Unplug your kid, and let life back in
August 3, 2006
I’ve never liked arcade games. I’ve spent less than five bucks in quarters over my lifetime on any game you care to mention, whether it’s pinball, PAC-Man or any of the games you’ll find at a bowling alley or amusement park. I always thought it was a colossal waste of time and money.During college, I had friends who’d go to the arcade with a coffee can full of quarters so that they could spend an entire day in the dark, tracking a screen of moving dots or whatever they did. I went fishing instead. To this day, I still haven’t held the controls of an Xbox or a PlayStation, and I don’t think I’m missing anything.So it was more than a little troubling to me when my kids started begging me for computer games. The answer was no. No, no, no. But there were educational games! They could learn Spanish! They could learn world history!My wife supported their arguments, and against my better judgment, I relented, and the first innocent little computer game was hooked up on an old computer in my son’s bedroom. My wife’s father is a true computer geek, one of those guys with a pocket protector who was programming with flash cards back in the 1970’s. He retired as the vice president in charge of computer operations at Schindler in Switzerland, so he’s got a vast computer background. He’s also an avid computer game player.Pretty soon a couple of games arrived from Switzerland, and my boys, ages 10 and 12, were racing into the dark at every opportunity to switch it on. Of course, I knew from the beginning to monitor their time, so they each got a half-hour of play time. And, of course, they stretched it at every opportunity.Two or three days after the first game arrived from Opa, I stuck my head in to see what was up. Trusting that their dear grandpa would have sent innocent games, I was horrified to see my boys maniacally racing souped-up Mitsubishis and Hondas through the streets of L.A. at 110 miles per hour, ramming ambulances and running over pedestrians.That lasted about 10 more seconds. I couldn’t pop that CD out of the drive fast enough. While my boys begged to keep it, saying it was just a game and that they were learning important driving skills, I explained that anything that taught a pattern of wanton destruction and loss of innocent life couldn’t be good. I snapped the CD in half.So there was a lot of negotiation and wheedling, and finally I relented to a Star Wars game. I figured if they were shooting down androids and non-human evil empire soldiers, it couldn’t be too bad.Though the boys complained about their limited choice of games, I figured we’d give it a go, an hour a day total. The pattern developed that they’d race home from school and switch on the computer and play for as long as we’d let them, and arguments developed about whose job it was to monitor their computer time. The teachers at the school sent notes home that our oldest son seemed to be rushing through his homework and doing sloppy work. In the meanwhile, while there was snow on the ground, their new sleds stood there, unused. After the snow melted, their baseball gloves sat untouched in the garage. Their new puppy, Tessie, who is quite possibly the cutest and most talented little Labrador retriever on God’s green earth, out of championship hunting bloodlines, sat there in the kennel. They had scrimped and saved to buy that puppy, and promised to help with her training.Please understand that I have given my boys opportunities that most families only dream of. My sons know how to paddle a canoe by themselves, how to catch a trout and clean it for the frying pan, how to launch a raft in the river and drift downstream. I’ve taught them how to play baseball, wrestle, shoot baskets, and catch a football. They can saddle their own horses and go for a ride anytime they like. There are two ponies in the corral that are their job to train. I taught them how to shoot when they were barely old enough to hold a gun, and they are expert and very safe marksmen who have shot thousands of rounds with their .22s and shotguns. They’ve hunted rabbits, quail, pheasants, and my son Reed shot his first elk this fall. We have four wonderful dogs that would love to go on a walk at any given moment. We live in Marble, Colo., which is a kid’s paradise. The river is a minute’s walk away, there are hiking trails everywhere, Beaver Lake is a 5-minute bike ride away – I could go on and on.And they shut themselves inside to play this stupid computer game, and argue viciously with each other about how to play it.Finally, it wasn’t me who exploded. It was my wife. The boys were arguing over the gottverdammte computer game, and she walked in and started ripping cables out of the wall. Done. Finished, fertig, over. No more. After a week or so of withdrawal, they’ve never mentioned computer games again.Since then, my boys have been kids again, selling lemonade, working at the museum, riding their horses, training their puppy, going fishing, playing in the river. They’re having a summer like you should when you’re 10 or 12 years old, and I’m proud of that. Do you have what it takes to rip the computer out of the wall?