Online Gaming

To set the stage for this chapter, here’s a recent interview we did with Dr. Rachel Kowert, a Canadian subject matter expert, on the emotional, psychological, physical, and social  concerns and benefits surrounding online gaming:

Before we start to drill down on this topic, it is important that we look at some stats and facts when it comes to online gaming:

  • In 2020, gaming was a 4.5-billion-dollar industry in Canada, 65 billion in North America, and 164 billion internationally.
  • 48,000 Canadians are employed in the gaming industry in Canada and 220,000 in the United States.
  • In 2020, 23 million Canadians play online games.
  • The average age of gamers in Canada is 34 years with an even split between male and female gamers.
  • 48% of adult gamers prefer playing on their mobile device – 35% of teens
  • The first recorded e-gaming tournament was a “Space Invaders” tournament that hosted 10,000 participants in 1980, where 16-year-old Rebecca Heineman won a trophy, a new Atari, and a small cash prize. In 2019, the “World Fortnite Competition” hosted over 40 million participants and 16-year-old Kyle Giesdorf walked away with a trophy and a 3 million dollar cash prize for first place.

Unknown to many parents, there are several game types that we should be aware of which include:

  • Casual games – Angry Birds
  • First-person shooter games – Fortnite
  • Massive multiplayer online role-playing games – World of Warcraft
  • Real-time strategy games – Red Alert
  • Fighting Games – Mortal Combat
  • Sporting Games – NBA2K

One of the best sites that we have located to allow parents to get a better understanding of online gaming and their subgenres is https://www.idtech.com/blog/different-types-of-video-game-genres

Gaming also comes with its own vernacular which is often a new language to adults.  Some examples include:

  • Ghosting – a form of cheating
  • Camping – this is where one player picks one position and waits
  • Easter Egg – a hidden message contained in the game
  • KDR – abbreviation for Kill Death Ratio
  • Farming – there is where a player completes the same task multiple times

One of the best sites that we have located to allow parents to decipher gaming language and vernacular is:

https://www.pcgamesn.com/glossary

Gaming Addiction or What Should Be Called “Problematic Gaming Disorder”:

There is no bigger non-consensus and discussion in the scientific and medical community surrounding gaming than on the topic of “gaming addiction”. In North America, when it comes to diagnosing an addiction, the leading document used by psychiatrists, psychologists, and others in the medical community is the DSM-5.  Specific to the DSM-5 here’s what it says in Section 3:

“There are no well-researched subtypes for Internet gaming disorder to date. Internet gaming disorder most often involves specific internet games, but it could involve non-Internet computerized games as well, although these have been less researched. It is likely that preferred games will vary over time as new games are developed and popularized, and it is unclear if behaviors and consequences associated with Internet gaming disorder vary by game type”

Although the DSM-5 does not provide well-researched subtypes for Internet gaming disorder, in 2018 the World Health Organization – W.H.O. – in their International Classification of Diseases 11 (ICD-11) clearly outlines a diagnosis that they call “Gaming Disorder”. According to the W.H.O., to be diagnosed with this disorder, “the pattern of gaming behavior has to be continuous, episodic, and recurrent. The problematic gaming behavior, and other features, are normally evident over a period of at least 12 consecutive months, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.” This behavior includes:

  1. Impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context);
  2. Increasing priority is given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and
  3. Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behavior pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

However, what is interesting – although the W.H.O. created a diagnosis called “Gaming Disorder”, they still encourage gaming as a healthy social pastime during the COVID pandemic.

As Dr. John Jiao, who studies gaming disorder stated, “It’s not about the number of hours played.  It’s about when gaming takes precedent over health, hygiene, relationships, and finances.” consecutively over 12 months.

