Resources for the Intentional Parent

Video Game Bribery and School Success

A couple years ago, there was a never-ending stream of Nintendo propaganda trickling into our household each and every livelong day. There was a highly anticipated sequel to a popular gaming franchise (it starts with Super and ends with Bros) coming out. Details about the game dribbled in, nonstop. Every one of my then-15-year-old’s brain cells and his entire nervous system was vibrating with anticipation. We were on the verge of starting a new school year and the timing of the video game’s release date coincided with the end of the first quarter. We were going to use this video game obsession to motivate him toward good grades.

I think most parents would agree that anything is more redemptive than video games. Right? If your kid is going to have a singular, all-consuming passion, you hope for something culturally admirable like marine biology, photography or even Legos. Something you can really humble-brag to other parents about. “I just can’t keep up with all the trips we make to the library to satisfy Sally’s obsession with origami.”

But gaming is where we’re at. And there’s a whole industry around it where people have found their place in the world. Somehow the gaming industry is viewed by outsiders more negatively than, say, movie-making or professional sports. But what’s the difference? Maybe it’s a stigma of laziness, mindlessness, addiction or nerdiness. I don’t know. I do know there is a ton of talent, vision, creativity and hard work behind popular games today.

Have I wished for my son to spark an interest in something else? Anything else? Absolutely! However, as a parent, no matter how much you try to achieve balance, at some point you just can’t stand to make your kid feel bad about something that he loves. Back in the hubris of my younger mom days, I had a long list of things my kids would never do. I’m sure “no video games” was on there somewhere. But I’m here to tell you that they are who they are. As parents, we certainly have responsibilities in raising quality, contributing, considerate people. But the amount of actual CONTROL we have is laughable. Humbling.

Since I have two boys, we have the nature vs. nurture experiment right under our own roof. Both boys enjoy their gaming. But one could take it or leave it, most days. The other? Well, I think I’ve already stated it plainly: Gaming is what he loves. It is his passion.

And he loves it all. Playing video games. Watching YouTube channels about video games. Listening to video game soundtracks. Being part of social media discussions about video games. It’s all at once a helpless feeling (because of the aforementioned perception of the general sense that video games have almost no redeeming qualities) and also …it’s what he loves. As his mom, I can’t bear to allow him to walk through life feeling misunderstood or merely tolerated (or ashamed or depressed) in his own home. It is not to be ignored. It’s what he loves. It’s cellular. I don’t claim to understand it, but I love him fully. And I want him to feel that.

Two years ago, at the start of the school year, faced with this constant excitement over the release of a new game, we made a deal. He had to keep his grades up. We needed positive reports from his teachers. If we could measure his school success in those ways, when the day came that the game was finally in his hands...he could stay home from school and play it. Yep, that’s right. Skipping school to play a video game. It totally worked. We were able to harness all that extra energy buzzing within him those months and keep him focused on an end goal. And we celebrated with him. We joined him in watching as the game cued up and the first graphics appeared on screen. We took in his wide eyes and helpless smile. We celebrated him as he celebrated the game. Cue the beeps and boops of a video game victory song.

By Kudoso Kontributor, Lorri Strand