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Chris Carpenter
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What Every Parent Needs to Know about Video Games
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What Every Parent Needs to Know About Video Games

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - Cultural critic and author Richard Abanes says the growing problem of video game addiction today lies not in the chemical reaction a person experiences while playing them but from a far more powerful source – parents.

“There is a disconnect happening,” says Abanes, in a recent interview with  “Maybe it is parental involvement.  Maybe it is the busyness of our modern society that is not allowing parents to really become active with their children in this new form of entertainment and this new form of socialization and relational interaction.”

Such was the impetus for Abanes’ latest book “What Every Parent Needs to Know about Video Games” (Harvest House).  A scant 124 pages in length, Abanes, a gamer himself, set out to explore the good, bad, and ugly of the virtual world.  And what he found was that people are very quick to point the finger at video games as a contributing factor to the social/moral decay of the family.  

“There is a knee jerk response from many people that all video games are bad no matter who makes it, no matter what the message is, no matter what perspective they are coming from, they are just bad.  That is unfortunate,” explains Abanes.

So rather than paint a dreary picture of the video gaming industry and write it off as evil, Abanes chose instead to take a good, hard look at not only the negatives but the positives as well. 

Says Abanes, “There is a good side and a bad side to video games.  The bad side is when parents often buy games or allow the purchase of games for their children that are inappropriate.  One of the reasons I wrote this book is to inform parents, to let them know the great things about video games but also let them know about the things they need to be careful about.”

To his credit, the book features balanced discussion on the positives and negatives of game content, the video game rating system, and various techniques to evaluate a game’s overall message.

“People just need to take a little time and learn what video games are, learn the rating system, play a few of them, and above all make sure your kids are playing in moderation,” points out Abanes.  “The best advice I can give parents is that video games should be treated like any other extra-curricular activity.  You keep your grades up you get to keep playing.  Your grades go down and you lose that privilege.”

Abanes, who has achieved considerable success from other cultural commentaries he has written, most notably works on The Da Vinci Code and the Harry Potter phenomenon, suggests there is no iron clad way to break children into gaming.  However, there is certainly a wrong way.

“Never use a video game as a babysitter.  You should not take a video game, throw it at a child and say, ‘Here, go play for six hours.  I will see you when I am done with what I am doing.’”

But what about all the studies chronicling the horrors of video game use? For example, a 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found young people are exposed to eight and a half hours of media content a day, most of it coming from video games, or, the fact that one of the deadliest shootings in school history was the result of a student mimicking his favorite video game.

If “What Every Parent Needs to Know about Video Games” has one drawback it is the limited defense of the aforementioned question above.  It is very clear Abanes fully supports the gaming industry even though research seems to indicate otherwise.

“Anything done to excess can overtake a kid’s life,” counters Abanes.  “That can be sports.  It can be music.  It can be a kid obsessed by academic excellence.  Any of these things can overtake a kid’s life.  If you spend too much time doing anything and it overtakes your life that is not a good thing.  Video games are designed to be a complement to real life not a replacement for it.”

As purely an informational tool “What Every Parent Needs to Know about Video Games” is a good resource.  It helps provide a clearer picture of what the video game industry has to offer coupled with helpful suggestions to combat the seamier side of gaming.

“Please don’t fear video games,” suggests Abanes.  “We need to embrace video games as a teaching tool because they are here to stay.”

Point taken.

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