Although the W.H.O. has received significant pushback from those who specialize in academic research surrounding gaming  https://bit.ly/3u4NTF0 , a research study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health https://bit.ly/3as8ziB  supported the W.H.O. designation but stated:

“…it seems these problems exist, but probably in a lower proportion than reported”

For context, specific to the diagnosis of problematic gaming disorder, in a 2017 research paper titled, “Internet Gaming Disorder: Investigating the Clinical Relevance of a New Phenomenon” the researchers reported

“For the context of the degree of this issue, problematic play is probably around 0.5% of the general population and less than 1.0% of adult gamers.”

According to Dr  Rachel Kowert (PhD gaming researcher), she stated that a handful of studies finds that the rates range from .2% – 8%.  (See Dr Kowert’s YouTube Below)

In a recent 2022 research study https://bit.ly/3zrNUqh, the researchers found a global prevalence of internet gaming disorder among adolescents and young adults of about 9.9%. In this study they were also able to identify 12 possible risk factors that may make youth more prone to internet gaming disorder which they identified as:

” life stress, long average game time, family dysfunction, poor academic performance, being bullied, bullying, interpersonal problems, hyperactivity/inattention, anxiety, depression, emotional distress, and low self-esteem.”

Yes, problematic gaming disorder is a reality, but also a very rare diagnosis based on the current research to date.  Could this change? Absolute, and this should be something that parents stay alive to.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

We do believe that social media, app, and gaming vendors are using psychological tricks, also known as “Dark Patterns”, to hold the attention of their customers which can lead to problematic behaviour, but as researcher Catherine Knibbs stated,

“I don’t see this as an addiction, I see it as a manipulation of the human psyche for financial gains, and this looks more like a coercive and abusive relationship in which tech companies are the abusers”

Excellent point in our opinion, and one that Catherine Knibbs hit right on the nose!

What About Gaming and Mental Health

The research community is still in its infancy when it comes to good academic peer-reviewed research specific to gaming and mental health.  However, over the past couple of years, we have seen some good research that challenges some commonly held negative beliefs that parents have on the effects of screen time:

Study #1:

2019 Oxford study “Screens, Teens, and Psychological Well-Being: Evidence From Three Time-Use-Diary Studies”

 “We found little evidence for substantial negative associations between digital-screen engagement”

Study #2:

2019 the University of North Carolina study “Young Adolescents Digital Technology Use and Adolescent Mental Health: Little Evidence of Longitudinal or Daily Linkages”

“technology use did not predict later mental health symptoms. Adolescents reported mental health was also not worse on days when they reported spending more versus less time on technology” and,

“Adolescents’ at higher risk for mental health problems also exhibited no signs of increased risk for mental health problems on higher technology days”

Study #3:

2020 University of California research review, “Annual Research Review: Adolescent mental health in the digital age: Facts, Fears, and Future Directions”

“the most recent and rigorous large-scale preregistered studies report small associations between the about of daily digital technology usage and adolescent well-being that no not offer a way of distinguishing cause from effect and as estimated, are unlikely to be of clinical or practical significance.”

Study #4:

2020 study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry called, ” THe co-occurrence between symptoms of internet gaming disorder and psychiatric disorder and psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence: prospective relations or common cause”  found:

“No support emerged for concurrent or prospective relations between IGD and psychiatric symptoms, except in one case: increased IGD symptoms forecasted reduction in anxiety symptoms.  Observed co-occurrence between IGD symptoms and mental health problems can mainly be attributed to common underlying factors” 

Study #5:

2020 study from Radboud University that found:

“Young people who game with friends build stronger ties”

Study #6:

2016 study “Do social media foster or curtail adolescents’ empathy? A longitudinal study found:

“The results showed that social media use is related to an increase in cognitive and affective empathy over time. Specifically, adolescents’ social media use improved both their ability to understand (cognitive empathy) and share the feelings of their peers (affective empathy).”

