Reframing Video Gaming Through A Cultural Lens

by Laura McInerney, MSW, CSW

In discussion of technology and electronic use, we will often use terms such as “screen time” without further designation of what the use looks like, and what sort of function that tech use is serving for the individual. In seeing video gamers who are engaged in play or in navigating online spaces, there may be a tendency to view the gamer as “isolating” or of being a social recluse. Given that the experience the child is having while game playing, using their phone, or browsing the Internet, is concealed to a degree (parents or others who are not with the child at the screen/interacting are not fully informed on the activities taking place), there may be limited confidence and difficulty parents have in navigating the digital age and how to live healthier in it for themselves and their children.

These issues often contribute to a sense of distrust around electronics use and video gameplay, particularly when our child is frequently engaging in it. The nature of video gaming in online spaces is that there are norms, practices, socialization, and identity formation that takes places for the child. Without placing a stamp of whether this is problematic or not, it is first important to recognize how significant these functions and being able to socialize and operate in their own cultural space is for our young gamers. If we are able to view online spaces, particularly around engagement in online video gaming, as a unique cultural experience for these children and teens, we can engage in practicing a cultural curiosity to learn more about the learning and function the space provides for the child, and what sort of significant meaning it holds for the child.

Our ability to view gaming through this cultural lens is a critical step to fully understanding nuances and varying needs that are being met through tech use and gaming. Needs such as, but not limited to:

  • Sense of belonging and community
  • Success and Accomplishment
  • Ability to navigate social interactions with lower levels of anxiety

This alternative way of seeing tech use and gaming can offer the opportunity for parents, caregivers, and teachers to “see” gaming from a different vantage point. Adolescents who struggle with social cues and social anxiety, become disengaged from family and friends, and no longer finding fulfillment through previously identified interests, can associate what comes with gaming to a high level of belonging and identity. When we are able to peel back the layers of the why behind gaming, it can help us to change our approach in how to work to assist young people to thrive.

This process of shifting our automatic perspective from viewing gaming as problematic to questioning how the culture of gaming may serve unmet needs can be a “game changer”. This level of curiosity can help break down the complexities and adequately analyze the nuances that come with tech addiction and gaming while increasing our level of empathy.

Laura McInerney, MSW, CSW
~ Adolescent Boys Group: Primary Therapist ~


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