Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ask the Faithful Readers #6 - The Game Boy Generation

Dear Faithful Reader,

I have heard people refer to today's youth as the Game Boy generation. Kids today enjoy a vast array of electronic entertainment that didn't exist back when I was younger. My children have at least three cable channels that offer them 24-hour programming for kids; in my day we had cartoons only on Saturday morning. It is common to hear of youngsters (and even the not so young) spending hours every day in front of video games.

Some parents believe this has a significant impact on the social abilities of many young folks. All that time interacting with a machine is time not spent learning how to get along with other people. Some wonder whether more young people today face extra challenges building relationships as a result.

Other people might argue that every generation has its share of introverts versus extroverts, and that shy people have always had solitary pursuits they could turn to as a replacement for social activities.

What do you think? Are the social skills of the "Game Boy generation" different from those of days gone by?

As always, I will post my personal favorite comment next Saturday with a link to the respondent's blog.

Signed, The Inquiring Advice Guy


  1. I am a gen Xer, raising 3 gamers. I grew up with an Atari and Sega, but I was never so captivated by the games as my children seem to be. I have noticed that several of my oldest son's friends rather play on gaming systems than run around outside. But in my house, those games are only for rainy days. My children's social problems are due to the fact that we live out in the middle of nowhere, yet when city children come out and they become less and less enthralled with the workings of a homestead, and they will not stay long if not allowed to play video games. I have had to take more than one boy home late at night because they were bored. A 9-year old {IMO} should be more imaginative and playful. I can see where there can be social bonding from these games, as they talk about their scores and how to cheat. They get excited about one another’s accomplishments. But the down side is, that's all they seem to have in common. They rarely talk about anything else. They are not outside running around with friends, instead they are cooped up in doors, eyes glued to the television. When a child's entire world is video games, then yes, social problems will develop as they d not know how to communicate beyond the game stats.

  2. In my view, there is a definite difference not just in the social skills of a 'game boy', but also in the physical/health aspects, as well as imagination/creative thinking. TV, video games, etc firstly keep a child indoors and therefore discourages physical activity. Then there is the fact that many of these games--however into fantasy or however creative they may be--are structured. There is only a limit to what a child can imagine into it, unlike when a child is playing with just a cardboard box say, and has to provide all the fun from his imagination. The third point is that for a young child especially, playing with a bunch of friends teaches alot more about life I feel, than sitting alone playing video games. You maybe be able to play online with other people I guess and learn to share and not cheat etc. But that should be only for older children.
    Of course one can't really keep a child away from developments in technology, whether gaming, mobile phones, computers, interactive TV or whatever. The important thing is balance, in my opinion to build a rounded personality.

  3. I may be too young and too close to the Game Boy Generation to have much of a perspective on this (is 29 still a Gen-X'er?).

    I lived in neighborhoods populated by older couples with grown-and-gone children, so my brother and I played with each other or by ourselves. We played outside all the time (it was still considered safe to do this in the Eighties). We didn't have cable or a Nintendo, and my brother had a Game Boy and computer games later but my parents limited both what games he could own and how long he could play them (I never liked video games). We read a lot, too. We were not social. My parents were not social. We're just not "people" people, and we probably wouldn't have been, anyway.

    I think the thing that concerns me more than the social skills is what seems like the resulting limited interests (as phelan noted) and not using imagination (as hillgrandmom pointed out). I suppose every successive generation complains about this, but we have friends who are teachers who complain that their kids cannot picture anything in their minds because they're used to TV doing it for them, and they don't read because they can only do so at "text level" (i.e. do not convert text to a mental image).

    My mother didn't even let us watch "Sesame Street" because she didn't like that everything on it was short--my brother and I were used to being stories and had very long attention spans for small children--and that it was all ready-made visuals. We also didn't have a lot of fancy electronic toys that did things for us.

    On the other hand, we're all a bit technology-challenged now. Not that I can't learn, but it definitely doesn't come as easily to me as it seems to (or is expected to) to, say, a high-school kid, since I got on the tech boat much later. Of course, playing video games doesn't mean you're learning technology, either.

  4. I think people can throw the blame on any object they choose. The reality is that it is ultimately up to the parents to oversee things.

    If our schoolwork, chores, and other necessitites are done and my son (7) wants to play games, what harm is it? If we have days that neither of us feel like moving around and he spends the day watching TV and playing games, it going to hurt? If it is every day, of course it is going to cause problems. Anything in excess always causes problems.

    When I, as a parent, decide that I'm going to monitoer what he's playing and watching and strike a balance between that and outdoor play and social acitivity I don't see any issues.

    It is when I become lazy as a parent that the problems arise.

  5. I am a Gen-Yer (22 yrs old) but had the privilege to watch the change. I grew up watching cartoons on Saturday mornings and playing outside (often imitating X-Men) with the neighborhood kids or building forts indoors for fun. Nickelodeon was just becoming popular.

