All Work and All Play: A Teen Video Gamer's Story of Turning a Hobby into a Career
With countless number of articles devoted to pros/cons debates of video games, a lack of communication seems to exist between “gamers” and “non-gamers.” The video game world is often an alienating one to parents and family members, while gamers themselves complain of being misunderstood or not heard. The goal of this article is not to argue on either side of the pro or anti gaming spectrum as many other articles have done, but to attempt to see such issues from the first party experience of a teen gamer.
Often portrayed as representative of all that is bad and wrong with society and current generations of children, video games have become a double edged sword in contemporary debates. On one side politicians, scientific studies, and parents have all reported the detrimental effects of video game “addiction” (a contested term) and the often violent, sexual, and dark themes these games have taken. Progressive game designers and entrepreneurs on the other hand have seen the positive benefits of video games through research, and the dynamic, creative potential in video gaming.
Video Game Issues Through the Eyes of a Gamer
“Mark” is a 18 year old male from the bay area of California and an avid video game enthusiast. Just recently graduated from high school this past spring, Mark is preparing for his next big step into college this fall at University of California Los Angeles. Utilizing his love and passion for video games and creativity, Mark was accepted into UCLA on account of the unique application and portfolio of his creative work, whereas was turned down regarding typical UCLA admission. Mark was happy to share his success story and give a teen gamer's perspective to the many questions surrounding growing up with video games.
A: How often do you play video games?
M: Typically once a day, usually for a couple hours
A: I know it's a broad question, but why do you play video games?
M: That's a really hard question. Aside from the obvious answers like “its fun” or “I enjoy it,” I would say my main reason for playing is for the sense of adventure I get. I always joke and say I was born in the wrong era, I should've been born either 300 years earlier or 300 years later. Something about the idea of exploring uncharted areas is huge interest to me, and through video games I get that sense of freedom and excitement.
A: How long have you been playing video games?
M: For as long as I can remember, it's something I have always done.
A: Would you say you've ever devoted too much time to video games ? If so, how did you change that? If not, how did you establish a good balance?
M: There have been times I recall sitting down and playing video games for hours and hours, but to be honest, looking back, I wouldn't “undo” it if I could. Yes, there were moments where I would become completely engrossed and play for half a day, but to be honest, I completely enjoyed it, and have good memories of “Oh, remember that time in game X when we beat Y? That was great!” The real key is balancing those sprees with other things in life. When I did play World of Warcraft (multiplayer online game), once a week or so, I would have one of those huge binges and would earnestly enjoy it and feel like I accomplished something in the game, but then I wouldn't play for the rest of the week since I had other things to do. It's really a matter of getting one's priorities straight.
A: How would you encourage others to balance their lives with video games?
M: In regards to “addiction,” the best advice I can give is above all else avoid denial. Yes, you can play a ton of games, but you have to do other things in your life to balance that. The moment you can step back and say, “Wow I played a lot today, probably too much” you will feel the need to balance it with other things in life. By denying that you're playing too much, or even just “a lot,” you'll never feel the need to do other things. Also, avoid attempting to go cold turkey and trying to just drop all games completely at once; at very least, gradually tune them out. This just makes it harder on you and won't teach you how to make responsible choices/establish balance for other aspects of life.
A: When did you decide you wanted to get into the industry of video games and why?
M: As long as people have asked me what I wanted for a career, I always knew I wanted to be a game designer. I remember in second grade we had an assignment to talk about our future, and, of course, I wrote that I was going to be a professional video game maker. However, it wasn't really until high school that I realized that I didn't necessarily need to be a game “designer” to be involved in video games. I started to realize the multitude of options available in the game industry and decided that as long as I was involved with video games in my career I would be happy. It's just something I love and am passionate about, so it's only natural.
A: What kind of jobs are out there in the video game industry? Aside from the stereotypical programmers, what else is needed to make a video game?
M: Oh, too many to name. Since the video game industry is still a developing and changing field, almost all kinds of professions are incorporated. Just off the top of my head: journalists, script writers, story writers, artists, musicians, stylists, publicists, voice actors, motion actors, programmers, of course, and all kinds of experts in fields like psychology, history, etc. As the field has grown and video games have gotten deeper and more complex, so have the jobs associated with creating a modern game.
A: Tell me more about the program you got into at UCLA, its focus, how you got in, etc.
M: The program I was just accepted into and will be attending this fall is the “UCLA Design Media Arts department” in the UCLA school of arts and architecture. I actually applied with a portfolio of a lot of my work in 3D graphic software, which just showcased my creativity with a few sample buildings, characters, objects, etc. The school itself focuses more on “art form” and technology than the creative arts department and has classes such as gaming classes, 3D design, film, advertising, and other digital media. It really focuses on innovation and the use of new technologies in creative design.
