Parenthood in the coming era
The first of, perhaps, many thoughts on raising a child in a world with games.
Just to whet the appetite, let's start with the brain. Two of the features that figure into raising a child the most, aside from their general cognitive development are cognitive dissonance and accounting for new information.
There are plenty of areas of neurological and cognitive theory that are difficult to track, but there's a couple important points to absorb if you intend to take any of this seriously, and if you don't, then no hard feelings, and there are plenty of links to click on;
- All cognitive functions are explained by neurological functions. There is no ghost in the machine or ethereal aspect to the functioning of the brain. If a neuron is involved then that's part of thought and behavior, and if it isn't, then it's, at best, only instrumental in cognition.
- Neurons are based on an underlying more primitive system, that of the single celled organism, who's ability to detect pain or discomfort is exclusively a product of self-preservation. Organisms which could not detect damage and thereby alter behavior (at the very least to repair it) are not present in the genepool in great numbers except as, perhaps, viruses, which have different requirements.
- The brain, and your identity are decentralized products of the operation of many independent neurons. Brain function seems to be based on polling (according to studies done on monkies or impaired people where computers are used to try to interpret nerve impulses for the sake of controlling computer programs or prosthetics), in the sense that a certain quantity of brain activity trips responses and behaviors, but not specific neurons in all cases (there are insects in which literally 1 or 2 brain cells are responsible for a particular reaction, but in the case of humans this is unlikely, both because of the redundancy in the brain, and also because of our slower reaction time--the smallest most consistent bundles of neurons are at the top of the spinal cord). So, over time, any brain function, such as memory, physical movement, emotion, or impulse control are localized to zones, not to specific cells.
So I've been thinking about the subject of introducing kids to media, and what, and when, and so forth. In general, based on my own experience I've settled on a few premises. First off, I responded badly as a kid to being scared. It wasn't a real regular occurence, but I think that, looking back, I wish I had had more opportunity to wean myself of cowardice. You can't necessarily make a kid brave, but you can give them opportunities to churn through scary images and situations early so they can have them out of the way later in life. The alternative to this view is that kids deal with fear like they deal with sex--they're not supposed to be brave when they're little, so wait for them to signal to you that they're interested in or ready for scary things. The last time I remember being appallingly scared by an outside source was when I was 9 or so and saw Arachnaphobia. I went on to be morbidly terrified of spiders sneaking up on me and rushing out of showerheads for months thereafter, but, I was living in japan at the time, and I think there's a reasonable case to be made that I was projecting anxiety onto the movie. For me, the idea that something inescapable was trying to overwhelm and devour me resonated deeply with how I felt about the japanese and japanese culture. Years later, I love the movie, but have no desire to go back to japan even to visit.
I remember seeing predator and robocop for my first ever 'R-rated movie night' with my dad, when my mom was out doing something for whatever reason. I estimate that I was about 7, and I found robocop to be upsetting, but predator wasn't so bad (though it was still pretty scary). Neither movie sent me into a tailspin, so the lesson I get from this is that age and circumstances matter. A kid with a stable familiar environment might have a higher tolerance for getting scared for 'fun', whereas a kid who's switched schools recently, or moved states, or was in a new country might be overloaded an unable to process another scary thing.
That said, I think I'd show a kid a game like silent hill fairly early, since it's basically empowering. Silent hill as a series fails to scare me because it starts with significant tension, but ultimately, when you're confronted with weird monsters, you hit them with a stick a bunch. And, eventually you realize, even this is a waste of time, and you need to just run past the threats to get to the next part of the story. This makes the 'game' interlude sections a kind of irrelevant annoyance rather than a genuine scare. In contrast, I was consistently kept on edge by the monsters in tomb raider because I felt vulnerable, but confronting them wasn't an irrelevant exercise--I had to actually deal with them. Obviously, the genuine tension from that didn't follow me to sleep, since a clunky sort-of-gorilla isn't exactly a symbol of terror. So the point here is that scary games with an empowering premise (like that the scary stuff is irrelevant and you can shoot it or avoid it or whatever) might foster the right kind of attitude.
Obviously playing games in general teaches you to ignore the superficial aspects of an experience and get to the kind of 'where's the beef' core of utilitarian value. A monster isn't a monster, it's a delay (as measured in seconds) keeping you from achieving some goal of content release or reward.
