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i’ll keep on right on through it

maura @ 10:19 pm

(warning: long post ahead. probably boring, too. read at yr own risk.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about video games lately. Everyone in my house plays video games. I play video games. Jonathan plays video games. And yes, Gus plays video games too.

Right now you might be thinking, “What horrible parents! To let their 6 1/2 yr old play video games! This cannot end well!” And other overwrought thoughts. (And when I tell you that he started playing when he was 4, what will you think then?)

Or maybe not. Maybe you don’t think that video games are the world’s greatest evil. Maybe you just mildly distrust them. You read something once about how playing video games makes people more violent. Or you think that people should engage in less electrified forms of entertainment. You know, go out and run around the block. Or pick up a good book.

But, while I am a huge fan of both going outside AND reading, I honestly can’t bring myself to agree.

I would much rather Gus play video games than watch TV. With a video game he’s solving problems and thinking strategic thoughts, not just passively basking in the radioactive waves. We’ve never bought him anything specifically kiddie-themed, so he plays some pretty sophisticated games (mostly starring Mario, Zelda and Pikmin) that typically involve figuring out how to complete multiple tasks over wide stretches of space and time. The amount of knowledge he carries in his little skull about these games is incredible. Plus, the games he plays require lots of reading.

Yes, there can be killing, but it’s all of the swords + monsters variety, not the glocks + gangsters kind. And it’s not like he’s going to confuse Super Mario Land with reality. He did ask Jonathan to make him a cardboard sword, shield and helmet like the armor dudes in Wind Waker. But how is that different from picking up every stick he sees and thrashing around with it whenever we’re in the park?

Jonathan and I do have friends who play video games (including, I might add, both of my siblings). But we don’t have many friends who play video games and are also parents.

It’s been interesting to negotiate the video games issue with other kids’ parents. Some are adamantly against them, which is not a problem — Gus never seems to have trouble playing with his toys when his friends are over. Some are cautious + curious, as if they are fine with their kids testing out the video game waters at our house but there is NO WAY they will be getting one for their house.

Only a few parents have been neutral or positive. Luckily, one of these parents is a good friend of mine, so we can have video game playdates for the kids and talking playdates for the grownups. With cookies!

I guess my only real pause concerns the depth of Gus’s love for video games. Reading over what I’ve written here so far, I think, “of course he loves them, what’s not to love?” But the fact remains that, more often than not, playing video games is all he wants to do when we’re at home. His other toys sit neglected on their shelves, the pirates in drydock, the legos deconstructed in their box. Even when he gets frustrated or bored, he keeps on playing.

But then again, how is that different from what adults do? If there’s something you like, you do it. I’ve listened to New Order’s “Sooner Than You Think” about 50 times over the past week, easily. And how many times have I sat at my desk surfing the web for things to read and see, completely bored but unwilling to give up and find something else to do? Obsession is not just for children.

Yes, he could be reading. But he’s not quite reading fluently enough yet to easily read books with the level of plot that he needs. Of course we do read to him every day at bedtime at the very least. And he is almost there with the mad reading skillz, almost.

He could also be playing with his toys. But he’s an only child, and how much fun is it to play pirates by yourself? I must admit that I am not that into playing pirates or building legos (yes, I have finally outgrown legos!).

Or he could be outside riding a bike or hitting a ball. But we would need to be outside with him, and probably throwing a ball. While we’ve tried to introduce him to sports here and there, the fact remains that we are nerd parents, just not sporty at all. If anything I should be thanking my lucky stars that Gus is ambivalent about sports, since I’d hardly love spending my weekends endlessly spectating at sporting events.

What’s the conclusion? I don’t rightly know. I wish that playing video games didn’t require electricity — my tiny inner Al Gore does get a little bummed out that Gus’s preferred leisure activity is so uncrunchy. But other than that, I have a hard time finding fault.

I often think that it must be bad for Gus to spend much of his free time playing video games. But when it comes right down to it I’m unable to articulate WHY I feel this way. It’s probably the accumulated weight of the media spin on video games, the attitudes of other parents (esp. in my parenting-obsessive chunk of Brooklyn), and a general sense that obsessing over any one thing just has to be bad.