    My brother (18 yrs old), on the other hand, grew up with Cartoon Network. He is a gamer, like most of his generation, but he has enjoyed playing sports all his life just like me (same with many of his friends).

    We both go to a technology school where I see the most hard-core of gamers. Interesting enough, the one thing that my brother and his freshmen friends always bond over are the online, multiplayer games (World of Warcraft especially). I noticed how different their personalities are (some drastically different), but I was happy that they have something to tie them together.

    Of course you always have those that are so addicted that they aren't even interested much in personal relationships outside of the games, but even if the games didn't exist, they'd likely be spending their time doing something else that doesn't involve much social interaction.

    It's similar to how my brother and I both grew up with Nintendo. Whenever friends or family came over, we often played some rounds of Mario Go-Kart or something, but that just replaced something else that we would have done (like see a movie or play outside). So the games became integrated within our social fabric versus take away from it.

    It's all how people deal with it. Some of us have let it impact how they deal with relationships, their physical, mental and emotional health, but I think that these gamers would have acted much the same without the games. I do think that too many of them have let it slightly lessen the physical exercise that they get though (since they're probably more stationary than they would have been otherwise).

    Then some of us have instead incorporated the games into our lives naturally without harming our health. Rather than letting games consume our lives, we use them as a way to socialize and even learn about life.

  6. I have conflicting feelings on this subject also. As a more traditional thinking person I feel that the childrens imagination is being stunted by having so much visual stimulation. But what good on the other hand is imagination except to entertain? So visually children are more entertained today than they were say 30 years ago. So far humans are still growing up and becoming productive adults despite or because of games and more electronic equipment.
    In my day we were told to go out and play and dont come home till the table needed to be set for dinner. Now I would kill myself first before I'd send my son outside without a cell phone for me to keep track of him and him being able to call home. Its too dangerous to just send him outside without coming home. Playing in the streets and riding bikes and hiking is dangerous now, I cant just send him outside wandering like we did as kids. He has many games and electronic equipment. He has an ipod. He has a cell phone. He is 13 and I feel that he is better off. He can type faster than I and I took two years of typing in highschool. He hates to read but is addicted to the history channel and can tell you many things regarding news that I didnt have available to me when I was his age. He downloads books on his ipod and can "read/listen" constantly. Reading is to obtain information. I think we need to rethink how we think is all.

  7. Every generation has its activities, that is true, but this new generation has a lot less PHYSICAL activity. The time these kids spend staring at the boob tube (programs or games) is time we spent socializing or playing sports OUTDOORS, especially during summer months. This new generation seems to be cocooning themselves inside the house. Games are played on a machine indoors instead of outdoors in the fresh air. Socializing is done at instead of the community center or mall. I really don't think these kids fully enjoy the beauty of the world around them.

  8. I believe that just as society itself is changing, so too is the definition of proper social interaction. There was a time when dating could only be done face to face but now many people (myself included) make their initial match ups via the internet. Part of being properly social is sharing the same cultural references as your peers. I feel that those children who don't have access to the same media and telecommunication products as their friends often times end up being left out or treated like dinosaurs.

    So in short, my answer is yes, the social skills of today's kids are different than those of previous generations but no, this isn't a bad thing.. it's simply a reflection of the different cultural norms of our faster paced technologically dependent society.

  9. My background crosses over a unique family history... My father was a farm boy who would ride his horse to the edge of his family ranch, then walk 2 miles (uphill both ways, of course) in snow to get to the bus stop. My mother was a city girl, whose father died when she was 5, and her mother raised 3 kids on the income of a shoe factory employee. Both of my parents knew how to appreciate free time, because in their time a household was maintained by a family working together.

    My brothers are Gen-Xers... born within the first 5 years of my parents marriage. They grew up in a time that kids played outside - rain, snow, sun didn't matter. If Mom flashed the porch light at dusk, they knew it was time to head indoors.

    I came along 13 years after the boys. When I was 4, my oldest brother bought an Atari with his newspaper route money. I was fascinated by the green-screened machine (but not allowed to touch - - punishable by death). I would sit and watch him play games... but the moment a friend was at the door I was gone. My house was the only one for three blocks around that had a computer, and if I wanted to stay in the social circles I had to play outside with the other kids.

    Sadly, our neighborhood deteriorated - more homes became rentals with tenants of questionable character. My parents decided to sell the house, move across the state, and give me a safe place to grow up. We bought a small farm, and I grew up through junior high and high school in a small famring community. Computers were used for home accounting only, and only the "snobby rich kids" had game consoles. My parents took responsibility and taught me social interaction and proper ettiquette by living the life they wanted for me.

    For kids to run in social circles nowadays, they need a gaming console. It has become an easy out for parents to let television and computer games to raise their children - - but for the sake of the future of their kids parents need to be teachers themselves.

