Online Gaming, Healthy Development and the View from Admissions

I realize that I share with many parents and admission officers a negative bias toward video games, but talking with and trying to understand my students has given me room to pause and reconsider. While young boys and men are trying to see where they fit in the world beyond their family, how can I dismiss a student’s hard-earned self-esteem and accomplishment as a player in the top .05% of millions of people around the world who compete in the same game? It’s a virtual world, but status and recognition beyond parents’ unconditional love is real. Can you blame them for wanting more?

Students regularly face ethical challenges in this world, a world often dismissed as narcissistic, where they use their skills not for their own advantage, but to help players on their team, even sacrificing themselves for a greater good. Students can be helpers in their digital world such as paid online coaches via Skype or authors whose articles appear in online guides.

As Michael Gurian writes in Saving our Sons, “…there is no part of a son’s culture that cannot help him mature.” Whether in video game action or online chat groups, real questions — and answers — are worked out to the question ‘What is a man?’ It’s much more important to engage in these questions than to judge, and our goal should be to enter thoughtfully into a boy’s virtual world in the service of healthy maturation.

But Gurian also cautions about excessive internet or gaming as a neurotoxin that puts the brains and healthy development of young people at risk. His latest book, Saving Our Sons, details clear guidelines for parents to take control of and guide their sons’ use of screens and technology from early childhood to young adulthood so that key developmental milestones aren’t jeopardized. As a therapist and scientist, he presents compelling anecdotal and empirical evidence that clearly suggests that when our sons are left to immerse themselves in these addictive worlds, their sense of belonging and their ability to contribute to their complex real worlds will suffer. (One tool he and others use to gather information and assess when lines have been crossed is this internet addiction screen from reSTART.)

I’m inspired by his advice and his willingness to enter into and use a student’s lived experience in virtual worlds in the service of their healthy development. And I wonder when high levels of virtual accomplishment will become something to tout rather than hide in the competitive admission process? Will an admission reader be closer to my generation or to my students’, and as “eSports” gain in popularity and TV coverage, how quickly are opinions changing?

Stay tuned for future blog posts in which I’ll share my ongoing conversations with admission officers about whether, when, and how success in virtual worlds might transfer to success in admission and, ultimately, in their reasonable expectation of a student making meaningful contributions and living the good life right here and now, virtually and face-to-face, at their schools.

About The Author

Jamie Paul