Or this further study on empathy

2021 study “Prosocial Video Games Content, Empathy and Cognitive Ability in a Large Sample of Youth”  found:

“no evidence emerged that prosocial content in video games had any impact on empathy”

“It appears that, generally speaking, video games offer poor learning platforms for either antisocial or prosocial outcomes. This is especially important considering how common video games are in youth and adolescence, and that past work that has suggested potential negative outcomes of video gameplay on such developmental outcomes”

Study #7:

2021 paper from the University of Oxford, “Video gameplay is positively correlated with well-being”

“Contrary to many fears that excessive game time will lead to addiction and poor mental health, we found a small positive relationship between gameplay and well-being”

Study #8:

In yet another 2021 research paper from the University of Oxford, Centre for Psychiatry Research, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, & Stockholm Health Care Services, Region Stockholm titled,  “Time spent playing video games is unlikely to impact well-being”  they found

“We found little to no evidence for a causal connection between gameplay and well-being. However, results suggested that motivations play a role in players’ well-being.”

Study #9

Or how about this 2021 Research paper, “Gaming Your Mental Health: A Narrative Review on Mitigating Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Using Commercial Video Games”

“we conclude that commercial video games show great promise as inexpensive, readily accessible, internationally available, effective, and stigma-free resources for the mitigation of some mental health issues in the absence of, or in addition to, traditional therapeutic treatments.”

Dr. Patrick Markey, Professor & Director IR Laboratory at Villanova University, and author of “Moral Combat”, stated this about gaming and mental wellness as it relates to the ongoing COVID crisis:

“self-quarantining has made it clear that screens help prevent social isolation. They allow friends, coworkers, and family to talk to each other.  They have always done this. Contrary to fears of the past, screens are not destroying a generation but, today, they are helping save one”

This statement from Dr Patrick Markey has now been supported by a new academically peer-reviewed research that was published in Mat 2021 called, ” Playing Video Games During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Effects on Players Well Being” https://bit.ly/3nYkjhX

This research found:

“We find that time spent playing games has increased for 71% of respondents, while 58% of respondents reported that playing games has impacted their well-being, with the overwhelming majority of responses indicating a positive impact.” 

“We identify seven ways that games have affected players, such as providing cognitive stimulation and opportunities to socialize, and a variety of benefits related to mental health, including reduced anxiety and stress. Our findings highlight the sociocultural significance of video games and the potentially positive nature of games’ effects on well-being”

Study #10

In an August 2021 research paper titled, “Positive and Negative Online Experiences and Loneliness in Peruvian Adolescents During the COVID-19 Lockdown” https://bit.ly/2XkiaEb the researchers found:

“There has been this negative discourse about screen time causing loneliness and depression. But our findings provide more nuance and show that, when used positively, online interactions are actually associated with less loneliness. This is especially true when teenagers have no other option but to connect with their friends online”

Study #11

In an April 2022 research paper titled, “Location-Based Mobile Gaming and Local Depression Trends: A Study of Pokemon Go” https://bit.ly/3rwFHO6 found:

“We empirically document a disproportionate decrease in depression-related search in those regions where users are able to play Pokémon Go. This finding lends credence to anecdotal claims that location-based mobile games may alleviate symptoms of depression of their users, underscoring the mental health opportunities of location-based mobile gaming and creating new opportunities for information systems research.”

Study #12

In a May 2022 study https://go.nature.com/3lz69Uf researchers found:

“Our most important finding was that Gaming positively impacted the amount of change in intelligence so that children who played more video games at 9–10 years showed the most gains in intelligence two years later. This was also true for Gaming in absolute values (not correcting for time spent video watching and socializing) and did not differ between boys and girls. Surprisingly, Watching also showed a positive effect on the change in intelligence, and, much less shocking, Socializing had no effect.”

This study provides further evidence that when youth participate in a balanced approach to online gaming, there can be a variety of positive outcomes. Notice we said “balanced” – too much of anything can often have negative outcomes as well.