What if Gus wanted to read all the time. How would I feel? Would I be concerned that he should be getting off his butt to run around outside, or do a little building with legos? (Probably not, but that’s why I’m a librarian.) What if baseball was his thing? Of course I would be incredibly bored at little league games. But would I worry that he wasn’t spending enough time doing other things? And is baseball quantitatively better than video games?

9 comments on “i’ll keep on right on through it”

Anne (22 May 2008 at 11:34 pm)

Max got a DS for his b-day, and long ago I ceded my game boy (now that I have no ferry travel, no need for it!). He has a few pc games but Ben’s computer is pretty (physically) inaccessible right now.

His new room is finished and ready to furnish, and Ben thinks he should not have a computer in it (tho I really wanted to put my iMac in there, it would look cute if barely functional! But so vintage!)

Ben’s worried that his addiction is genetic! He was an addict before it got famous (but recovered now). What a trendsetter! So we made up this rule: amount spent playing games on any given day = amount of time spent playing outside.

It’s a good rule. Easy to do here, just walk out the back door. Not so easy in the big city, I guess.

His tv consists of Jeopardy with grandma (he’s pretty good at it) and we watch Monk if we remember on Sundays or if I get it from Netflix. He may be in earshot of Washington Week in Review, if we are home when grandma/Mom has that on (a convenient cocktail ritual, plus David Brooks!!!).

The no-tv is mainly due to the lack of time and the little ones, one of whom was so obsessed with The Wiggles he had to have the DVD playing all day whether he was in the room or not. That might not sound too bad (the leaving the room part, esp.) but if we turned it off when he stepped out he threw a fit.

The late-night Pixie Club meetings do sometimes end up in front of the telly, usually watching tabloid shows. We loves us some sleb gossip!!! She is also fond of Craig Kilborn, but sleeps through the night better now (sorry, Craig).

I hear the anti-toy-weapon thing is pretty crazy in some towns. Those parents need to be whacked with a cardboard tube.

Jean (23 May 2008 at 1:53 pm)

Nothing against computer games, heaven knows I’m an avid player myself.

However, I wouldn’t be so complacent over ignoring sports. We did..and we’re suffering from it.

maura (23 May 2008 at 7:40 pm)

I know, when we fixed up Gus’s room we did NOT put a computer in there. Partly because of his age, but also I want to wait until he really needs it for something other than games. Maybe for middle school.

That outdoor rule is a good rule! We pretty much have that I think, though maybe it would be helpful to say it out loud. We have a great courtyard in our building with kid toys and everything, but of course he can’t go out there alone because of liabilities, bah.

The no TV thing here is mainly because of no cable. We do netflix and videos sometimes though, of course, and he can watch TV at other places. He will usually choose games though if it’s an option.

maura (23 May 2008 at 7:44 pm)

Jean, thanks for your comment. I’m curious to hear why you’re suffering from lack of sports. I’ve never really been sporty (played soccer as a kid but am mostly a klutz; not interested as a spectator) and don’t feel that I’ve ended up the worse for it.

Anne (23 May 2008 at 10:00 pm)

Hee, we don’t have cable, either.


Kid #1: Do you have cable?
Max: No.
Kid #2: Do you have direct tv?
Max: No.
Kid #1: Then what do you have?
Max: Nothing.
Me: TV!

Jessie (30 May 2008 at 8:12 am)

You should totally pitch this post to for their “bad parent” column.

Thanks for giving me justification to start lobbying for Wii!

maura (2 June 2008 at 9:44 pm)

No problem at all — I have to say that the Wii is so much fun! Did I post about how last Thanksgiving Gus was playing Wii tennis w/Jonathan’s mom, and he got hot and took off his pants, and then was all, “Grandma, you should take off your pants, it’s much more comfortable.”

Hmmm,, you say? Perhaps. I’d thought that my published nonacademic writer lifestyle is coming to an end this week — the Chronicle is running my final column on Wednesday. But maybe…

mauraweb!» archive » i saw you running through my playground (27 June 2009 at 9:38 pm)

[…] This pattern totally fits with what I’ve observed in my (and Gus’s) lives and interactions with his peers and their parents. And I find it so […]

mauraweb!» archive » whiplash weather (6 March 2010 at 8:16 pm)

[…] all know how I feel about video games, both for Gus and for myself. Recently we have put some limits on weekend gametime; the weekdays tend to police […]

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