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Games we play

By Jim Killebrew

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[March 17, 2014]  Remember the shooter in Newtown, Conn.? It was learned he was a gamer, spending much time with the electronic games where the hunter became the winner by having the highest number of hits. A couple of years ago I attended a school program where young children performed with classmates in a Christmas presentation. I sat behind parents who had a child in the program. The man, presumably the dad of a child performing, sat through the entire program with his phone playing a game. At one point the woman who sat beside him took the phone from him and snapped a few pictures of the children on stage. When the phone returned, he promptly restarted his game and continued to play until the children's program was completed.

Electronic games are like that. Even when they do not desensitize the person with their content, they do seem to grab the person's attention to an almost addictive state. Children have been playing the games on the market that have evolved into content that should be labeled with labels like, "Content unfit for anyone, including a mature adult." After many hours of play, during required times of placing the game aside, children have reported they continue to think about the game and their scores and how they could "reach the next level." That thought rumination competes directly with the "downtime" activities where cognitive attention is required; it does affect memory and retention of learned material. It pre-empts attempted learning of new skills and tends to shorten attention span and concentration.

Of course there are millions of children who have excellent cognitive skills and can overcome the effects of the constant barrage of more graphic games that help shape values toward more violence. On the other hand, there are some children who tend to perseverate in the material learned in those games and are unable to overcompensate and overlearn incompatible, appropriate material to replace the effects of the material internalized through repeated exposure to those games. At this point in the game-crazed learning curve in our society, we just don't have enough empirical information to determine what, if any, more appropriate societal information is supplanted in the mind of the child at the expense of learning the more inappropriate material found in most of the action games. Nor do we have enough information to determine which children can differentiate with appropriate decisions and actions that would counteract the effects of the conditioning of the violent material learned from the games.

There is no question electronic games do have an effect on the child's learning, thinking and actions, but it continues to be uncertain about which children will act on those vicariously learned actions seen in the games and which ones know the difference between non-reality and reality. As a parent, we may think we have provided a sound reasoning as to how the effects of hours of playing the games can be turned or blunted: We may have provided a stable, Christian home with competing, more appropriate attitudes and values counteracting the content contained in the games themselves. But are we sure the images inside our child's mind remain imaginary or are becoming real?

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It is not my intent to make a sweeping generalization, but what we allow our children to spend their time with, especially hours of electronic games, is "springtime and harvest" and a reality experienced by us as a natural cycle of life. We "reap what we sow," and it is always a process that is painstakingly slow. Not every parent who works diligently to raise their children in the ways of right will always have the same results. We know that competing factors reside in the heart of a child and there is always a chance for rebellion.

Mostly, however, when children are socialized within the context of a nurturing, loving family where right and wrong are taught, along with respect for others, the chances of rebellion are slightly possible, but are exponentially greater that the child will return when he is older and will not depart from his early nurturing and training. Further, his departure will not be to the extent it takes him to the depths of evil, but just to the brink of a searing conscience that is undergirded with the loving principles of a sound, consistent family life. At that point he will return to embrace his sense of right as his own instead of those borrowed from his parents.

Committees, councils, commissions and study groups at the highest levels will rehash this issue of evil acted out at Newtown, Conn., and other mass shootings hence. But if they only looked at thousands of testimonies from families that took the time to "train up their child in the way they should go," those commission members would find the answer right in front of their faces. Banning guns will never be the total answer.


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