Study #13

In an Oxford study released in July 2022, https://bit.ly/3zdCk1K  the  researchers found:

“Our results show that the impact of time spent playing video games on well-being is probably too small to be subjectively noticeable and not credibly different from zero.” and,

“Our findings, therefore, suggest that amount of play does not, on balance, undermine well-being. Instead, our results align with a perspective that the motivational experiences during play may influence well-being [23]. Simply put, the subjective qualities of play may be more important than its quantity. The extent to which this effect generalizes or is practically significant remains an open question.”

This study found that here was no difference in impact on mental health – whether online game involved no matter if it was Animal Crossing, or taking part in a battle royal-style game, such as Apex Legends.  Specific to the “motivation experiences of gaming, one of the researchers, Dr Przybylski, stated:

“‘We found it really does not matter how much gamers played [in terms of their sense of well-being]. It wasn’t the quantity of gaming, but the quality that counted…if they felt they had to play, they felt worse.  If they played because they loved it, then the data did not suggest it affected their mental health. It seemed to give them a strong positive feeling.”

It is important for parents to understand that e-gaming today is not the same e-gaming of our childhood, as PacMan or Asteroids where it was us against a machine. Today’s e-gaming is all about community for youth. This can be especially true for teens who have left school because of bullying challenges as  mentioned  in this article https://bit.ly/3iKtKQ4

Of further interest to parents, there is actually now research showing that in some cases technology can assist in helping those who are experiencing mental wellness challenges: https://bit.ly/322bAlp  Here’s another example of how gamers with disabilities can find community in online gaming: https://bit.ly/2QZjxSj In fact, in a 2020 landmark decision, the FDA in the United States approved a video game called “Endeavor” to help youth who have been diagnosed with ADHD. https://bit.ly/359xvJt   or how Nintendo Wii may help improve balance in children with cerebral palsy https://bit.ly/3wvXnu4 or even help those who are experiencing dementia https://psyarxiv.com/d4qv8/ . Or how about a 2017 study that found gaming improved the quality of life of children undergoing chemotherapy for cancer https://bit.ly/3sr2p9M  As one parent of a special needs child shared with us specific to online gaming:

“My son has autism and dare I use the term high functioning, the internet, gaming, apps, etc..has been extremely beneficial for him. Having said that, since he was 8 and received his first iPad there have been chats regarded to safety, and rules, limits to usage etc…all of this exposure combined with his love for technology and his ability to quickly catch on to anything techy has been great for him. We continue to have conversations about the positives and negatives, do’s and dont’s and he continues building on his knowledge. Technology is wonderful for kids with autism”  – Sylvia Armstrong

The question now becomes, “Is gaming the primary source for mental wellness challenges, or is gaming a maladaptive coping strategy for underlying conditions, such as depression or stress, that can lead to problematic behaviour?” Based on the most current research, we believe it’s the latter.

In fact, in an April 2022 study,  the researchers found that problematic gaming (gaming disorder) is more likely a “mechanism used to elevate mood and is a symptom, not a cause of mental health difficulties.” https://bit.ly/3JpkCeW

Here’s a great YouTube video from Dr. Rachel Kowert that outlines some of the most current research to date on many of the above-noted issues

What About Gaming and Physical Health

Historically, there has been a sensationalized misrepresentation of online gaming in pop culture:

“…Game players are stereotypically male and young, pale from too much time spent indoors, and socially inept.  As a new generation of isolated and lonely couch potatoes, young male game players are far from aspirational figures” Williams et al….2008

In fact, here’s an interesting juvenoic article that looks at how the media, and some in the research field, with very little evidence, predicted that  gaming could deform and change the human body https://bit.ly/3rDlt3L 

Interesting, when in fact professional gamers are training like athletes to increase performance https://bit.ly/38LKcKO

Or how about this 2020 study/survey https://bit.ly/3n97M9z conducted by Queensland University of Technology where they studied 1400 participants from 65 countries and found:

  • Esports players were between 9 and 21 percent more likely to be a healthy weight than the general population.
  • Esports players drank and smoked less than the general population.
  • The top 10 percent of esports players were significantly more physically active than lower-level players, showing that physical activity could influence esports expertise.

