Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story that focused on how kids are spending too much time playing video games and using their phones during the covid-19 pandemic. Today, that story was on the front page of the paper. This seems strange considering how the world is falling apart and democracy is dying in front of our eyes, but yeah, sure, let’s consider that kids might be playing too much Roblox.
The article, which ran on January 16, quoted some experts and presented a lot of “scary” numbers about screentime. But it also glossed over the fact that video games and the internet have helped many people, kids and adults, stay connected and sane during this terrible time.
The whole post is also oddly bookended by a random small family that is currently struggling during the pandemic. Their son plays a lot of video games as a way to connect with his friends. His father and mother are concerned about how much time he spends in front of the screen, but also know it’s one of the few ways he has to safely socialize while covid-19 runs wild across the world. This is a hard situation I imagine many parents around the globe are going through right now. But highlighting only kids and how much screentime they are using ignores that all of us, not just children and teens, are dealing with increased screentime and a lack of real human interaction. Instead, the article goes on and on about how potentially unhealthy and dangerous all this screentime could be for kids. How kids need to disconnect more. How kids are playing too much Roblox.
“What are you going to do when you’re married and stressed? Tell your wife that you need to play Xbox?” This is a quote included in the story, from the mother, as the son explains that after their dog died on New Year’s Eve, he used games to take his mind off the sadness. It’s presented as a negative. Yet, I can list numerous times when I and others used video games as a way to relieve stress or escape from a terrible day. This isn’t me trying to toss this mom under the bus. I can understand the frustration she and so many others are going through.
The real question is why that frustration needed to be on the front page of the New York Times, presented in an article that frames video games and the internet as dangerous, addictive things that are ruining our children and holding them captive. The article literally opens with a quote from the father about how he feels like he has “failed” his son, because he plays video games and uses his phone. It’s like something I would have seen in the ’90s on some local news broadcast, with clips of kids playing NES in the background.
This isn’t the first time we have seen larger and older outlets focus on only children playing games and try to use fear-mongering and scary numbers to build a narrative that completely ignores reality.
Are there reasons to be concerned about how much time we all spend online? Probably. Spending 12 hours glued to Twitter and doomscrolling the latest tragedy is presumably hurting me in ways I don’t fully understand. Yet, right now, things are different. The world is fighting a global pandemic that is killing thousands every day. Many of us are trapped inside, dealing with all the stress and boredom that brings. Through all of this, we continue to work, go to school, raise kids, and deal with hundreds of other problems. I don’t have to tell you how hard life has become for so many of us over the past (checks calendar) year? (Holy shit...)
So if you or your kids need to escape and want to play some Minecraft and maybe you end up playing a few hours more than usual, don’t worry about it. We are all relying on digital apps and services to stay connected and happy. Binge some Netflix. Have a Zoom hang out session with family and friends. Or play some Call of Duty Warzone with your long-distance siblings.
Life is hard enough right now. Don’t beat yourself up for taking care of yourself or letting your kids have fun with their friends.