Many parents of tweens and teens bemoan the role video games play in their children's lives. When they spend so much time in a virtual world, do our kids engage less in the real world? Will they know how to handle real conflict and issues when they have to interact with flesh and blood human beings rather than pixellated images?
The answer, according to a group of teens playing the popular video game "NBA2K20" this weekend, is yes. For them, the game's virtual community made for an accessible place for the young players to come together and engage in protest against racism in the wake of George Floyd's death.
This weekend, Instagram account House of Highlights shared screenshots from Instagram users @treswrld3 and @jorge_v_1004 showing "NBA2K20" players taking a break from playing basketball in the game's online gathering space, the "Park."
Instead of finding other players to play basketball against, the players — under the guise of their game avatars — marched in protest against racism against the (virtual) backdrop of the Los Angeles Lakers' practice facility, mirroring protest marches in the city of Los Angeles itself over the weekend.
"In this case, young people found a safe, socially-distanced way to stand up for their beliefs, to gather and stand together," she said. "They see this as a community where they can express themselves. They stopped playing their favorite game to move towards the future they want."
Theola DeBose, a 45-year-old entrepreneur and mom of four children in Washington, D.C., has a 9-year-old son who plays "NBA2K20."
"It's easy to dismiss video games as a total waste of time. I know I have," DeBose told TODAY Parents. "But when I showed my son the virtual protests, he said he wished he was there. I'm glad that children are aware of what's happening and using the tools closest to them to send a message."
"This demonstrates the engagement and resilience of a group that society tends to discount as fragile, self-involved, and unconcerned with human interaction," said Gilboa. "This resilience reminds adults that kids have voices and choices, and that we need to allow — even encourage — them to use that."
Gilboa noted that this summer, while parents are looking for ways their children can find purpose and connection while also continuing to stay socially distant, they can look to their virtual communities to engage in causes they care about — and not just anti-racism.
For instance, the clothes that avatars can choose in Nintendo's game "Animal Crossing" are pleather, because the game centers around animals.
"Use their online worlds as tools to engage your children in the real world, as citizens and as humans," Gilboa suggested.