There is no doubt that a sedentary gamer who is accustomed to sitting or resting a great deal or partakes in very little exercise, can experience less than desirable medical challenges like weight gain.  This is something that the gaming community has acknowledged, and we as parents need to recognize when it comes to our kids as well.  This is why for youth that do engage in gaming, we as parents need to ensure that they are finding a life balance, especially when it comes to physical activity and gaming. This is a parent’s responsibility, and not the child’s.

As parents and caregivers, we need to look at the role and effect of screen time on our kids. The important question is not how much time are they spending online, but rather how are they spending their time online. Are they just being consumers, or are they spending most of their time becoming producers, creators, and social changemakers

As our colleague, Jocelyn Brewer at https://digitalnutrition.com.au stated, “it’s all about healthy balanced and proportioned digital consumption.” Here’s a great academic opinion paper that supports what Jocelyn has been sharing for years https://psyarxiv.com/324h8/

What About Gaming and Social Impact On Relationships:

Again, I present a great review by Dr Rachel Kowert on this issue:

Does Gaming Cause Violence?

Research into gaming, as it relates to violence, has over 10 years of good evidence-based research to show that there is very little, if any, correlation between the two. Gaming does not increase violence, and gaming is not the cause of school shootings.

Not only has this myth been destroyed by research conducted by Dr. Patrick Markey and several of his colleagues, but in 2020 the American Psychological Association released a report that warns against linking violent video games to real-world violence. Here are three studies that support this conclusion:

Study #1

2019 Royal Society Open Science Study, “Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescent aggressive behaviour: evidence from a registered report”

Study #2:

2019 Study by Ferguson and Wang: “Aggressive Video Games are Not a Risk Factor for Future Aggression in youth: A longitudinal Study”

Study #3:

2020  Longitudinal study by Coyne and Stockdale “Growing Up with Grand Theft Auto: A 10 – Year Study of Longitudinal Growth of Violent Video Game Play in Adolescents” where they found ” Those that played violent games over many hours as teens did not see a notable increase in aggression as adolescents”

Study #4:

2021  peer-reviewed study published in Computers in Human Behaviour called “The Fortnite social paradox: The effects of violent-cooperative multi-player video games on children’s basic psychological needs and prosocial behavior” found children who play the “Fortnite” video game cooperatively, display greater prosocial behaviour afterward.

We do believe that the good evidence-based peer-reviewed research does provide the fact that violent video games do not lead to an increase in “real world” violence.  However, can the gamification of tactics and strategies in online games, such as those learned and used in first-person shooter games (such as room clearing tactics, cutting the pie, using cover vs concealment, tactical magazine changes, weapon choice, shot placement) lead to those tactics and strategies being applied in the real-world use of violence?

In a new May 2022 research article by Dr. Suraj Lakhani and Dr. Susann Wiedlitzka https://bit.ly/3aIJPoT ,where they looked into the Christchurch Attack and other active shooter incidents, they found:

“many of these attacks have been gamified in some way where the attackers seem to have been familiar with gaming environments and employed both the skills they acquired and the visual style often found in first-person shooter games during their attack”

It must be emphasized that the researchers in this study do not say that first-person shooter games lead to increased levels of violence in the real-world.  Rather, they opine based on their research, that the gamification of tactics and strategies used in these games “may” transfer over to real-world acts of violence. There is a difference.

Although much more research is needed specific to this relationship, which is also acknowledged by the authors of this document, it does support what I have anecdotally seen when it comes to teens/adults who are playing paintball for the first time. Often, I see them using tactics and strategies that I learned in my firearms training as a police officer, but yet they had no formal hands-on training in.  When I asked them how did they learn to clear a room like that, most stated with a smile – “Call Of Duty”.

We would argue that this is also what we saw when the Twin Towers in New York were attacked.  Those who flew into the twin towers had no hands-on training to fly a jet airliner – their skills, strategies, and tactics to use them as a weapon were learned in flight simulators.

