My parents used to monitor my video gaming pretty heavily. Every good parent worries about exposing their kids to violence too early. If a game had a drop of blood, I couldn’t play it until I was twelve. So I sweat bullets as I shot at aliens spewing green blood when I played “Halo 3” at a friend’s house when I was ten. But when I was twelve, I was allowed to play “Team Fortress 2,” a multiplayer game sporting gentle violence - little enough to pass their test while entertaining my increasingly maturing interest. My parents’ focus was on the modest violence, but something far more dangerous slipped under their radar: the economic side.
In a time where people have an increasingly high digital presence from a young age, many children seek knowledge online, usually starting with math and spelling games. But many, like my young nerdy friends and I, progress to more complex lessons, whether knowingly or not. Often parents and/or schools teach children the value of money in a straightforward way. Whether through a chore system at home or some fake currency in exchange for privileges at school, a variety of controlled environments have been used to instill good economic habits in kids. They are physically handed money for their work, and they physically hand it back when they want to exchange it for something else. Children see that it is limited and represents a hard day’s work. However, due to a variety of institutions in video games like “Team Fortress 2” (TF2), “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” (CS:GO), “Fortnite” (the forbidden one), and many others, young gamers (especially those between the ages of 12-16) learn from distorted systems that ultimately harm their understanding of the economy and teach poor economic habits.
The most apparent layer of deception that often leads kids and adults alike down the rabbit hole of frivolous spending is a phenomenon called “invisible money.” Kids observe this phenomenon every time they go to the store and see their parent swipe their credit card to pay for groceries. Similarly, when money is used to in TF2, in the same way that many kids find it difficult to equate a piece of plastic with actual money, the tradable flashy cosmetic items in “Team Fortress 2” and “CS:GO” hold real monetary values, some ranging to thousands of dollars. Part of the economic crash in the early 2000s is attributable to the inability to identify credit cards and other online transactions as physical exchanges of currencies. Not even adults are immune to this phenomenon, and kids certainly are no exception when money goes even further from its true form, from credit card to virtual cosmetic.
Across various games and formats, fostering positive economic morality of young gamers is also in question. Though the numbers for this are a bit more ambiguous, scamming other players for their hard-earned loot in the name of making a quick buck is far too common. The community of traders in TF2 is more of a cutthroat bazaar of individuals, each trying to trick each other for profit than a supportive community enjoying the game. A far more tangible phenomenon is outright gambling in several games. The mechanisms mimic those of slot machines, reward players rarely (similar to casinos), and potentially instill the same addictive habits. The odds of children becoming frivolous spenders from playing these games are certainly higher than them becoming violent maniacs. It’s easy to look at the surface of any game with a “T for teen” or higher rating and determine its appropriateness based on the amount of blood. It’s hard to look past what’s highlighted by the media and consider the gentler, arguably more harmful aspect of these games. Any way you cut it, video games rarely foster the knowledge and positive economic habits that people need before they merge into the workforce and grow up. The best thing society and parents can do is teach children in a safe, straightforward environment how the world really works so that they don’t learn it from a parallel yet severely distorted one online, like I did.
Taner Morgan is a senior at Episcopal and came from St. Luke’s as a freshman. He’s been playing video games like the ones discussed here and just about anything on the market since he was five, and they’ve influenced how he approaches the world, for better or for worse. In the case of shaping his economic habits, maybe for worse, as his thesis research follows. Taner is the captain of the wrestling team and has been wrestling for three years. He is also a part of the drum corps and co-president of film club. Taner plans to attend LSU Honors College and study mass communication.