My son is really good at video games.
Ouch! That hurt to say out loud.
And double ouch because I am an English teacher. I dedicate a good chunk of my time to reading and writing, and extolling the virtues of reading and writing. Conversely, I have spent years denouncing time-sucking video games, arguing that a child’s finite time would be better spent doing almost anything else.
And then I had a kid. And that kid, for the most part, lives here with no other kids. (My husband’s kids are teenagers and are with us every other weekend). So the task of keeping my kid busy and stimulated largely has fallen to me. It is a task I always wanted and gladly bear.
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So I’ve spent a small fortune on books, art supplies, Legos, puzzles, and games: anything to edify my son’s little brain and mold it into something that might get him into an Ivy League someday.
But when he gets to choose his own activity, he opts for video games. Every. Single. Time. I like to think that part of it is because his screen time is limited to 20(ish) minutes a day [insert pat on the back]. But if there were an experimental elective surgery to attach controllers to your fingers, he would be the first volunteer. [Remove hand from back].
Sometimes, if there is no one else around, he asks me to jump in as player two. I usually refuse, stating righteously, “Mommy does not like to play video games.” He gets it.
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But last week, on the umpteenth day we were snowbound, he asked if I would play Super Mario Bros. with him. I couldn’t face making another batch of cookies, and besides, we were out of chocolate chips, so I capitulated.
“Really?” he asked. I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
As I sat there on the couch in the basement-turned-playroom, he set me up with Controller B, explaining how to jump up, shoot fireballs, grab coins, and avoid “goons.” As he started the game, he kept up a running commentary of what appeared on the screen before us.
“You start with five lives, Mom, but if you lose one, you disappear. But then you come back in a bubble. Don’t forget not to step on spikes! Remember to jump over the evil mushrooms! Oh, and if you press one, it goes faster and if you press two….”
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As he continued prattling on instructions, a perverse admiration came over me. Maybe video games were not pureeing his brain into a dull-witted pulp. In fact, the opposite appeared to be happening. So while I shock even myself by saying it, I think my son’s interest (OK, obsession) with video games might be valuable. Here’s why I won’t be so quick to panic when my video game virtuoso wants to super smash some goons:
1. Language Acquisition. There is a lexicon that he has mastered that I do not understand. It’s not French, or Farsi, or another language that might land him a job at the United Nations someday. But it does require its own technical vocabulary, dialect, and jargon. Perhaps, it has even widened his aptitude for linguistics, paving the way for the absorption of more useful languages in the future. Or maybe, this video game language is the language of the future. Yikes.
2. Making Friends. There are others like him! Yes, it sounds like nerdville down in our basement when he has a play date, but I am comforted by the fact that he has play dates. And I have their moms, who also “forget” to charge their kids’ personal gaming systems sometimes. Video Games Anonymous, anyone?
3. Multi-Tasking. My son has learned to multi-task in a way with which both his father and I struggle. (My husband brags about his own skill for “multi-ignoring.”) As we played his game, my progeny simultaneously moved forward, earned bonus points by capturing “coins,” and avoided giant, avatar-crushing mushrooms. I just sat there, pressing “A” and losing lives like it was my job.
4. His Space. I am not remotely interested in visiting his video game lair, and my little guy knows this. Is it possible that he goes down there just to escape every now and again? Don’t I have a few more years until he needs his “space?” Either way, it’s probably healthy. But so is kale, and I don’t like that either.
5. Problem-Solving. Zombies must be killed, houses must be built (to hide from the zombies), racetracks must be conquered, and dungeons must be navigated. First world problems, I know, but my kid is dead-set on solving them. And the solutions often require strategy and decision-making. Real world skills, like the kind he’ll need when he is negotiating international treaties at his job at the UN.
Don’t get me wrong. There have been week-long video game moratoriums declared in our house, after certain periods (snow days) of video game gluttony. But my panic has decreased, along with my level of guilt. My son will grow up to be a nice, normal, contributing member of society, despite his deep affinity for video games. He’s not really going to grow up to be a zombie killer, right?
Unless, of course, they are looking for one at the UN.