As a mother of two tech-savvy teenagers, I’ve had my fair share of experiences in the world of video games. From the Nintendo DS providing entertainment in the backseat, to family tennis on the Wii, to the intense world of Minecraft, and finally, to the more advanced gaming systems of today, I’ve seen it all. Seeing it all and understanding it, however, are two totally different things. At times, I wonder if the time my son spends on video games is wasted time. Sure, I know he loves them, but is there any value that can be taken from sitting in front of a screen playing imaginary games?
I figure, the best way to truly understand this crazy world of missions, zombies, and cars that kick soccer balls was to observe a true “gamer” in his natural habitat, so I set out on a mission of my own:
11:45 a.m. Pretending to work on my computer, I hear the faint sounds of keyboard tapping and the voice of an extra kid who’s not actually in our house. My son has finally pulled himself out of bed just before noon because it’s summer and in case you didn’t know, middle-schoolers basically sleep like hibernating bears. This particular game appears to require headphones, FaceTime, and dizzying key combinations. Shirts are clearly optional. I soon remind my son that toothbrushing and showers aren’t optional just because it’s summer. He grumbles all the way to the bathroom but complies.
1:30 p.m. After a lunch consisting of Pop-Tarts and leftover taco meat because I’m killing motherhood this summer, he’s back upstairs and yelling. In my early research, I’ve learned that competitive video gaming requires speaking loudly. Before, I would cringe and shut the door to drown out the noise, but today, I listen. There’s strategy, planning, and partnership happening in that yelling (although occasionally it’s just yelling). Sometimes, they are competing against each other, and other times, they are partnering to win. Is it possible that the thing I worry keeps my son from interacting enough with others is actually teaching him teamwork and life skills?
4 p.m. Later in the day, I hear a familiar name. He’s playing with a friend who moved away last year, and I think how nice it is he can still connect with his friend online. I make a mental note to give him the weekly speech about playing online with people he doesn’t know. Online gaming opens up an entire world of reconnecting with friends, but there are downsides to that my husband and I always keep an eye on.
6 p.m. The day has been enlightening, but it’s time to get closer to my subject and really understand what this world is all about. I tiptoe around the corner, slowly opening the door to the game room, and crouch down in an attempt to not be seen. Within seconds I’ve been made.
“What are you doing?” my son asks with the word “weirdo” not stated but strongly implied in his tone.
“Is this for the blog?”
I’ve been caught, and there are only two options:
Option A: I can rattle off a ton of chores and start ranting about the giant mess that is his room because changing the subject and distraction are excellent parenting techniques.
Option B: Admit to everything but try to be cool and say that I’m curious about this crazy video game of soccer-using fancy cars.
I choose Option B and am swiftly rejected. Apparently, I’m not ready for that level, and do you know what? He’s right. The games of today are a far cry from the Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt of my era.
The Consensus: I still prefer actual human interaction, however, after a day of creeping around corners and borderline stalking, I learn to cautiously embrace this new age of video games with its online interactive gaming, world building, and virtual strategy sessions. Like everything else when it comes to parenting, it’s all about balance. After all, I’m sure my mom watched me use a controller to move a little guy in and out of pipes picking up coins and thought to herself that I was simply wasting my time.