Gamer’s Hangover

When Good Games Go Bad

“Pretty soon I’m going to buy a big lock-box and put all of the games the boys can’t play in it,” Katie said, as she stabbed yet another innocent bystander.

“Uh-huh,” I replied, half-asleep on the couch.

“A combination lock, that’s not a birthday or something else they could figure out.”

“Right.” We were test-driving GTA:San Andreas, something Roni found acceptable this evening only because Henry was already asleep and Katie hadn’t been over to play in a month and a half.

Roni is fond of saying that we … ‘we’ being the ADHD-causing generation that we are … we took all of the good toys with us when we grew up. Comic books became ‘graphic novels’ and started dealing with complex social issues while still containing copious well-endowed women in (literally) painted-on outfits. We took the simple goodness of the medium that gave us Pac-Man and turned it into a place where you could brutally kill innocent people on the street, and have lots of choices of how to do it. Cartoons used to be Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry, now we have cussing 4th graders and fat, balding New Jersey men in bondage gear.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t just as many entertainment choices for kids now as there were when we were kids. Just by the explosion of cable networks there’s probably ten times the number of shows available. Of course, I didn’t have Nickelodeon until 5th grade (ah, the Danger Mouse days).

In fact, I have older parents telling me now that I shouldn’t let The Boy watch ANY T.V. until the age of 8. The rationale being that watching T.V. before that is the primary cause of ADHD, which I say is absurd. I watched a fair amount of T.V. growing up and I don’t have any …. Cool, a squirrel! … ahem … I don’t have any problems with concentration. The fact that this column is almost always late … that’s more indicative of my powers of procrastination than anything else.

There’s probably something to the T.V. issue (the official opinion of the World’s Greatest Pediatrician – Dr. Nichols – is no more than 2 1/2 hours per day, which The Boy doesn’t even come close to getting) but all of this brings up interesting questions for Gamer Moms and Dads out there. Namely, is our gaming hurting our kids?

(Now, I’m sure most of you have figured out what side of the fence I’m on in that question, but there is some logic to it, so just bear with me.)

I’ll admit that I’m a game junkie. When the Laflin clan was laid up with colds last week, I took the down-time opportunity and got absolutely everything unlocked in Smackdown vs. Raw, which is no small feat (and yes, I could have been finishing the reviews I’ve promised, but I really was too sick to work). Roni and The Boy were sleeping most of the time, so what’s the harm, right? I was sick too, so it wasn’t like I could be cleaning the house or anything.

But doing it all the time … well, first of all Roni wouldn’t stand for it … but after only a couple of days of gaming last week, I started to miss my son.

Now, it’s not like I was lost to the world. Even the day we were all home sick, I made a point to be quick on the pause button if Roni or Henry needed anything, and for once in my life I was able to put down a game without getting irritable. I got beaucoup points from Roni for being able to keep the house together while everybody was laid up.

But even with all of that goodness, I missed playing ball with The Boy.

We’re lucky in that The Boy (by the way, I don’t print his name here because I have some reactionary, overprotective parent thing going on. Nothing personal.) doesn’t go into zombie-baby mode every time the T.V. is on. In fact, the only time he really pays attention to the T.V. is right after he wakes up. He has his PBS-type show after his afternoon nap, and he has his TLC morning shows (which kick ass not only because they’re educational, but because there are NO COMMERCIALS) as we’re getting around for school. Otherwise, he could care less about the big talking box. He’s pushing his bus around, or playing ball, or wrestling, or drawing on his chalkboard (or NOT drawing on his chalkboard, if you get my drift). The T.V. is not a babysitter for us, that’s what Grandma is for.

But when I’m playing a game, it’s a slightly different story. He wants to play too, and he pays attention when I’m playing. This is why I’m NEVER playing a GTA game when he’s around. He’s already picking up stuff that he sees me and Roni do, as well as the occasional thing he sees on T.V. The last thing we need is to see him chasing the dog around the house with a knife.

But strangely, the thing he wants to play most: Dance Dance Revolution. When I get the dance pad out, he makes a beeline for the living room, and attempts to edge me off of the dance pad. I actually bought a second pad so that he could have one and maybe let me play without hip-checking him into the coffee table. Of course, being 2 he has no idea how to put together the arrows and the steps, but the music is happy and Daddy’s certainly having fun, so he bops and twirls and does the occasional kick and ends up standing on the back button and nulling out Daddy’s game more often then I’d like.

