Value of Video Games: A Personal Perspective

September 18, 2008 2 min read

I find support for this week’s Pew study of teens, video games, and civics (see my Sept. 17 post) in my own basement--where my two sons, ages 13 and 10, regularly play video games.

The study links some aspects of video games with positive social and civic engagement among teenagers—a conclusion that, I hope, will lead to further study.

My boys play an online Star Wars combat game, one of a couple of online games they play. The game operates on multiple computers that permit hundreds of people to play in separate or joint games. In realistic virtual settings, they act out land- and space-based scenarios that fans of Star Wars would instantly recognize. Individual players or teams compete to capture positions, retrieve flags and bring them to home base, and of course, wipe out the other side using an array of weaponry and tactics.

My sons like to participate in this game side by side, on separate computers—which allows them to chat about the action and share tips and intelligence. Skype, the Internet-based phone service, is integrated into the game system so they can talk to their teammates, too.

Significantly, they have joined an informal online club devoted to the game—a group with its own rules of sportsmanship and military ranks and chains of command, even though in practice these civic niceties sometimes break down.

While playing as a club or versus other clubs, members work toward promotions—by being successful on the battlefield, of course, but also by regularly writing bulletins about the action and posting them on the club’s discussion board, and eventually by passing a test of club rules and officers’ duties.

My boys regard all this as entertainment, but they do take pride in their online community: In fact, they helped other members write a Wikipedia article about their club, illustrated by screen grabs from their battles. Both have gotten some practice in keyboarding and writing, which I appreciate.

And I do observe this gaming activity from a parental perspective. I try to chat with my sons often about the activities of the club, which is moderated by the father of one of the players. I have learned that sometimes there are arguments and hurt feelings, but for the most part it’s a decent and fun-loving bunch--and apparently a real community.

Have you have observed teens’ social or civic engagement—in a positive or negative way--through video games? If so, please post a comment about it.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.