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Should You Be Concerned if Your Child Wants to Be a Gamer?

Is video gaming a hobby or a problem?

Key points

  • While there is a chance to grow up and become a pro gamer, this career is as unlikely as becoming a professional actor, musician, or athlete.
  • Many gamers' most important friendships come from playing video games with others.
  • Identifying as a gamer may help your child build self-esteem, connect with peers and family members, and share expertise.
Source: Mstandret/Envato

What was the most popular hobby or activity among kids in the United States in 2022? Most people know the answer to this question without thinking. It’s playing video games. More than 90 percent of children play video games in the U.S. Estimates suggest that there are 3.24 billion “gamers” worldwide.

But what does it really mean to be a gamer? Most of these three billion people don’t identify as “a gamer.” They play video games for fun, relaxation, and interaction with others. Many adults and kids report playing video games for mental stimulation and select games that challenge their brains. But most kids and adult gamers do not base their identity on gaming life. However, a substantial group of children and young adults gather at events such as

PAX or Gamescom or around a table to play Dungeons and Dragons who describe themselves as “gamers.” And much like a child with a love of automobiles who wants to be an engineer or a child who loves nature and wants to be a biologist, it is not uncommon to encounter kids who want to be gamers when they grow up. While there is an opportunity for some children to grow up to become professional gamers, this career is as unlikely as becoming a professional actor, musician, or athlete. Pro or not, however, “gamer” is an identity adopted by many children, teens, and even adults immersed in video games' lifestyle and culture. Should you be concerned if your child wants to be a gamer?

I had the opportunity to interview many teens and college students who identified as gamers. These young people were nothing like the image of the overweight, unkempt teenagers isolated in their rooms staring at a screen with fast food containers strewn around the floor. Instead, they were college and high school students who love gaming, use it as a tool to connect with others, and find that gaming uniquely challenges their brains. Some consistent themes in my discussions included connecting with peers, engaging with family, and overcoming the perception of being addicted to gaming.

How does being a gamer connect you with others?

Many of these gamers' most important friendships came from playing video games with others. Most of these friendships were formed with others they knew face-to-face from high school or college, though some were formed through online connections.

One gamer described gaming “as a lifestyle and culture and that there are many different types of gamers, but what unifies them is their passion and interest in gaming.” Gamers often develop their own vocabulary that allows them to communicate with other gamers, so it becomes easy to identify those with that you share this intense interest.

Another gamer described how his parents would force him to go outside and play with other kids in the neighborhood, but as he got older, he became more connected with his friends online. At some point, he and his friends "all built their own computers and helped to build each other's computers.” He noted how he remains friends with the same kids from middle school through games. He described his gamer peers “who have gone through thousands of titles (games) together, and they still play with each other every week even though some are working full time and some are in school full time.”

Will parents playing video games with their kids make them a gamer?

Gaming has often been a source of disconnect between parents and kids. Data from 2008 indicates that only 29 percent of parents played video games with their kids. However, post-pandemic, 77 percent of parents reported that they now play video games with their kids. It may be that being stuck inside with family members promoted this activity and also opportunities to form new bonds. But, before the pandemic, many of the students interviewed reported that their parents were supportive and interested in video games, sometimes nurturing their identity as a gamer.

One of the students interviewed noted that when he was a preteen, he would “sometimes seclude himself from family stress or conflict, or because I was that shy kid who would stare at a screen, isolate from family to escape the social stress, or if my sister was fighting with my parents I wouldn't even hear it if he was playing games.” Yet as he got older he began playing games with his parents and family, “we played Tomb Raider, my sister would be at the controls, I would watch, and my dad would be reading off the walkthru, what was going to come up next. It was really nice. I have really great memories of this activity.”

Is your gamer a compulsive gamer?

Often the predominant concern of the parents of gamers is that their kids will become compulsive to gaming and screens. Many of the gamers I spoke to attested, “I think about games all the time,” But none of them appeared to be distraught by this behavior. It appeared to be consistent with how they identified themselves. In their preoccupation, they found pleasure in finding solutions to game-based dilemmas and deriving creative solutions to problems they encountered in gameplay.

One student reported that he often had “creative ideas about the games you play while not playing them–when you stop playing the game and still thinking about it strategically, if your mindset is still in the game and you are not actually playing–then you are a gamer If you walk away and think I could do that next time, you are a gamer.”

Many of the interviewed gamers commonly displayed another compulsive behavior–a sense of loss, anxiety, or irritability when one is unable to play games. In the case of the students I interviewed, they did report that sometimes gaming interfered with their schoolwork or even conversations with others. In this case, they did express more concern about the role that gaming had in their life.

Should you be concerned if your child identifies as a “gamer”?

Identifying as a gamer may help your child in connecting with peers and family members. It may become an expertise to share with others and to build self-esteem. At times it is likely to interfere with other activities, but that is not any different from a child who loves to spend hours playing soccer or texting their friends.

More important is to examine whether the gamer identity is keeping your child away from other essential activities in their life, such as spending time with peers and family, getting regular physical exercise, and sustaining their effort at school. For some gamer kids, concerns about their behavior compulsions are legitimate. Still, for most, it may be best to view them as engaged or passionate gamers, designations that reflect an intense interest rather than pathology. For these kids, I encourage parents to learn more about the many careers, post-high-school education, and colleges where gamers are supported.

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