A: How would you encourage others to explore getting into the game industry or game creativity?
M: Not only is the game industry demanding and competitive, but many people who don't know much about games still don't take the video game industry seriously, making being a “game designer” still the source of some ridicule. While it's a really strong market and still young, the video game industry is really established at this point with pretty high certification requirements, usually demanding at least a 4 year degree. Also, the few big name companies such as EA and ActivisionBlizzard also make it hard to create a start up company. Though it may seem tough, though, if you're passionate and work hard, all I can say is follow that passion and work hard. Just don't expect it to be a cake walk though, it definitely doesn't mean you can just play around all day, you really need a good work ethic.
A: What do you think about the politics and debates in headlines about video games?
M: The term “video game addiction” actually upsets me quite a bit. I remember during a class once, my school brought in several former drug/alcohol addicts to tell us their stories. The thing I took away the most from that experience was when they described themselves, they specifically clarified “I have an addiction problem in general” basically emphasizing their addictive personality that caused them to overuse and depend on all sorts of things unhealthily, from drugs to people. Yes, there are definitely people who play far too much, but classifying video game usage as a specific disease is going a bit far. In my opinion it's not so much a psychological or physical addiction as it is just not having one's priorities straight, as people can get “addicted” to almost anything. When video games become a higher priority than family, friends, school, or even eating/sleeping/hygiene people clearly have a lot of complex issues going on aside from just the easy scapegoat of “video game addiction.”
In response to the idea of video games causing violent behavior, I really hate that the finger that just simply gets pointed to video games. Yes, there are violent video games, and yes, video games can be a bad influence in the wrong hands, but no more so than anything else in our current society (movies, TV, books, websites). The broad spectrum of different types of games is so vast that you can't just compare them as one single entity, nobody combines “Sesame Street” and “CSI” into one “television” category. All I can say is that the age limits on games are really important, and parents really need to get involved, know what their kids are playing, and make sure that their children can separate reality from fiction.
A: In your opinion, what are the benefits of playing games in general and specifically in your life?
M: There are a surprising amount of benefits for people. Hand eye coordination, adaptability, problem solving, quick reactions, and really getting an “outside the box” mentality. The ability to analyze a situation and come up with creative solutions is something I really got out of video games.
For example, I was actually the only person to solve a creative type of problem in my AP psych class in which a few odd materials were given to us and we were instructed to build a record player. I really encourage people to try some games such as “Braid” or “Portal.” You will be blown away by the creative thinking needed to solve the puzzles in both games. Oh, and also you learn a bunch of random cool facts. *laughs* I actually now know tons about different countries and cultures for example from the game “Civilization.”
A: Growing up, what was your family's take on video games, what rules were established?
M: There were some basic rules established but nothing extremely explicit. In general: no playing extremely late at night, not early in the morning, and not before I had finished my homework or other obligations. Other than that, it was pretty dependent on the situation. Sometimes my parents would let me play for long periods of time when they knew I was done with all my work and it was a Saturday, other times, they'd step in and just say “you've been playing too long, get up and go out with your friends.” I would typically listen but if I were ever too difficult, they would put their foot down. I really appreciate the more individual trust/responsibility they gave me, but also can really appreciate now the guidance they enforced on video games until I was old enough to understand myself the importance of other priorities. When you're younger and don't fully comprehend delayed gratification, responsibilities, and priorities, you NEED your parents' rules and guidance.
A: Are there any tips or advice you can give to parents out there who are struggling with their children and video games?
M: *laughs* I feel like a traitor saying this but I actually think my parents should've been stricter on me! While at the time I would've hated them, now that I'm older I can really appreciate the limits set in helping me establish a balance in my life.
Most importantly, read and follow the ratings for games. As a parent you really need to get involved here. Video games are here to stay, and ignoring them will not help you or your child. Do research and learn about the games your child wants to or is playing. Find out how intense, violent, graphic, educational the games are and really trust this over what your child says. I know it sounds awful, but even the best mannered and behaved kids will water down how mature a game really is, and I often regret not stepping in when I hear a kid tell his mom at the store “no no no, don't worry mom, it's only says 'cartoon' violence, that just means like loony toons!” Overall, I just really want to stress communication and getting involved. Talk to your kids about the games they like, find out why and even play with them! Be a first party in your kids video game experience, talk to your kids about what's going on in the game, make sure they understand whats going on (and if something is violent, why it's not okay in real life) and if you do decide to ban a game until they're older, make sure you explain to them why.
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