Video games have always been a popular pastime among children and adults. It's clear they are not going away anytime soon. Honestly there's a great chance the industry outlives most of us. This may alarm some people given the stigmas attached to video games sometimes. Growing up, many children were told not to spend too much time playing video games because they would rot their brains and turn them into social misfits. Let me be the first to tell you that that is not the case.
As the gaming industry has grown, video games have become more advanced and involved. They are beginning to include more aspects of everyday life as they interact with us in ways that help us develop life skills. The common belief is that video games create a sense of isolation but in fact “most gamers (over 70%) play video games with one or more of their friends” (Wilber 2018). Ninety seven percent of children play some form of video games. Cooperative (or "co-op") video games are very popular and they help children learn how to work with others.
Online gaming has become much more common since the start of the decade. Playing online has shown to help people develop their social skills, particularly massive online role playing games such as World of Warcraft and other social networking games. In other words, games that force players to cooperate with one another, encouraging prosocial behavior which begins to translate to the real world.
Microsoft holds weekly gaming tournaments at their different locations so I decided to speak with their community development specialist Katheryn Megan Albino. She told me the motivation behind these tournaments along with their other gaming events is Microsoft's belief that gaming helps children develop social skills along with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills. According to a study done at Columbia University, high video game usage was associated with a 1.75 times increase in the odds of high intellectual functioning. They have recently expanded their annual summer camps to include children who want to grow their passion for gaming starting as young as 8-years-old.
The perception around gaming has changed as parents are beginning to learn how it has become a large part of their children's lives. Some have even taken it a step further and begun to join in and take part in that aspect of their kids life. According to 2018 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, more than 150 million Americans play video games regularly. Not only are video games a strong engine for economic growth ($30.4 billion in 2016), but they have shown to be a catalyst for individual growth is well.
We have even seen video games begin to put down roots in our school systems as well. Children who played a lot of video games were also found to be 1.88 times more likely to have, "High overall school competence” (Bolton 2016). What once was known as a club activity is beginning to become recognized as an international sport/competition. I was able to have a 1-on-1 conversation with Dalton McGhiey (head coach for the Lanphier-Southeast e-sports team) and he told me some interesting facts about e-sports*. For example, South Korea draws more viewers for their e-sports tournaments than America does for the NFL. It has long been a big draw overseas and as a result it is beginning to find its way to America. Colleges and professionals have begun to invest more money into the sport and as a result, career and scholarships opportunities have begun to come from this. High schools have started making this a larger part of their extracurricular activities because they see this is a way that students can pay for their education. Dalton told me T.J. Malensky, one of his players from Southeast High School recently received a really good scholarship to play Rocket League at Robert Morris University.
Many high schools are still in the incubation stage of building their e-sports teams and Microsoft has played a very pivotal role in helping them along the way. Katheryn told me how Microsoft has assisted different schools by lending them their computers and/or consoles to allow schools to practice or hold events.
[Sidenote: Microsoft released their Xbox One S Digital May 7th. This console does not have a disk reader but instead will play exclusively digital copies of Xbox games. The system will operate as a cloud and as long as you have your login information you can access your digital codes and games from any console.]
The momentum for the sport has certainly picked up as IHSA has discussed adopting it officially in the 20-21 school year. This will give children who do not perform well in traditional sports or even students who performed well in both areas a chance to showcase their talents.
Professional development opportunities have also come into the world of e-sports. Kids now have the option to explore a career as a pro gamer or a career in a related field that they may not have been exposed to otherwise.
[Sidenote: Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, owns his very own Overwatch League team. A league where the minimum salary for each player is $50,000.]
Professional gamer is not the only career option available for those who love gaming. All sorts of STEM and communication careers can be explored through this avenue. Career such as graphic design, computer engineering, broadcasting and journalism can all be explored through the world of gaming. Pretty much any career you associate with pro sports can be explored.
Parents, next time you decide to take issue with your child playing video games, try to look at it from a more positive standpoint. It may take them further than you think.
(P.S. I am not encouraging gamers to devote all of their free time to playing video games. It is still healthy to put down the controller and come outside for some fresh air every now and again. Balance.)
*E-sports: a form of competition using video games. Most commonly, e-sports takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually or as teams. (Wiki)