Ask any parent for their opinion on gaming and they will probably cite the perils of addiction.
Addiction exists, but it's not the only possible consequence of gaming
With the World Health Organisation classifying gaming addiction as a mental disorder in 2018, it appears that gaming has an even worse reputation.
Of course, I am not disputing that gaming addiction exists -- it is a serious illness that must be dealt with promptly and carefully.
However, gaming should never be reduced to the negative consequences of addiction.
There can be benefits derived from gaming, such as improving communications, teamwork and problem-solving..
For myself, my parents let me play games in moderation.
And speaking as someone who has benefited tremendously from gaming, this gaming experience not only changed my life, it pretty much gave me one.
Here are some ways in which I benefited from gaming.
#1: Games were safe spaces where I was not judged by how I looked
Most parents, mine included, disregard the myriad of reasons as to why children are so enamoured with gaming.
For me, it was because the games I played are safe spaces where I could leave behind my physical inhibitions and trauma that came with the excess kilos.
I was teased daily in primary school because of my weight.
My memory of that time has become hazy, but I recall being constantly and painfully aware of how my t-shirt was clinging onto my tummy.
Although I was never overtly bullied in school, I felt ostracised.
And I suspect that this is the primary reason that I developed a low self-esteem and a negative body image in my pre-teenage years.
Unsurprisingly, I wanted nothing more than to change the way I looked.
On Habbo Hotel, I was allowed to look like whatever I wanted.
For the uninitiated, Habbo Hotel is a game that allows you to create your own character and interact with other users in the rooms they have designed.
More importantly, as Habbo Hotel allows users to change their skin colour, gender, facial features, and clothing whenever and however they want, these features no longer become significant.
I could interact with people without having them judge me before any meaningful interaction could take place.
So, rather than hanging out with my classmates -- most of whom teased me -- I chose to go home straight to my computer after school.
#2: I could form meaningful relationships online
My friends could never understand why I chose to play such a “lame” game over Maple Story and GunZ, because for Habbo Hotel, all one did was walk around and talk to people.
I couldn't understand it myself back then, but I finally came to understand why: it gave me a chance to make friends without getting made fun of.
Many would argue that this had the potential to make me, and quite possibly other children like me, "anti-social".
Speaking from my experience, however, that couldn't be further from the truth.
Because of Habbo Hotel, I was able to interact with and meet a diverse and wonderful group of gamers.
Games were a platform where I felt confident enough to forge meaningful relationships with other people.
And as a result, I also met some of my closest friends online.
#3: It made me feel a sense of belonging to communities
Thinking back, the days I spent on my games are some of my happiest because I’ve managed to interact with others without much inhibitions.
Although our interactions only happened online, the many guilds that I have joined allowed me to experience what it is like to be part of a community.
We were a group of like-minded people who shared a similar passion for the game; helped one another with our problems (mostly relationship and homework related); felt a sense of belonging to the same "space" (to the game we were playing); and most importantly, genuinely liked one another.
In such gaming communities, I was not judged by my socioeconomic status, grades or appearance.
Instead, the only things that mattered were my skills and interest in the game.
#4: Games offered me an opportunity to explore a myriad of issues and worlds
Contrary to some stereotypes out there, not every game is based on shallow content chock-full of senseless violence or gratuitous titillation.
Some games offer accompanying narratives that provide players with an opportunity to explore a myriad of issues, ranging from existentialism, sexuality, gender, to interpersonal relationships.
For instance, American gaming writer Patricia Nelson attributed her coming to terms with her homosexuality because of Fallout 2 (1998), one of the earliest games to allow for same-sex marriage.
This is a completely optional part of the story, by the way, and the beauty of the Fallout series is that you are able to make many, many choices in the game -- both heteronormative and queer.
And this well-crafted piece of speculative fiction forces players to consider the effects of a nuclear fallout and reconsider the history lessons taught in school.
Many of such well-crafted games, which developers take years to create, allow players to live different adventures and to explore glorious landscapes.
There is the Zelda and Mario series that teaches pattern association and problem-solving; movie games, such as the Walking Dead series, which force you to make moral choices and question your humanity; and the many MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) that strengthen your teamwork and communication skills.
These games, which can also include references from different cultures, histories and mythologies, are the games that parents should not be afraid to let their children play.
Instead of banning games, parents should educate children
It is completely understandable when parents worry that their children will be distracted from real-life priorities if they spend too much time online.
Certainly, I do not profess to be a parenting expert, especially since I am still being parented.
However, I think it would be helpful for parents and children to reconcile their own views on gaming in a fruitful way.
Rather than inculcating the “mean world syndrome” in hopes that children will avoid games completely (I'm sure they won’t), we should instead teach them, as far as possible, to manage their habits.
This means that they should know when to seek help when it comes to addiction and cyber bullying.
In addition, children should also be taught how to deal with the content they come across unintentionally online or in their games.
This is where the parents can play a productive role, not just to censor, but to also mediate and explain the content consumed by their child.
With everything becoming digitalised, like how we communicate, commute, pay, and shop, I believe that the virtual sphere has become as important a space as the physical.
It is impossible to disallow your child from using electronic devices.
Instead, children should be taught the necessary skills to navigate their virtual worlds the same way they would the real world.
If you suspect that someone you know might be addicted to gaming, you can contact TOUCH Cyber Wellness.
For a list of signs and symptoms of gaming addiction, you can visit the World Health Organisation.
Top photo via Imgur.