    My husband and I are both heavy gamers, yet with the instruction of our parents and the forced social interaction online, we now live a very comfortable lifestyle. We have friends beyond people who live on the other end of a fiber-optic cable... Our parents forced us into a blalanced lifestyle, which is what we intend to teach our children as well.

  10. As a kid, I loved video games. The girls always tended to leave me out, (little girls tend to be pretty mean with their "friends") and so even as a kid I guess I would hang out more with boys, and we would play or talk about video games together at first. (this changed in middle school, where my friendships shifted to "mostly girls")
    I especially liked watching dad play mario, with my sister we would pretend to be koopas, and get into our "shells" (blankets) and we created an imaginary world.
    There's lots of negative stuff that can be said about video games, but I know that it has always been fun for me, and a way of socially connecting, but especially, some games really stimulate the imagination.
    As long as you don't spend your entire life on it, I don't see the trouble with video games, although I would have some reservations about the types of games played by kids now. I always played the sweet games like Mario, Yoshi, Banjo, MarioKart, etc... as a kid. And I don't see any lasting harm done :)

  11. In this day and age, if you can keep a kid home and out of trouble you'll fare much better than to let them go out and let their peers decide what to do with their "idle" time.

    Games are very interactive now as well and kids can play against an online community of like minded kids who like the same game/genre'.

    Some games even teach technical or other traits and encourages interest in occupation. IE: Kid loves his Flight Sim - decides to be a pilot.

    I feel it is a good thing.

  12. I'm laughing--we played a live-action version of Frogger on the playground. My school had one of those big swing-sets with three or four swings on it. We'd get kids swinging hard on all the swings and the run in between them. It's a wonder nobody got a concussion.

    That was back when only kids with money or with unusually tech-savvy parents had computers, too (well, 1987, but I only knew one or two kids who had them).

    I'm really not sure that online gaming is much different from any other hobby. I collect and show horse figurines (which, incidentally, has taught me a tremendous amount about horses even though I don't have the time to work with real ones). It's not that different from, say, a Trekkie convention or RenFaire. They're still groups of people are still gathering to participate in a shared, very focused interest. I think I'm with Julie Boo Boolie in thinking that the social norm has simply changed.

  13. I think parents have a way of treating evrything their children do with suspicion.When I was young I listened to 'film songs and not classical music' even when I sat down with my books.When my daughter was young she 'read too many story books' even during examination time.Now my grand daughter not yet three watches 'too many cartoon shows' on TV.I think it is parental anxiety and nothing more.Kids will learn to socialize when they're required to.After all man is a social animal

  14. I don't think the social skills of the "game boy generation" is different from the generations before. The difference lies in the environment they are living now. It is not that safe for children now to stay outside the house because of crimes.

    I remember when I was young, I played outside; climbing trees, flying kites, etc. but my son cannot do that today. There are no trees outside our community, the are no grounds wherein they can play. This place is surrounded by buildings for housing and other business establishments.

    So what else can they do now, watch TV and play computer games.

  15. I do think that it has a negative effect on the development of children's social skills as well as negatively effecting their health. We are seeing more and more socially inept children, teens and young adults- and I think a lot of it stems from their "solitary confinement" with tv and video games. We are also seeing many more children who are obese, largely (no pun intended) due to the fact that they spend too much time on the couch, in front of the television or video console.
    The kids in my generation (boomers) were made to "go outside and play". We did not have video games and tv for us consisted mostly of Saturday morning cartoons. If we said that we were bored, some adult promptly found us more to do than we could ever want. So, we learned to use our imaginations and we learned to be creative in our play. We played with friends and neighbors- good "old fashioned" games like hide and seek, cowboys and indians, cops and robbers. We went ice skating and sledding in the winter. We were active and we were healthy. Our parents taught us the proper social skills and if there was something they missed, well, there was always Home Ec. or some teacher who would gladly correct you.
    I think we turned out pretty well and I think we do our own children a disservice by not making sure that their childhoods are every bit as wealthy as ours were.

  16. I guess I'm a generation Y-er, but I'm not sure. I'm 27, and my younger brother grew up playing on Nintendo, but I was never interested. I did play some computer games (Brickles, anyone?), but mostly, I read. I read instead of playing with friends and I read instead of running around outdoors. We had a big, tree-lined backyard, and I was still a solitary child who liked to read a LOT. My grandparents thought it was terrible, that I would grow up to be an unhealthy social recluse as a result--some of the same criticisms leveled against kids who play video games all day. I turned out fine.

    My main concerns aren't about kids not being social, but about kids not using their imaginations. However, previous generations worried about kids' imaginations deteriorating from watching too much television or reading too many comic books (the bain of previous generations of well-meaning parents), and people seem to manage okay. Art is still being created in the world, music is still being written.

    As far as obesity goes, I think that's mostly because of overeating--simply too many calories of sugary, nutritionless food--not because of sitting around. It's a problem a lot of us struggle with, not just kids who play a lot of video games.