Published April 28, 2010
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and kind — and completely addicted to Nintendo Wii.
The Boy Scouts of America — a group founded on the principles of building character and improving physical fitness — have introduced a brand new award for academic achievement in video gaming, a move that has child health experts atwitter.
"It could be quite visionary and exciting or it could be a complete sellout," said Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of Pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.
"The devil is in the details," said Strasburger, who argued that teaching kids media literacy would be extremely valuable — as long as the games were free of the violent and sexual content that dominate so many popular titles.
"I don't see anything wrong with that as long as they're not playing first-person shooter games, violent games, games with a lot of sexual or drug content. The question is, who's going to supervise the scouts?"
While demanding adult oversight, the Scouts are now encouraging their youngest members to explore the Great Indoors and "learn to play a new video game" approved by their parents and guardians.
It's a large step for the Scouts, who have traditionally promoted physical activities like camping and sports alongside personal pursuits that foster citizenship.
That means video game merit pins are competing for modern scouts' shortened attention spans alongside the more traditional academic activities that Cub Scouts embrace, such as art, astronomy, music and mathematics.
Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, and Webelos Scouts can earn their pins by spending an hour a day playing games, teaching others how to play better, and even researching the best price for games they'd like to buy.
The games must "help you practice your math, spelling, or another skill that helps you in your schoolwork," according to the online guidelines.
The Scouts say we need to face up to the fact that gameplay is already a part of so many kids' daily lives, and that the merit challenges could harness some of that interest into a more constructive end.
"Let's be serious: the kids are already into video games," said Renee Fairrer, a spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts of America.
Fairrer said Scouts frequently try to focus youthful energy and interest through safe and constructive channels. Most boys are already interested in firearms, she said, so the Scouts offer Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting badges to teach proper safety protocols to older members.
Fairrer said the Scouts hope to prevent kids from becoming couch potatoes and developing juvenile diabetes by teaching them proper gaming habits at an early age.
"You can't sit on the couch for 13 hours a day and play video games," she said. "We want to get them when they're that Cub Scout age, when they have that strong parental influence, to be able to make those decisions" and see it as only a small part of their daily life.
In all, the Scouts have introduced 13 new merit pins this year for a wide range of topics: Disability Awareness, Family Travel, Good Manners, Hiking, Hockey, Horseback Riding, Kickball, Nutrition, Pet Care, Photography, Reading and Writing, Skateboarding, and Video Games.