Journalist Anne Helen Petersen is tired of the “alarmist rhetoric” around video games. She’s not the only one. In her newsletter, Culture Study, Petersen has already spoken to psychologist Rachel Kowert about the fearmongering, satanic-panic-adjacent stigma around gaming, and how it’s not new for parents to worry about these things, but that they “deserve so much more” from the media.
Unsatisfied with merely debating and disproving the tired takes from publications who should know better, Peterson published a piece on Sunday entitled “gaming, in kids’ own words”. It’s one thing to argue, and another thing entirely to see something negative, and decide to put out something positive instead – but that’s exactly what this piece intends to do. It’s a salve for those of us who’ve had enough of uninformed pieces about the “dangers of gaming”, and can remind us all that sometimes, kids know best.
“I’m Doug. I’m 5 right now, but almost 6. My favorite games are Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, and Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker.” – Doug, 5 (almost six)
In the newsletter, Peterson publishes the transcripts of interviews conducted by parents, grandparents, and siblings, using questions she provided them to discuss gaming with the kids. It’s adorable. Doug, aged five-but-nearly-six, talks about how much he likes making food in Zelda, from the “good food”, like omelets, to the “bad food”, like “rock hard food with wood and monster wings and eyeballs”. He likes watching Link eat the gross stuff, because he is five.
“I have a policy that keeps my eyes from dying which is that any opportunity to go outside I take it, no matter what. I think video games are only good in certain situations. If you do it too much your eyes die, if you do it too little you don’t get to socialize. I think you have to find a perfect balance which I think I have.” – Milo, 11
Poor Doug does occasionally get told to get off the Switch, though. Like any kid, he has other things to do. “I don’t want to stop,” he says. “It robs my happiness.” Aw, Doug.
In some of the other interviews, kids talk about figuring out how to trigger glitches, playing with friends online, learning creativity, and finding out about other people in the world. “Some role-playing games have money,” says Amity, aged nine, “and you have to learn how to spend cautiously. Having a cat is easier than paying for a bunch of kids. Kids cost so much money while cats only cost way less.” Preach, Amity.
“I feel annoyed and angry with the “too much time playing video games argument”, because people don’t really understand… Gaming is so new that there’s no conclusive evidence yet to prove if it’s actually harmful.” – Soren, 15
Most of the children interviewed are wise to the “kids play too many video games” argument. A surprisingly low number of them attempt to argue that video games are only good – they all seem pretty savvy to the fact that you can’t just play games all day, and that sometimes, they can have a negative effect on your mood.
Generally, the kids interviewed seem annoyed, just like adults are, that people don’t seem to understand that games have benefits, too, and that adults tell them what to do without any experience themselves. Henry, age 13, wisely says that “people need to make sure they don’t get correlation and causation mixed together.”
“My experience during the pandemic would have been a lot worse without the Switch. I think without it I would have felt a lot more bored and broken. It kind of makes me feel connected to people.” – Violet, 10
Surprisingly, a few of the kids mention physical side-effects – brains rotting or shrinking, mostly – which is interesting. Apparently, that didn’t die out in the ’90s, when TVs would apparently turn your eyes square if you watched too much.
It’s clear from these interviews that these kids, from a range of ages, are using games to socialise and entertain themselves, but there are unintended side effects, too. They’re meeting people they never would have met in real life, and learning about economic disparity in Roblox, computer programming in Minecraft, interior decoration in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and social dynamics in Among Us. They’re figuring out how to build communities, do chores for the fun of it, and manage their emotions. Some of them are learning to read by playing games, which is infinitely more interesting than the books you get forced to read at a tender age.
Children aren’t stupid. They’re just small, and they’re still figuring a lot of things out. But they know what’s going on. The least we can do is listen to them when they say that games aren’t bad.