‘Are Video Games Harming My Son?’ Informatics Professor Constance Steinkuehler Discusses Response

November 1, 2017

At the recent UCI Department of Informatics Fall 2017 Seminar Series, “Played: Videogames, Kids and Moms,” Informatics Professor and President of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance, Constance Steinkuehler, set out to discuss a question many mothers have asked her over the years: “Are video games harming my son?”

Steinkuehler, who has been studying commercial and online games for the past decade, explained that people, particularly mothers, seem worried about a variety of issues related to the effects of gaming, ranging from violence to obesity to anxiety. Although no formal studies back these fears — for example, the link between violence and video games has largely been debunked — the concerns persist.

Steinkuehler also noted that research into gaming has simultaneously been too broad and too narrow. In particular, studies must focus on the individual game and, more importantly, the game mechanics, yet they should also branch out beyond the software itself to consider the entire gaming culture.

On the flip side, Steinkuehler explained that an entire body of literature, including works by psychologist Lev Vygotsky, has confirmed that “play is good” — it’s a fundamental building block for child development. This has generated a lot of passion around games for learning, as exemplified by the work of Informatics Professor Katie Salen Tekinbaş.

Aside from the effects of video games, Steinkuehler also discussed misconceptions about the reach of “intensive” parenting. She talked about the shift, particularly in Orange County, toward more structured and supervised activities for kids, yet argued that this helicopter parenting has merely pushed the rough-and-tumble lessons of adolescence off the streets and into unsupervised digital spaces. She and others, including Henry Jenkins, believe there’s a lot of peer-driven development going on in these digital spaces, but it could be amplified by technology.

Steinkuehler then pondered whether the fear over gaming might, in fact, be a displaced anxiety. Is intensive parenting indicative of a larger economic issue related to the shrinking of the middle class, leading parents to naively think they can “lifestyle” their kids into a better future? If so, Steinkuehler suggested that the real issue might not be the effects of games, but rather the need for policy discussions about broader economic concerns.

So her response? No, playing Counter-Strike shouldn’t harm your son. But have you considered getting more involved in policy-making decisions that could affect his economic future?

— Shani Murray