But is even this rewiring his brain?

I should point out that I have some maverick beliefs about attention-deficit disorder, namely that it doesn’t exist. I know, I know, I’m not a doctor, I don’t know jack, but most of the ADHD kids that I know (and I know a few) have absolutely no problem crawling inside a Game Boy for multiple hours at a time; proof that they CAN concentrated, they just don’t want to.

I suppose I should say that I don’t believe ADHD is any sort of medical condition, and that it certainly doesn’t require any medication. If anything it’s simply a conditioned response, like my desire for chocolate-chip cookies when under duress.

But I can’t deny that having rapid-fire stimulation like the sort that T.V. (especially children’s TV) provides could possibly condition a sort of expectation behavior in a child. But then again, when do you see a 2-year old spend any length of time doing a particular thing anyway?

The greater worry to me is the affect that violent games could have on my child, although I’m not so worried that he’ll grow up to be a serial killer as I am that he’ll think the aforementioned chasing of the dog with the knife would be an acceptable idea. He’s at that tender age where he combines the digital recorder capabilities of a TiVo with the comic timing of a burlesque comic. We’ve been fortunate that he hasn’t busted out a four-letter word in church yet (or anywhere else, for that matter) but we’re bracing for it.

I’m not so worried about sexual content, just so you know. This is because I received the gift of the be-all/end-all remedy for teenage sexual promiscuity from my Dad. When I was 16, just barely after having kissed a girl for the first time (late starter, but I made up for it with practice), Dad gave me the following speech one day when we were alone in the car:

“You get a girl pregnant, and it’s your responsibility. Your mother and I won’t help you one bit.”

It was a stone-cold bluff, to be sure, but it also set it my head very quickly that condoms are a wise investment. I also got the whole “not until you’re married” party line from Mom and Dad (although a bit more from Mom than Dad), but when bump came to grind, it was the simple threat from Dad that saved me the most trouble.

All of these problems boil down to the fact that, at this age, a kid’s head is a little sponge, absorbing absolutely everything tossed at it. The Boy sees somebody hitting somebody else with a stick on TV, so he thinks it’s a good idea for him. Two minutes of Penalty Box later (I refuse to call it “time out.”) and he’s figured out it isn’t. He sees a wrestler jump off a turnbuckle, and soon we’re repairing a scuffed knee and some wounded pride. He watches Bugs Bunny, and (I swear to Widro this happened) he thinks the proper way to deal with me being in his face after doing something wrong is to grab my head and kiss me. No joke. And as a parent in that situation, you CAN’T LAUGH.

Over-stimulate his little brain for four hours every day, alternating action cartoons with blipvert commercials, and maybe he’ll expect the rest of his life to happen in 7-minute intervals. Let him play Sonic the Hedgehog when he’s 3 and maybe the same thing will happen.

But I think that if you’re just involved with your kids, reading with them, learning with them, watching TV with them, playing video games with them, if you’re there to guide them, they’ll be less likely to climb the walls when they get to school. The Boy’s little brain may already be


Since all of the Monday regulars at IP are out for one reason or another, I’m going to pimp Murphy first, so there!

But PK does good work in Lucard’s stead.

L.C. wastes no time with the new Nintendo DS.

I’ll rebut Carmon on Wednesday.

Nguyen does Urciuolo’s work this week, making for the most frustrating sentence to type all week.

Eric’s had a hard week.

Gloomchen reviews U2.

Quasi-Random Thoughts

Re: The Brawl – Artest was on thin ice to begin with because of his time-off request after promoting his rap album. Now he gets lots of time off to rest. If I’m in the front office of the Pacers, I’m looking at how to unload him before next season. No player has been that stigmatized since Spreewell throttled Carlisemo.

It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving should be this week, but it is.

As of this writing, the Wichita State men’s basketball team is undefeated (1-0) after beating Eastern Washington, a 2004 NCAA Tourney team, 80-62 Saturday night.

As of this writing, I’m planning on watching more of my PlayStation 2 than the Chiefs/Pats game tonight. Of course, that’s what picture-in-picture is for.

I like the mini-orange slices that are in the middle of navel oranges. It’s like you have a Russian nesting orange.

I’m sorry, I’ve been preoccupied today. The Boy apparently has developed some sort of allergy. These are the sort of things that make gaming take a back seat … but make it all the more necessary once the front-seat issues are dealt with.

Until next time, get some sleep