Friday, June 15, 2007

Kid 'N Play

I walk into the house last night, say hi to the youngest who is sitting at the kitchen table crashing Matchbox cars into each other. He would make a sound like 'Ahhhhhh' then smash the cars together and say, 'Whoa, big crash', laugh to himself and do it again with two different cars.

Say hello to wifey who is sitting at the computer doing who knows what. Probably buying more shit we don't need or tracking my daily activity with the GPS device she covertly implanted in my scrotum.

As I put my bag down, a voice calls from the playroom. 'DAAAAAD??!!'

It's the six year old. 'Yeah?'

'I need you to drop in'. For you novices out there, he's referring to me joining a video game he's already playing. In this case it's the Star Wars Lego game for XBox. He likes me to 'drop in' when he's having trouble beating someone or figuring out how to get out of a level. I am the XBox Master as far as he's concerned. Yes, it's a sheltered life he leads.

I join in, we defeat the Emperor and I then drop out and go get something for dinner. While I'm chewing away on my home made cheeseburger sub (delicious, if I do say so), I flashback to when I was his age. You know, back when they didn't have video games and I had to entertain myself by torturing my younger brothers or using water colors or going outside to play whiffleball. I think, what the fuck? I got screwed! No wonder I spent half my childhood getting into trouble. I was bored stiff.

I know many blame the video games for turning our kids into zombies with social disorders - and that may be true - but how are we to know they aren't also keeping them out of trouble? I need a study done on the levels of vandalism before and after games like Sony Playstation and Nintendo were introduced. Would we see a drastic decline?

It helps that the video games out now are pretty cool. My eldest needs to figure things out on this latest game or he can't get to the next level. Some of them are complicated, too. Make one person stand on one red square so it turns green, then slide a box over do it makes another green, which then opens a hidden door with disguises. When you get the disguise on, you head to the security checkpoint so you can pass through the gate. It's freakin' hard and takes me a while to figure out. I can only imagine what goes on in a 6 year old's head. Wait, no I don't. They go through mine all the time. Just sprinkled with dirty old man thoughts.

So are these games rotting or improving the impressionable, malleable brains of our nation's youth? Like any complicated issue or bad joke involving toilet training the answer is: Depends.

I certainly wouldn't let my 6 year old play Halo or Resident Evil. We limit how much he plays, but on rainy or cold days I would rather he be playing a non violent video game that challenges his problem solving skills then vegging in front of the television watching 'Fairly Oddparent' shows. Say what you want about the ratings on the games, but I find them highly useful. He doesn't play anything above E - 10 rated games. I let him try the Spiderman game (rated T for Teen), but it freaked him out a bit and it wasn't even that bad.

His favorites are Star Wars Lego, Need for Speed, and SpongeBob, where you have to follow set rules and compete in silly obstacle courses in order to move up. He has a blast with these things and I don't see any ill effects as far as his personality or mental capacity.

Would that be the same if I let him play for as long as he wanted to or play whatever game he wanted? Probably not, but I have no idea. Like anything, moderation is the key. Make sure you know what your kids are watching and playing and what their friends are like. Build up their confidence, put them in their place when necessary. Do that and everything will fall into place.

Our rules are simple for XBox

- No playing when it's nice out. That's when you spend the day outside. Exception is when it's 'cool off time' - when it's really hot and we want him out of the sun for a while.

- he can play for 30 minutes before bed time.

- he must stop playing as soon as we tell him it's time to stop. He lost it for a full week when he failed this test. Hasn't done it since or will ask that he finish what he's doing first.

- Only allowed to play approved games. He wanted to play Ghost Recon once and there was no way I was letting play as a guy who creeps around and shoots, stabs, and chokes other people. NO WAY! I can imagine him using those moves on me while I'm sleeping and he's finally had enough of dear old Dad.

- All homework must be completed before he even considers asking. Let me tell you, I've never seen a kid so anxious to do his homework before.

- Always ask first.

To his credit, he does great. He's so proud of himself when he figures something out and wants to tell me all about it. I never drop in right away in the hopes he'll figure it out himself. A majority of time I'll tell him I have to do something first (like open a beer) and I'll hear 'Nevermind! I figured it out!' before 5 minutes is up. That can only improve a kid's self esteem.

Besides, with a father like me we need to give this kid all the fantasy time he can get. Talk about needing an escape from reality!

Today's distraction: One of the things I used to play with as a kid. Well before Intellivision and Atari there was Lite-Brite! Rock on!!!

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