Video Games And Children

I am a geek, I enjoy computers and nearly all things related to computers. I enjoy playing computer games. I own a Nintendo Gamecube and I intend to purchase a Wii before too much longer (after I pay off Italy, save a little, and purchase the projector). I find games stimulating, social, and relaxing. I prefer to play multi-player games with decent people. I try to spend a little time each week on a Day Of Defeat server for the clan DeathByToons, consisting of matured ex-professional gamers and people who have lives besides gaming but enjoy a good skirmish every once in a while without dealing with the losers, posers, hackers, and other assorted foul-mouthed idiots who populate so many game servers these days. The people I meet on the DbT server are friendly and good at their game. Several of them are parents and a few have children old enough to play alongside them, and they do, with aplomb. But the game, Day Of Defeat is a relatively realistic WWII first-person shooter game. There’s no blood unless the server is running some mod, and no gore, but there are bodies laying around for a period before disappearing and the whole purpose of the game is to work as a team to achieve objectives and killing the other teams players. I’ve often wondered what kind of controls I’ll put on my childrens’ computer and gaming use.

Growing up, my family purchased our first computer in 1992 when I was 10 years old. It did not have any real games to begin with, but having uncles involved in technology and gaming and friends with Nintendo systems, we were cognizent of video games, and it was only a question of time before we started playing video games on our computer. Mostly we played flight simulator games, military flight simulators (it’s no fun to just fly the things, you gotta shoot and bomb and chase and dodge to have real fun), graduating up to military helicopter sims (Comanche 3 was and is an awesome game, especially when you have a 386DX and Windows 3.1 and need to run a seperate memory space to even load the game). And then the rules came. We had to finish our weekly chores on Saturday before we could play, and we could only play for half an hour per week. We were active boys and were used to entertaining ourselves outdoors most seasons of the year (in northern California, the weather is rarely nasty enough to keep the kid indoors). Now that I’m grown, I play games as I like and as I can, and I’ve found a balance that works: I don’t ever have time to play, but when I do, I’ll play until I feel like stopping.

I want my children to be able to enjoy the active and healthy lifestyle I experienced growing up. I don’t want them to be video game vegetables. I don’t intend to own every game console out there. This is one reason I’m very attracted to the Wii, it’s an active platform that requires exagerated movement of the whole body or significant portions to control most games, and the games are easy to learn, hard to master, and endlessly creative. But despite the creativity and activity and learning that the Wii offers, it does not compare to being able to imaging an entire universe all your own in a tree in your backyard (watch Bridge to Teribithia), or to dig dungeons and fortresses out the garden, or to contruct castles out of Christmas trees in mid-January.

I want my children to grow up strong and independent of techology. Not unaware or ignorant. I don’t want them to need technology to have a good time. Three weeks in Italy with a pen and paper were sheer bliss for me, even my iPod was out of juice. And at the same time I won’t mind of my children become geeks like me. In fact I’d love each of my children to be able to ‘geek out’ over something, to find something they love and to find a way to live by doing it. Geeks don’t just use computers.

I don’t have the answers yet, but there are others who are a little further along the family road than myself who are facing the same issues. In a Wired magazine article, Clive Thompson faces the issues and comes up with some interesting and practical guidlines which I may incorporate with variation into my own ruleset. GeekDad Chris Anderson was interviewed for the article as well and in reading his blog I’ve found a gem. My dad brought home discarded electronics and equipment that we boys would proceed to dissemble and deconstruct, usually ending by dropping the -con- in that last word. We even tried taking apart an old motorcycle once, though the nuts and bolts were a little too stiff for our pre-teen age muscles and we only really succeeded in removing the seat and the dials. Now I know who to thank for planting the seed of geek in me. A geek is one who seeks to know. A geek is hands on and endlessly curious. A geek learns by doing, usually finding solutions by trial and error, mostly error.

I want my children to enjoy games, both computer and board and card and made up and random. I want my children to enjoy life, not just video games. I want my children to grow up like I did. After all, I turned out ok, right?

Leave a Reply