As one of our favorite academic experts stated to us about our above noted observations, “…. It’s why games are a cornerstone of military training.  If used specifically as a teaching tool, they can help convey aspects of strategy” This is also something that we are seeing when it comes to law enforcement training as well where they are using virtual reality to do the same thing https://www.axon.com/training/vr

It will be interesting to follow this new area of study when it comes to online gaming. Our experience and gut instinct say they are onto something?

However, we would be negligent if we did not speak to some of the negatives of gaming that have been mentioned in the good peer-reviewed literature such as

  • Health and wellness issues – obesity and hygiene
  • Tendonitis/ Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the hands
  • Eyestrain
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Academic/work challenges
  • Bullying and “game rage”
  • Access to inappropriate language, violence, nudity, and hypersexualization
  • Family conflict
  • Finances: in-app purchases, credit card & gaming card fraud
  • Loot boxes – gambling

A developing and debatable area of research that is now starting to take place that parents should be aware of, the ethical issues surrounding the use of loot boxes in gaming https://bit.ly/3mhz4LP, and how they “may” fall under the category of gambling https://bit.ly/3iv1BxJ.

***UPDATE May 2022****

The Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) published a report “INSERT COIN: How the gaming industry exploits consumers using loot boxes” today https://bit.ly/3xmcqrV, and more than 20 consumer groups from 18 European countries are launching a coordinated action asking authorities to act and regulate lute boxes

Loot Boxes are in-game items that a player can purchase that often provide a randomized prize, like a unique identifying item (skin) or a weapon or armor that will give them an advantage in the game. These loot boxes can be purchased through free in-game rewards that are earned by the player, or purchased with “real” money.  Unlike a casino, gaming platforms cannot control who (like youth) will access these loot boxes. Why is this important,  loot boxes appear to utilize “similar” monetized variable reward systems that are used in gambling, but are slightly different. Think of loot boxes like hockey cards, pokemon cards, or Kinder Eggs. With purchase, you are guaranteed to get something, but sometimes you just don’t know what that something is going to be. As one can imagine this can lead to problematic financial consequences  Research is now showing that gaming platforms have increased their use of loot boxes in games from 4% in 2010 to 71% in 2019 as a way to increase revenue https://bit.ly/3qTQ6n6.  It is because of this fact that we believe, based upon the work of Dr Celia Hodent https://bit.ly/3Hxp36Y, that loot boxes should only be made available to games with the ESRB minimum rating of “M” for mature – those 18yrs or older. Again, we turn to Dr Rachel Kowert and her video on this topic that does a really good job at explaining this specific topic:

Another challenge identified in today’s online gaming is something that academic research has called “Toxic Dark Participation” https://bit.ly/3uYtBxr https://bit.ly/3bkPQpw https://bit.ly/3tvqSMd Dr Rachel Kowert, a Canadian Ph.D. gaming researcher, has identified several toxic behaviours that can take place on some gaming platforms which included trash-talking, misinformation, spamming, briefing, sexual harassment, hate speech, threats of violence, flaming, inappropriate role-playing, doxxing and swatting https://youtu.be/ZiS_akCFk_4   In fact, in a 2022 research paper, Dr Kowert found that 80% of gamers have experienced some form of gaming toxicity https://bit.ly/3EP05hj Dr Kowert’s research is further supported by the American Anti-Defamation League in an article they wrote called “Free to Play? Hate, Harassment. and Positive Social Experiences in Online Games” that can be located here: https://www.adl.org/free-to-play 

In a recent 2022 research report https://bit.ly/3Q1eRrj specific to hate based speech in gaming, they found that 10% of  players experienced “”hate, or attacks rooted in prejudice towards someone’s race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other forms of identity on the gaming platform Roblox

One last challenge that can be associated with some forms of gaming – a very rare medical arrhythmogenic cardiac condition that can cause ventricular tachycardia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7300337/  However, what the research has found is that it’s any activity (which could include gaming) that can cause a strong emotional response that triggers this form of tachycardia. Here’s a great video from Dr. Amiad Fredman that explains what is happening specific to gaming:

So, yes problematic gaming behavior can have some consequences, but a balanced amount of gaming can also have many benefits which include:

  • Enhancing problem solving and logic
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Development of fine motor and special skills
  • Planning, resource management, and logistics
  • Multitasking
  • Quick thinking, making fast analyses and decisions
  • Accuracy
  • Strategy and anticipation
  • Situational awareness
  • Simulation of real-world skills
  • Perseverance
  • Pattern recognition
  • Indicative reasoning and hypothesis testing
  • Mapping
  • Memory
  • Concentration
  • Reasoned judgment
  • Taking a responsible educated risk
  • Teamwork

In her book “Children Technology and Healthy Development”, researcher Catherine Knibbs found that when it comes to online gameplay and youth it’s about:

“…extension of learning, a space to explore, imagine and be creative, a brain architecture scaffold, a social, emotional, and sometimes physical playground, a non-sensical purposeless process, a specific outcome or goal-oriented process, infinite and finite, a flow-based space, temporal vacation, self-discovery and mastery and, most importantly fun activity”

As you can imagine, many of these attributes can be very advantageous when it comes to post-secondary and employment opportunities.  Many parents are unaware that in 2019 there were over 200 colleges and universities across Canada and the United States that offer full four-year gaming scholarships.  Many universities now offer four-year degree programs on how to design and implement e-gaming. It is estimated that e-gaming will rival the NFL when it comes to revenue profits.

E-gaming can lead to a career as a professional e-gaming athlete. As an example, a Canadian teen by the name of Hayden Kruger recently placed third in the Fortnite World Cup and walked away with 1.2 million dollars in winnings. However, it’s important for youth to understand that becoming a professional gamer has the same percentage odds as becoming a traditional professional athlete in the NBA or the NFL –  it’s very rare.

Skills gained in e-gaming can also lead to other jobs. LG designed a remote robotic system that allows an employee to operate heavy equipment remotely, anywhere in the world, or even on another planet based on gaming platforms. There are jobs, both in the military and civilian world, that utilize drones in which their operating systems are also designed based on gaming platforms.

E-gaming has also been shown to be an effective way to engage teens who are on the brink of leaving school or involved in alternative education programs, to keep them engaged in school and teach them marketable skills https://bit.ly/3w5uq75 . Some 2018 research done by Dr. Kristy Custer and Michael Russell found that introducing an e-gaming curriculum  into their alternative schools, “improved overall GPA by 1.7 and an increase of 10% in attendance for students who took the course.”

Yes, parents, there are some positive outcomes when it comes to gaming, and we are confident there will be more that are not yet discovered.

Strategies to Manage Onlife Gaming, “The White Hatter’s Golden Rules”:

Since we started sharing our message of onlife literacy, parents have asked us about strategies that they can implement to help manage or minimize the risks of problematic gaming behavior. Here are our “Golden Rules” that we recommend to all families when it comes to online gaming:

#1) Stop using the word “Addiction” when it comes to problematic gaming behaviour. 

#2) Stop using the phrase, “Those aren’t real friends” Remember, today’s gaming is all about community

#3) No gaming (or any other tech) in the bedroom:

Given that we know that those who are looking to target younger youth for online predation and exploitation seek privacy to ply their trade, we need to ensure that gaming does not take place in the privacy of a youth’s bedroom. The second reason –  sleep challenges. Having access to gaming in a bedroom can often tempt youth to play online when they should be sleeping. A bedroom is for sleeping and not for gaming.

#4) Don’t use gaming as a digital pacifier/babysitter:

Although allowing your child to game for hours may provide you with “me time”, it is not a strategy that you should adopt as an ongoing practice. This should be the exception and not the rule.

