My friend George is 11 and grew up on the south side of Chicago. He’s a CPS student just finishing off the sixth grade. I’ve been friends with George since his birth—his parents are two of my best friends. George is an avid online gamer so we chatted about his favorites (and to his credit, he did not roll his eyes at me while I told him my GenX stories about playing Ms. Pac Man and pinball at the arcade).
Salem: OK, so what year were you born?
How did you first learn about computers, and what was the first one you remember using?
The first one that I worked on was . . . I think it was my father’s. He owned a laptop (which he also broke later). It was sitting in a corner of our house on a chair and I always used to wake earlier in the morning than anyone else to get on that computer and play stick figure games.
What’s a stick figure game?
The characters are all stick figures. The ones that I played usually asked you to create armies of stick figures and there were characters like swordsmen, wizards, giants, and archers. You could buy other characters from the game and then you could send them out to fight other parts of the campaign or other missions.
Wait, let’s back up for a second—how old were you when you were doing this?
Five or six years old.
How did you know how to do anything on a computer then? And how did you know that there were games on the computer?
I think it was first in kindergarten—we had little computer games that we played in class for computer assignments, like mini games about math and reading. And then from there I wanted to play more games. That’s how I found out about the other games on the computer.
Have you always had some sort of computer in your classroom at school?
When do you remember first talking with your friends about computer games and finding out that other people were also playing them?
Afterschool care, which is like an extracurricular activity: you have special classes after school ends but it’s still in the same building. I heard about games from older kids that played games and then I’d also try to play those games and then I’d talk to them about the games.
Do you remember the first computer game that you were really excited about?
Probably Minecraft Pocket Edition. It’s like regular Minecraft but made for iPads and things like that. I liked it because I could play with my cousins and my friends because it’s free and lots of my friends didn’t have computers but could play on a phone or their tablet from school. Some of my friends could use their parent’s computers but usually they couldn’t, like, download games on them. And also I don’t think I knew how to download games at that point.
So now you play multiplayer games online with other people. One of the things that concerns me is that you’re potentially playing with all kinds of people from all over the world. What are some of the things that you and your friends do to make sure that you’re not playing with people that you don’t want to talk to?
Usually my friends and I just create a private party (within the game) where we can talk. No one else can join unless we had invited them.
Is that something that you learned about in school, safety on the Internet?
Yeah. Because we had a really good computer class talking about safety online: how to keep your information safe, never share your password. Stuff like that. I’d say that was in first grade and second grade.
Tell me about the games you play on a regular basis these days.
Most of the games that I play are usually really popular online games: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Rainbow Six Siege . . . sometimes I play Roblox because lots of my friends don’t have the other games or can’t download them and on Roblox you can play with everyone for free online.
What other kinds of things do you use your computer for?
I study and research things a lot, writing papers.
Do you have any favorite game of yours that’s not on a computer or a phone?
I guess basketball. v