Sneaking A Gaming Career
My oldest son snuck his iPod into his room last night to play on it when he was supposed to be sleeping. After I busted him and confiscated the iPod, he waited until I went to bed and then went out and snuck his school netbook into his room to play games. I caught him this morning when he brought it out to his desk for his daily homeschool session.
It was not the first time. As a parent, it was disappointing to see that behavior out of him. It would be less disappointing to bust him sneaking books and a flashlight under his sheets, like I used to do all the time when I was his age, but is that really fair to him? We didn’t have iPods or netbooks back then, but if it were possible to sneak an Atari 800XL system with its disk drives, monitor and all into my bed at night, I would probably have done it. I was disappointed to find him sneaking, but not really disappointed in what he was sneaking or why.
I have always been a gamer ever since the 800XL, which was my first home computer. Then when the NES came out I had that, too. The rest is history. I was never a very serious, hard-core gamer, though I can play like one when the mood strikes me. I understand what a passion it is, and sometimes I feel that if I had made some different life choices (like gone to RIT instead of Gallaudet), I might have pursued a career in the gaming industry. Game companies and game developers make serious scratch these days, doing stuff they love to do.
Even in the old days, a good game took an entire cast and crew to create and launch. For example, the cinematic cast of the Wing Commander franchise, a popular space-shooter from the ’90s and one of my favorites, included Mark Hamill and other notables. For a gamer, to be part of an actual game production would be like a movie buff being part of a movie production. Awesome.
So having missed that boat myself (and plenty of others), I wouldn’t want my son to miss it either, if that’s the boat he wants to get on. Problem is, to really get involved, and be part of the gaming industry, you have to do something a lot and something pretty well. And that’s play video games. The more games you play, the more you learn about gaming nuances, their characteristics, and the way games are made. Many games, like the latest Lego ones, come with their own level and character builders with which you can create your own in-game experience, usually with quite some time and effort.
It’s the same as with any other exciting field. To be a good photographer, you have to study photography and take lots of pictures. To be a good cyclist you have to know your bike and ride everyday. If you want to make good movies you must watch them and study how they are made. To be a good software programmer or web developer or graphic designer, you must spend an unhealthy amount of time on a computer. I sure did.
The thing is, some people have a negative perception of gamers and gaming in general. It can be perceived as an utter waste of time. An addiction that needs to be kicked. An unhealthy activity that keeps kids indoors when they should be outside running around just being kids, or learning other, more productive skills, like photography or cycling. Granted, gaming can be all these things; I don’t deny that there are game addicts and games that give the whole gaming industry a bad name. Yes, too much can be too much. Others believe, however, that it’s a genuine passion leading to a potential career path, and a quite lucrative one at that.
The question is, how do you encourage your child to pursue such a passion and potential career path positively and productively, without letting him or her spend the many hours necessary, and risk addiction doing so, to become a true expert in the field? How do you do it if you’re perceived as a lousy parent if you let your child study, play, or make custom game levels a couple hours a day? How about just five hours a week? Or ten? Too much? Why?
If your child has a passion for photography, would you tell him or her to only take pictures between 4-5pm, and only on the weekends? Or would you encourage him or her to take as many photographs as possible, anytime they see the opportunity? If they can’t stop taking pictures, do you call them a shutterbug? Or a photoaddict? What about movies? Once video footage is filmed, hours are needed to be spent on the computer editing it, adding special effects and what not. It’s fun, but it also means hours spent sitting at the computer. How is this any different than letting your children plumb the depths of their gaming passion?
So, when your child sneaks a book and a flashlight into his room at night the second, third, or n‘th time after being told not to, you can say to yourself, “Oh, he’s just passionate about reading!” and secretly be proud. But when your child sneaks a video game into his room at night the second, third, or n‘th time after being told not to, dare you say to yourself, “Oh, he’s just passionate about gaming!” and secretly be proud?