How Gaming Is Leveling Up the Next Generation

No matter your generation, chances are you can remember the first video game you ever played.

Gen Xers might recall their first attempt at beating the dot-eating race of PacMan at the local mall arcade or trying to maneuver a cannon to avoid space creatures’ slow but deadly descent on Atari’s Space Invaders. Millennials may recall memories of joining best friends in the basement to play N64 MarioKart for hours while consuming an alarming amount of childhood-obesity-inducing Mountain Dew and Cheetos. Today’s youth, Generation Edge (born 1996–2010) are living out those first gaming memories in virtual communities, whether it be Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto 4, or Minecraft. Gen Edgers are growing up in an entirely different world of collaborative gaming, because it’s almost entirely online. Unfortunately, their gaming gets a really bad rep. Sure, teen tech-addicts are on the rise and gaming is an aid (if not hook) to that addiction and social seclusion, but there is often some good behind the bad. And we've found that to be the case when it comes to gaming.

(Before I go any further into this fantastical world of gaming and its influence on Gen Edgers, I have something to admit. I’m not really a gamer in the traditional sense, either video/virtual or tabletop. I have a 30-year-old older brother who "graciously" allowed me to watch him play Final Fantasy VII when we were growing up and barely let me have my turn at Sonic the Hedgehog (SEGA!). So, am I a gamer myself? No. Are there any at BridgeWorks? Not really. (Update: the talented Austyn Rask joined our team in 2016!) Have I consulted my gaming friends, brother, and Tony, the owner of one of the most successful gaming shops in Minneapolis? Why yes. Yes I did.)

The Bad and the Ugly—Losing Their Innocence and Their Gamer Cronies
Google search “video game violence,” and anti-gaming blogs will rise to the top. Considering that Gen Edge teens find circles of friends virtually, some parents/teachers/adults are concerned about Edgers’ ability to develop relationships and friendships IRL (in real life). When Millennials were gaming as kids, they’d join their friends in person for a SuperSmash Bros tournament. Edgers, on the other hand, are creating personas and joining “friends” around the globe online, headset and microphone on. Their virtual worlds can appear like a solace of community, but they’re often full of slander, bullying, and cyber aggression. According to ESA in 2015, action and shooter genres are the top sellers for video games. These games are more violent now than ever before, to which my trusted game store owner confidante, Tony, said: “Bottom line: those games should only be allowed for 18+.” Beyond violence, the addiction can be terrifying… especially when headlines like “The gamer community had a near-miss this week in Ohio, when a 15-year-old boy collapsed after playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for up to five days straight” are becoming more and more commonplace.

Twitch, the collaborative gaming site, is the 4th highest visited site behind Google, Apple, and Netflix. On Twitch, young adults don’t have to bring expert gaming skills to the table. They can just watch friends or celebrity experts from across the world play games. While viewing the gaming screen, you can also see the actual gamer playing from their own home—surrounded by their own friends watching them play. Apparently, my brother was on to something. Sure, this may be good exposure to circles of people around the world, but it also allows you to be bad at a game, only slightly hang with friends, and withdraw further from society by living in the gaming world. Is there cause for concern regarding socially-inept Gen Edge teenagers? Honestly, yes.

The Good Nerds: The New In-Crowd
Lest you fear, the positive side to gaming is here! In the virtual (vs. tabletop) world of gaming, Minecraft is the necessary retro-inspired and creativity-required game needed to counteract the scales of violent, solo gaming. It gives Gen Edgers the opportunity to create, collaborate, learn, and build in a non-violent setting. At the time of this article's writing, Minecraft was bought 10,294 in the last 24 hours. My pal Tony can tell stories of awkward preteens drawing their worlds on paper in the store and hurriedly return home to recreate them online. It’s exciting to consider how the skills learned from this game will translate into a generation of workers who are visionary, creative, and eager to produce. You might be wondering, is Minecraft to Gen Edge what Sims was to Millennials? Well, stop being so touchy Millennials. This is different. We were creating worlds we never wanted our parents to know about (I’m talking to you, the one who cleaned up the vomit at the theme park and created the male who looked just like your fantasy crush.) Minecraft takes it to a whole other level of creativity and imagination, and it’s sparked sites like Scratch, a free programming language resource that allows anyone to design their own game.

In addition to virtual games, there’s been a resurgence in table-top games like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, and Settlers of Kattan. Table-top games are the second-highest funded projects on Kickstarter. Celebrities like Stephen Colbert, John Stewart, and Matt Damon all gladly retell fond memories of their D&D days. My brother, the coolest hipster non-nerd by appearance at least, built a special D&D table in his basement. Nerd culture is increasingly becoming more trendy, and it will only be so long before role-playing tabletop games become mainstream. The true gift is that this “makes gaming truly social,” as Tony says. Social here does not refer to anything online; the word is used in the purest sense: people coming together, making conversation, and having fun. These games allow imagination, creativity, leadership, collaboration, teamwork, and strategizing skills to grow. Many I’ve spoken to who play, or have played, consider the skills learned in gaming as integral to their professional success.

As a final note, today’s gaming world can give Gen Xers a great advantage in parenting in that they can relate. They were the generation that grew up with the emergence of the very first video games; single-player consoles completely defined their generation. As a Millennial, I watched my Boomer parents essentially die a slow death every time they bought my brother the latest 007 game. Conversely, Gen Xers may view their Gen Edge child’s involvement with games as an opportunity to connect. Or maybe they’re responsible for encouraging the outdoor time afterward… Either way, all generations win. Level completed.