone chooses network tv, we all notice the sudden and constant ads. it makes as go to other choices, leads to discussion, etc.

    BTW, a FB friend through work posted lamenting about his son watching spongebob at school when he didnt allow it at home (yall know what i was thinking lol) but anyhow, he complained about no redeeming value. i suffested my srlective eater will happily make and eat “crabby patties” of all types, dont think that convinced him…2 things:1. why are people so sxared if their kids see rudeness on TV, they will be rude people? i like to watch dumb realiry shows but have no desire to become a celebrity drug addict like on celeb rehab! the other funny thing, same friend posted today about takibg his kids to the Smurf movie. i personally would find spongebob much more entertaining. it does come across as fear. i think we underestimate our kids when we extrapolate too much meaning on certain activities, unless that meaning is from our first-hand exp with the child. and even if it is, forbidding/limiting ALWAYS backfires on me.

    December 11, 2011
    • Osie, I absolutely agree that culturally we thoroughly underestimate the natural, gifted intelligence that is present in each child from birth onward. Most adults begin the conditioning process immediately and only accelerate it as the child ages. Frustration, angst, dumbed down thinking is the result.

      December 12, 2011
    • Yes, Osie! I have found my son’s relationship to World of Warcraft to be similar. He is so engaged in critical thinking, problem solving, and social interaction when he’s in that world. His vocabulary, reading skills, and communication through typing are rapidly expanding. I admit that I didn’t understand all of that when he began playing. What I did see was his passion for it and I know from experience that it’s always wonderful and leads to great things when I ask questions and support the process.

      December 12, 2011

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