Then there's violence which I think, pretty clearly does encourage a response in kind (consuming violent media makes you more aggressive, in the same way that watching sad crap makes you more melancholy, or watching funny stuff makes you playful), but that's more or less irrelevant because aggression as a behavior is preferred when it's appropriately exercised, and simply being aggressive doesn't mean you abdicate your responsibility to control your impulses or judge a situation. Even given the fact that males have less grey matter in the area linking decision making to aggression in the brain than women do, men are still capable of restraint, and it is still appropriate to punish us when we fail to restrain ourselves. I played football in highschool, it doesn't mean I would be excused for punching someone on the street. In addition, one of the best lessons you can pull from anger management in terms of behavioral science is that delayed gratification is the best way to stifle anger. If you fester on a subject--talking about it, thinking about it, giving yourself time to brood, then your anger can and will increase, and the likelyhood of following through on a decision in anger increases. The best antidote is distraction. So the lesson here, I think, is to let the kid play aggressive violent games fairly early on, but be around, and train them to put the game down when they're getting angry. If you hear them acting frustrated, come into the room, tell them to pause it or shut it off, and then go do something else with them, or get them to take out the garbage or something. My father used to do this with me, though I think he was just making a good decision to get me to stop making annoying noises by getting me to do something else, not exercising some kind of plan. I still got stuck on playing annoying things for extended lengths of time as I got older, and it was repeated exposure to being angry that helped me mellow. Or maybe I just got older and whinier instead of staying young and angry. 'Come onnnnnn!... what the fuuuuuuck! Wha? awww noooooooooooo....' (I can be pretty annoying to listen to even these days).
Then there's satan's meth: the MMO. Obviously, these are only going to get worse. People will recognize the conditioning mechanism that blizzard is using to take advantage of their customers eventually, and they will be employed universally, if they aren't already, which they seem to be. For instance, Final Fantasy 12 became about grinding areas as a matter of the basic mechanics (by killing consecutive monsters in an area, you made it possible to get better drops from them), and doing it on virtual autopilot, which, to me, is the hallmark of the MMO state machine--any human input is only a matter of automata and not decision making, that way you can introduce another conditioning mechanism of reward and uncertainty via inadvertent mistakes in physical input which are never in question in terms of decision making.
That all said, there are 2 important cases where an MMO excels.
-Allowing dispersed or socially isolated peergroups to maintain healthy socialization for less effort and money than it takes ot go out and hit 'da club' or some equally moronic shit. Vastly easier and cheaper than going to a casino or bar, and doing gambling *there*.
-Treating depression by giving chronically unhappy people an addictive experience which is minimally unhealthy for them, perfeclty legal, and unlikely to cause them to do something dangerous to themselves or others. Obviously, it's not a cure. But considering how depression drives alchoholism, spousal abuse, drug use, making children in unstable situations, and antisocial behavior, having a placebo-like replacement for genuine joy in life isn't so bad.
to me, those situations don't come into play until you're an independent adult in college or later. By which time I shouldn't be actively interfering with my child's life anyway. I'll be around, advising, trying to help, obviously, but I'm not going to break down a door to tell them they're making bad choices.
The question then becomes, how to develop a resistence to these unfair mechanisms, if it's possible (and according to testing done on the reward mechanism, there is no satiation, so there is no resistence), or at least make the kid aware of what's going on, and set up priorities in their mind which make them adverse to the environment.
I'm open to suggestions.
The best I can come up with so far is elements of the reading from above (which will probably be updated and more complete by the time I have kids), and 'warcraftus interruptus' which is the random and abrupt interruption of the internet connection to the house by an adult for the sake of forcing the kid to unplug. In all seriousness, I won't do it at random like a gremlin, I'll make it clear, if the kid starts getting into a game that the game will be utterly tertiary (not even secondary). Any and all considerations will come before it, including random whims, and if the kid isn't prepared to stand up and walk away in the middle of a fight with a boss where they're tanking, letting their raid wipe, and becoming a laughing stock, then they cannot have the game. This ground rule will be layed out beforehand, and well tested. Ideally, by the time they're really deep in the woods of the addiction, I'll have conditioned an expectation that they can't rely on playing for any length of time, and for that reason, they can't sustain interest (since the game gets a greater hold on you the longer bouts you're allowed to spend with it making 'progress' if you log on consistently and make no or little progress, that's when people tend to quit).
But I will try to keep the kid from playing an MMO at all until they're out of the house. Unfortunately this may mean they get to college and go overboard... but... well. It's a tough call. My parents tried variation on limiting tv and internet time and ultimately, let me manage it for myself. My tastes became jaded, and eventually, when I was confronted with MMOs, initially, I had such a short fuse for their bullshit non-gaming crap, that I quit them really quickly. Over time, I went hte opposite direction, after noticing my friends getting sucked into them wholesale, and built up a tolerance for the annoying bullshit so tha tI could sit it out and get ot max level. All things considered, it was a poor choice, but since I was playing for both of the 'valid' reasons I gave above, [explanation missing], makes it ok.
Hopefully, the halfassed wii-fit and motion control things we're seeing this generation will be far enough along in 10 years that gaming will be more like paintballing or light calisthenics, so that it's not physically unhealthy to spend large amounts of time doing it.
please contribute your thoughts.
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