Could e-sport be the next commonwealth games event?

Could e-sport be the next commonwealth games event? Or are we just encouraging kid’s gaming addiction?

Would you be proud if your child won a gold medal in video gaming?

It’s a question we need to consider in the e-sports debate. eSports basically turns video game playing into a sport, so apart from potential profit, what we are actually debating is whether video gaming is a desirable recreation for kids now and in the future.

Video gaming routinely gets bad press. For parents, the glorification of violence in these games is a problem. The call to ban Fortnite the latest video game sweeping the world, is an example of this. To date this game has a total of 45 million players and last weekend broke a record with over 2 million concurrent users. Its Hunger Games style plot sets players (as young as 5 years old) as snipers killing opponents to be the last man (kid) standing. While video games can be much gorier than Fortnite, parents worry that on-screen violence will lead to aggressive play off-screen in the school yard.

In my research with teenagers about their technology use, they are very quick to flip the tables and point out the violence and aggression that is part of real, traditional sport. And they have a point. Many parents feel the hypocrisy of barracking their child on the footy field shouting out ‘go hard… tackle them…don’t be a princess!’, yet complaining about on screen violence. There is no solid evidence that shows that online violence leads directly leads to aggressive behaviour off-line. Research however does show that it slowly chips into a child’s interpretation of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Another concern for parents is that gaming notches up screen time. Kids want to play video games, but strikingly, watching other people play video games is just as popular as playing games themselves. A study by University of Massachusetts Lowell found that 58 percent of teens and young adults (ages 14-21) have watched people play video games on websites like Twitch and YouTube.

Fortnite has a total of 45 million players and last weekend broke a record with over 2 million concurrent users.

Many adults also worry that too much time online comes at the expense of kids having healthy interests including physical sports. The extreme interest that some young people can express in gaming has in 2018, led to the World Health Organisation, adding Gaming Addiction to its International Classification of Diseases. While not to be confused with kids who are gaming enthusiasts, Gaming Disorder is characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. This not a path any parent want their child to experience!

Video gaming has too many cons and not enough pros for parents to feel comfortable encouraging it as a pastime for their child. A knee jerk reaction is to sweep e-Sports under the mat and hope that it goes away. However, it is now a multi-million dollar industry, and in many ways the horse has bolted. Restricting children’s online activities and interests is an almost impossible task given how embedded technology and the internet is in our society. On average, e-Sport fandom begins around the age of 10. That means that by 2025, the avid gamers and spectators attending and viewing e-Sports will be the toddlers that you are dropping off at daycare today.

Talk about e-sports signal a shift in our Aussie life style we are preparing our kids for. If video games and e-sports are potentially going to be a bigger part of our kids’ lives, then we need to prepare them to do this is a healthy way.

A significant benefit of quality video games is the promotion of team work, strategy, problem solving. Involvement in games that prioritise this and helping kids to develop these skills in the context of good game play is important and beneficial for them.

As in traditional sport, ethics is also important. Cheating can occur by slowing opponents down using technology that messes with their internet connection, take drugs to hype yourself up, or losing as a strategy. Helping kids critically understand how and why corruption can occur is in e-sports (or sports in general) is important.

A distinctive aspect of online sports is the greater risk of sedentary lifestyle. Even when playing a child is sitting. Ensuring kids time on screen with a range of off screen physical activity is important to start from when they are young! Waiting until they are 14 and glued to their screen may be too late.

Unlike traditional sports, video games often focus on using weapons, and a narrative of violence. Even though it is on screen use, and in fantasy role model situations, it is an imperative for kids to develop a critical awareness of how and why they glorify violent narratives, lethal weaponry, and fatalities in video games. Talking to kids about this is important!

We want our kids to experience video games and eSports as a positive part of their life. Standing back and saying we don’t like gaming is not an option. Helping kids to understand the rules and culture of this activity, and how participate in it as a player or spectator may affect them is important. With that understanding, we would probably be proud of that gold medal!

This article originally appeared on the SMH.