Who else is tired – dog tired – of fending off request after request from your children for the newest, hottest, blood-splattering and bone-breaking game? Is anyone else exhausted from explaining why it’s okay for a friend’s parents to give the thumbs-up to “Gorefest 2 – the Splattering,” but it isn’t appropriate for our house? Why we choose educational video games for kids, the same reason we don’t watch R-rated horror films. Or, to wit: why I’m unfair, why I’m a tyrannical goon, why I’m dead set on destroying his popularity.
Why life is unfair.
There’s always second-guessing. Is it unreasonable to deny him a game that, in fact, I’d somewhat like to play? I mean, I’m a gamer as well. I was his age not too horribly long ago, growing up in the infancy of console video games. I can say with little doubt that were the roles switched, were he my old man and I his frustrated son, I’d be begging, cajoling, and manipulating my head off to get the same games he wants. It strikes me as very unfair, honestly, that his friends are allowed to play the games that we don’t allow in our home. It’s unfortunate that parents don’t have some kind of secret pact in place to reach a consensus, a common agreement, on what’s okay and what gets 86ed.
Initially, his mom and I agreed to limit his gaming time to educational games for kids. And, at first, he was happy with whatever we gave him. Arthur was a common sight on the computer, telling a story, increasing vocabulary, encouraging reading. Mickey showed up now and again as well, jumping on numbers, helping reinforce the basic mathematics he’d been learning. He enjoyed the educational video games for kids because he saw himself as a kid. He was happy being a kid; in fact, we all were happy with his situation. Juice boxes for everyone!
Then, we stretched our rules a bit as he stretched out. He talked me into a baseball video game. He didn’t have to work too hard to convince me; as both a huge Mets fan and a at one point shameless video game addict, the idea of playing virtual baseball with my son was an easy concept to buy into. I turned around and sold the idea to mom. That wasn’t as easy. Baseball, as fun as it might be, was definitely not an educational video game for kids. I weakly mentioned something about the game teaching mathematics – division and averages and such – but we both saw the weak argument for what it was.
She frowned, shook her head, and turned back to her book.
Slippery slope, she said.
I took that to mean “okay.”
She put conditions on it, however. Time limits, an imaginary pie chart showing the allowable time with the baseball as compared to his educational video games for kids. This was the beginning, unfortunately, of my son no longer accepting his role as a “kid” any longer. I don’t mean to say that buying him a baseball game caused the change; rather, this was about the time that I noticed him ditching some of the trappings of his kid-dom – the blankey went in the closet, for instance.
And though I have some nice memories of beating the pants off his Yankees with my Mets, this was also about the time that he began preferring to play against the computer, rather than his old man. Both in his educational games for kids and otherwise.
It wasn’t long before he started testing us, asking for games he knew he wouldn’t get. Spiriting in a copy of a game he’d been told he wasn’t allowed to play, and then throwing a tantrum when he was inevitably caught. He’s at the regrettable age where, no matter how entertaining or fun the game is, if it’s an educational game for kids, it’s rejected out of hand. Where before we could bring home anything from the game store, now we’ve given up buying any educational games for kids as they end up dusty and forgotten in a pile near the television.
We’ve come to realize we can’t control what he does at his friends’ houses. We’ve politely asked other parents, whenever it felt appropriate, to keep the violent games from the consoles when our son visits. Unfortunately, there’ve been times when he’s been ostracized by his friends for our requests; his friends sometimes blamed him for his parents’ rules.
I’m gladdened by the appearance of more and more Wii and DS titles that incorporate more fun and innovation into their educational video games for kids. It’s a nice thing to see that some of these recently released learning games aren’t getting the same stigma that learning games of recent history suffered. It’s good that the developers are putting the time and money into making them fun enough to forget that they’re learning while they’re playing. Cosmos Chaos, “Brain” games, and “Think” games are changing the lay of the land.
For now, though, we’re stuck in the the trap that makes good parenting so difficult. Violence in video games isn’t a problem I’d like to see regulated by government – the ESRB works fine for me. Violence isn’t even really a “problem” to most people. It just means that parents continue to hope for a larger stream of fun educational video games for kids, while we watch the river of violent games continue to rage by.