#5) Set the rules and times for gameplay

Be your child’s best parent and not their best friend, there is a difference. It is important that there are clear boundaries and implemented structure into the “when” and “how much” time will be given for gaming. Yes, there are times when you can bend this rule, but this should be the exception and not the practice.

#6) Enforce a transition period between gameplay and bedtime:

A youth’s brain needs time to decompress from the excitement of gameplay, prior to bedtime, to make it easier to fall asleep. We recommend that there should be no gaming 60 minutes before bedtime.

#7) Give a 20-minute, 10-minutes, 5-minute warning before shut down if needed:

Remember, youth have a challenge when it comes to stopping rewarding behavior and moving on to something less rewarding. If parents stop a youth unexpectedly in the middle of a game, it is like taking away their desert before they can finish it; such a spontaneous action only creates conflict which in behavioural psychology is known as an “extinction burst”  As a cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Marc Palaus stated, “there is no intrinsic reason a child should stop playing on their own unless there is a more rewarding experience available at the moment.” In her book “Children, Technology and Healthy Development” Catherine Knibbs speaks to three reasons why attempting to cut your child off from gaming without warning can lead to problematic outbursts:

  • They need to save face and say goodbye to their friends in their own way/time
  • They need to complete the level play to ensure they or their team don’t loose
  • They need to ensure they keep their experience or gaming points, which often only get issued at the end of a game or at a save point.

#8) Get your child to teach you about the game and participate with your child

We know most parents don’t want to learn how to play Fortnite or Minecraft, but doing so will pay big parental dividends. The research shows that parents who engage and participate in a child’s onlife world, those youth are far less likely to get involved in problematic onlife behavior. You might be amazed at what you learn, and you may actually find that you enjoy the experience of gaming together. In fact, research is now showing us that when you participate with your kids in their gaming world, it can increase family bonding https://bit.ly/3wgQ6gP and  https://bit.ly/2SYF01V  As Catherine Knibbs stated “Learn about the games, learn about the consequences of leaving the game early and work with your child around this.”

Also, in a recent 2022 research paper https://bit.ly/3oLXTBB they found protective factors such as self-esteme, parent child attachment and family connectedness also helped to reduce the risk and increase resilience against problematic online gaming disorder.

#9): Ensure the game is age-appropriate

Do your research and know the games your child is playing. Some popular games contain inappropriate scenes of violence, language, or sexualized behavior. It should be noted that in a recent academic review https://bit.ly/39y6bsU the researchers found that “Exposure to sexualization in games was not found to be associated with negative outcomes such as misogynistic and mental health outcomes”. Although this may be true, the question should also be, “is the game congruent with your family values and ethics?”   Make sure the ESRB rating matches your child’s age https://www.esrb.org.  A great resource to help parents to check the appropriate age rating of a game comes from Common Sense Media which can be located here: https://bit.ly/34W0ArP. Another great resource for parents specific to “parental controls” can be located here https://www.esrb.org/tools-for-parents/

#10): Prevent in-game purchases to protect your  credit card

Unfortunately, we have helped more than one parent whose child was able to access their credit card without their knowledge, to purchase items such as loot boxes or gaming skins. The result – hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars in credit card charges. Here’s a great article that speaks to this challenge, and what parents can do to prevent this from happening. https://on.wsj.com/3y789Ho  Following the prevention strategies in this article can also prevent in-game credit card fraud.

The evidence-based research to date provides us with the following guidance – healthy gaming is all about:

  • Proper sleep (8-10hrs)
  • Proper nutrition. Stay away from junk food and energy drinks. A well-balanced diet is important for emotional and physical health.
  • Physical exercise. Also important for emotional and physical health.
  • Ensuring a diversity of activities outside of gaming. Learn how to code or develop a personal website.
  • Reduce lost opportunities to learn a new skill like learning how to play the guitar or drive a car, an

Much like everything in the online world, it’s all about BALANCE! Too much of anything is never healthy.

Our Interview with Dr. Patrick Markay on Video Games and our Kids

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