Thursday, April 29, 2010

How the Video Game Industry Can Save Our Streets

I woke up this morning to a news report of kids using kids for target practice on the southeast side of Chicago. Each time, I am sickened and the only relief I feel is when I hear that they’re in stable condition. Our streets are under siege and our children are the insurgents.

Our children have too much unstructured time. Families have limited resources to connect to meaningful activities. And what outlets do kids who are not athletes, musically inclined or aloof have?

As a youth, I spent many days hanging out at the video game arcade. I only developed proficiency at foosball but enjoyed the sights, sounds and watching others compete and bring those machines to their electronic knees. But now, all of the technology that amazed me then exists in the current generation home console units.

It is time to bring back the neighborhood arcades, version 2010.3. Storefronts and mini-malls remain vacant in these troubled areas and could be quickly modified into a technological drop-in community center. Donations from video game and computer industry corporations would provide hardware, software, consultation and technical assistance needed for start-up. Once locations have been set-up and established, the community impact would be immediate and resonant:

  • Area residents hired and trained to manage sites, provide guidance in using the equipment, monitor activity in and around the facilities, etc.
  • After-school, weekend and school holiday access for families,
  • Multipurpose use for school-sponsored field activities, structured mentoring and tutoring areas, kiosks for product demonstrations, appearances by industry professionals and game celebrities, corporate-sponsored healthy eating cafĂ©, gross motor activity sections,
  • Corporate-sponsored areas with featured hardware and software, opportunities for training, certification and continuing education geared toward video game industry, and
  • Support for learning styles and intellectual strengths.

Once established, these educational and entertainment centers can provide needed family and community supports. Students and parents could earn credits through scholarship, stewardship and volunteer efforts; local law enforcement personnel can include the centers as part of their patrol routes and possible off-duty work; legislators and community leaders can show evidence of working and flourishing community-corporate partnerships and educators can encourage game developers to include learning standards in game design.

These are a few benefits of the video game industry directly investing in communities for immediate results. While this will not solve all community ills, it would be a start. And I do not believe we will see news reports of shootings by children with a gun in one hand and a game controller in the other.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Parenting is no game ...

We picked up my seventh grade son from a math competition where he placed second for individual and third for the group. I asked him to what he attributes his success and he said he didn't know. I asked him if he stuck his fingers in his nose to keep the thoughts from escaping and, wisely, he did not answer.

I think I have a fairly good idea of how he spends his time. He attends school and performs pretty well in terms of grades, test scores, behavior and citizenship; does chores, watches television, reads a great deal outside of school requirements and spends about thirty hours playing online computer games. For the past few months, it has been League of Legends. Before that, it was Team Fortress 2. Next, I think it will be Monster Hunter Tri. He had an opportunity to play that at the Nintendo booth of the comics convention we attended last weekend.

Most parents would think that this is too much time for computer gaming for children, one of which would be my wife. My thoughts are that he is not hanging out, tying up a phone or burning up minutes or bringing over hoodlums to eat up the food and tear up the place. Most of the time, I sit right next to him, on my computer, writing, surfing, working or playing while we talk, joke and interact throughout the evening.

We have an adult son as well and I am still trying to figure out this parenting thing. But I continue to follow certain principles. I provide structure so they know where the boundaries lie, what they are allowed to do and warnings that certain choices they make can place them outside of my ability to help. I give them support to do the things they want to do after they've done what they have to do first and provide whatever resources I have or sacrifices I need to make to support them. And they get supervision as I inform them what they can do, make certain that they are able to do it and watch them as they do it. It is no easy task.

Children, especially young black males, need to be surrounded by many layers of protective factors. As a student of my surroundings, I watch and listen and see that most of the time, we are the architects of our own chaos and engineers to our own destruction. Early on, I learned that engagement in technology would keep me out of a lot of trouble and, so far, it's done OK by me and mine.