Ask Dr. Rachel: Stereotypes about gamers are quick to form and slow to change

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Will video games will make you lazy? Do you have any suggestions for what kinds of games would be great to play together with my young family? Should I let my young child watch me play games that are rated M for Mature?

Every month, our in-house scientific expert, Dr. Rachel Kowert, will address your questions about video games, video game effects and media studies, such as the ones above in her new regular column, “Ask Dr. Rachel.”

Dear Dr. Rachel, Is there anything that can be done about the stigma that gamers are lazy, childish, and lack ambition? My parents are convinced that video games are going to “rot my mind.” –Casual Gamer from Florida

Dear Casual Gamer,

The stereotype of gamers is a particularly unflattering one. As depicted in popular culture, on shows such as South Park and The Big Bang Theory, the stereotypical gamer is unkempt, overweight, unattractive, lazy and likely addicted to video games. This stereotype remains widely held by gamers and non-gamers alike, despite the fact that scientific studies have shown that gamers do not fit this stereotypical profile. For example, gamers have not been found to be more unpopular, un-athletic, lonely, isolated, socially inept, or reclusive as compared to those who do not play video games, according to study published on PsychCentral.

Unfortunately, stereotypes are quick to form and slow to change. For example, it is still widely believed that women are genetically disposed to perform worse on math tasks than men, despite the fact there is little scientific evidence to support these claims. You can reassure your parents that these stereotypes have little basis in reality.

Dear Dr. Rachel, Can you suggest any games that are appropriate for the younger elementary crowd that would engage a whole family without being too mature? Also, do you have any advice as to what precautions I should be taking for online gaming, other than not allowing in the first place? –Worried Mamma from Texas

Dear Worried Mamma,

Playing video games together as a family is a great way to spend time together! You are going to want to look for games in the “party” genre. These kinds of games are typically designed for four or more players, making them perfect for a family game night. Popular series’ in the party genre include Rock Band and Hasbro Family Game Night.

Your concern about online gaming is one I have heard from a lot of parents, especially as online gaming is becomes more prevalent. Many parents are choosing to not allow their young children (under 13) to play online. However, when you start to allow your children to play online games (at any age), you will want to pay attention to the “interactive elements” of the games they are playing. Just like age-ratings, The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) lists the interactive elements of the video game packaging.

There are several interactive elements that can be included in any particular game, but for elementary age children I would suggest avoiding games that include unrestricted internet (product provides access to the internet), shares info (indicates that personal information provided by the user, such as e-mail address, phone number, credit card info, etc., is shared with third parties) and shares location (game includes the ability to display the user’s location to other users of the game or app).

Dear Dr. Rachel, My daughter likes to watch me play video games rather than play video games herself, but most of the games I play are not really appropriate for her. She’s eight and I prefer first-person shooter type games. Halo is the best I have been able to find that is fun for me and appropriate for her. Do you have any suggestions for games that are good for both? I really enjoy the time together but don’t want to buy/play games I don’t like just for that. –Frag Seeker from Texas

Dear Frag Seeker,

You may be hard pressed to find a first-person shooter video game that is age-appropriate for your little one. However, there are plenty of action/adventure type games that will likely fit the bill. For example, the Lego series’ of video games, such as Lego Batman: The Video Game, seems to be popular among adults and children. Minecraft  is also very popular among children in your daughter’s age range and has been specifically linked to a range of cognitive benefits such as creativity and critical thinking skills.

Do you have a question you would like to ask Dr. Rachel? Send your question to directly to her via twitter @linacaruso using the hashtag #DrRachel and your question could be featured in next month’s column!

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