This year marked my third trip to GeekGirlCon in Seattle. As always, this convention maintained a positive, family friendly atmosphere. Lines for panels were organized, staff was alert — I was only aware of security having to speak with one individual about their behavior — and friendly. One of the panels I was happy to attend was the “Family Who Games Together.” Moderated by Jessican Merizan, panelists Julie Bloom, Melanie Fleming, Ann LeMay, Kris Schoenberg, and Karin Weekes offered insightful, funny, and touching, conversation about raising families, and growing up with games. Attempting to capture the stories shared in a review would diminish their power, but there was a discussion about inclusion which should be noted.
I have often talked about inclusion of women and gays, but I have not even thought to talk about the inclusion of families till now. I don’t have kids; it never occurred to me it was a conversation which needed to be had. I’ve gamed with all sorts of people over the years, to include parents. They have, and continue to be, lovely people who adore their children; often sharing funny tales, frustrating moments, and the moments of triumph for their kids in conversation. To hear that gamer parents were on the receiving end of judgment for sharing their love of video games with their children was irritating. There is, apparently, an invisible societal boundary one crosses at a certain age, which means they are no longer supposed to enjoy video games, especially if a person becomes a parent. Who decides, at what point, that liking video games is acceptable anyway? Is there a secret court of mothers and fathers in black robes who sacrifice consoles to a heathen god to determine when one is no longer suppose to love video games? It makes no sense to me. Particularly given, at least in United States, our cultural celebration of games in general.
I’m talking about baseball, football, hockey: sporting events where “grown ups” paint their faces, drink overpriced alcohol, and yell obscenities at the players on the field or at the television screen. Advertisements surrounding these events often celebrate excess: drinking, food, sex, and occasionally, sexism; yet, this is absolutely fine to share the experience with a family compared to something like, I don’t know, Minecraft. It’s totally cool for adults spend a whole Sunday afternoon watching football, but if you let your kids play video games for an hour as a reward for doing their homework you are a terrible person.
And what about another form of “adult gaming entertainment”: poker, craps, slot machines, or the roulette wheel? Gambling involves money not being spent on things a person needs; merely for the enjoyment of playing the odds in hopes of a win. Thousands of dollars are spent advertising for Las Vegas, various other casinos, and it is encouraged. Go, spend your money on things you don’t need! Get drunk! Cause trouble, maybe even do illegal things! “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” right? Clearly this is so much healthier than sharing ones love of World of Warcraft. I have nothing against any of the activities I have listed; merely pointing out that adults, and parents in particular, are approved by society to enjoy some form of games and not others. But, why? How is sitting down at a slot machine different from spending time in front of a console or PC gaming? Is it because one could “win big” and suddenly be wealthy? I personally find quite a bit of value in the friendships I’ve formed through a love of video games, and those relationships will last quite a bit longer than any cash I spend gambling.
Life is short.
To those people who dare to give the evil eye to parents raising their children in a gaming household: you need to back right the hell off. Any of the activities I have mentioned done in excess are dangerous to an individual or family. However, in moderation, all can, and should, be enjoyed. In an environment where parents listen and are mindful of what their kids consume, video games can be a positive bonding experience for everyone. Games can teach about sharing, teamwork, cooperation; they can open worlds and inspire the imagination. As for the content, the panel pointed out gamers are at least aware of the rating system for video games of which some non-gaming parents are blissfully ignorant at times. One panelist related a story about working at a retail outlet and advising parents against purchasing M-rated games for their children on more than one occasion.
It’s not fun to get the critical looks from co-workers, friends, family, but everyone has hobbies and all are valid to enjoy. It doesn’t matter whether the activity is hiking up a mountain, enjoying a trip to the casino, or kicking back with some friends in a co-op session. Life is short and we have so many not fun things we have to deal with: paying bills, going to work, repairing vehicles, crowded commutes, etc. Take the time to do what you love and share it with people you love, the dark council of judgy mothers and fathers be damned.
Natalie currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where she tries to balance full-time work and various nerdy hobbies. While being a huge Bioware fangirl, she also enjoys other video games (i.e. Arkam City, the Fable series) as well as comic books set in the DC universe.