My sons and I go to the library every week. We attend arts or crafts workshops run by enthusiastic and creative staff. We listen to stories and sing songs. We gather a collection of too many books from the well-stocked shelves and stagger home under the weight. The library is an amazing community resource for anyone, and indispensable to a mother of young children.
But, libraries are changing. Of course they are. They should! They must! In an increasingly digital society, libraries would quickly be left in the dust unless they stay with the times. Libraries have DVDs to borrow, and electronic collections of magazines to peruse from home. Our library holds workshops on everything from computer programming to beginner Chinese. It even has a growing collection of tools such as 3D printers and laser cutters. Super! Amazing!
I recently found out that our public library also has a Wii video game system nestled in the youth fiction section of the children’s department. I also found out that they were considering loaning video games to patrons, and the only reason that they don’t (YET) is funding. There isn’t enough money to gather a large enough collection to keep any on the shelves.
This is where I do a double take: Tax dollars for video games??
As a mother who feels strongly about the need for children to get outdoors, as a researcher who has studied children’s health, trends in screen time and the obesity epidemic, something inside of me screams: NO! But, refusing to succumb to instinct, I did what a good researcher should do: research.
Recent research has uncovered numerous benefits of video games. This research is growing, well-documented and easy to find.
Besides, there are a variety of games that provide clear opportunities for learning and skill-building. Minecraft is one extremely popular game that lets users create their own worlds using infinite materials (at least in the creative mode). It is the ultimate digital Lego. It is being used in places as an educational tool, and even as a means to engage children in planning communities. There’s something I can get behind! (I may do another post one day about my son’s experiences with Minecraft.)
Coordination, spatial navigation, problem solving, fine motor skills, reflexes: it is easy to believe these potential benefits. So, if video games provide benefits, maybe the library should make them available. Alright, maybe I can relax now.
But what sorts of games are available?
I looked around at other library collections, and it appeared that many libraries loan video games. I took a look at a catalogue for a nearby library. There were puzzle, adventure and problem solving games, and a number of racing ones. Ok. Not so bad. But, to my surprise, I also found titles such as “Ultimate Street Fighter” and “Call of Duty.”
Not really being up on the video game scene, I watched clips on YouTube of these games to see if there were any possible redeeming qualities. I try to be liberal, progressive, and open to new ideas, but I simply can’t wrap my head around the benefits of children playing games where you fire deadly weapons at anything that moves, and beat your opponents to a bloody pulp.
Now, for every study that finds a connection between violent video games and actual violence, you can find one that says there is none. There are probably far too many confounding factors, and chicken-or-egg dilemmas to ever do an accurate study. Trials with randomized assignments would never pass ethics requirements (ok, you kids can play outside for 2 hours every day, while you kids play Grand Theft Auto…. see you in 10 years).
I have heard the admittedly legitimate analogy that today’s violent video games are yesterday’s banned books. Where do we draw the line? Are violent books ok? Violent movies? Clearly, I’m not in favour of book censorship, so why do I feel I can make this value judgement about violent video games? I don’t know. My young kids won’t be playing violent video games under my watch (at least for now). This may be a losing battle in the long term, and that is probably fine. After all, I played many computer games in my day, and plenty involved guns. (But I didn’t expect them to be government funded!)
I don’t have any say in the library debate. I’m glad I don’t. I’m glad that there are people who have done the research and understand community needs and wants better than I do. I still don’t have to be comfortable with it.
However, one thing remains clear to me. The more time we allow our children to spend on video games, creating or destroying artificial digital worlds, the more we need to spend time showing them the real one!
Readers: I’d love to hear your views on this!