My younger son is semi-addicted to games. I’m not proud of it, I don’t actively encourage it, it’s just the way it is. Over the past year or so he’s been addicted to about three different Mario games on the Wii, plus Animal Crossing on the Wii, Club Penguin, Angry Birds and Star Wars Lego on the DS. There was even a day or two when he was addicted to the most basic LCD Connect Four game possible. There’s just something about a screen, it draws him in and he is powerless to resist.
He’s never allowed to play in the morning before school or when he gets home from school until he’s done his homework. After that, if he chooses to play games rather than watch telly, that’s up to him. He’s certainly not allowed two hours on the DS followed by a marathon TV session. And the good thing is, the addictions are fairly short-lived. He will usually play a particular game a lot for two weeks, then go off it and not touch the DS, Wii or iPad for another month.
Recently I was chatting to a mum from school. I don’t know her well, but she seems nice enough if a little, er, brash. Our parenting styles clearly differ. When her son comes out of school she calls him ‘mate’ and starts play-fighting him. My sons are ‘sweetheart’ and they get cuddled. The way I see it is, boys are aggressive enough naturally, there’s no need for mums to actively encourage it.
Anyway, I digress. I mentioned to this lady that my boy loves playing games. It was like I’d flicked a switch. A light came on in her eyes. ‘Oh yeah, (we’ll call him) Kai loves games’. She went on to describe in great detail, and with immense pride about how good her son is at games. He has a PS3 or an XBox 360, I don’t know which. He plays games like (OK, this isn’t the right name, I don’t remember the right name, but I’m not exaggerating the meaning) Alien Nazi Zombies. She concluded this monologue by telling me how much better her SIX YEAR OLD son was at various games than an older friend and telling me that the friend (who, let’s be honest will be no more than 8 or 9) ‘Still plays Mario’.
I was gobsmacked, lost for words. I literally didn’t know how to respond. Apologies if I sound like I’m being a snob here, but that just seems wrong on so many levels. I will try to convey them here.
1) Mario is harmless fun, there is no violence. My 28 year old sister plays Mario.
2) Playing any games encourages kids to be lazy and can affect their sleep and their learning, can lead to obesity and therefore health problems later in life. So to me it seems warped to be proud of their game-playing achievements, whatever the game.
3) There is nothing wrong with age-appropriate play, whether it is electronic games or more traditional toys and games – it should be actively encouraged.
4) Violent games have age ratings for a reason. As a child it is hard to make out the difference between what is ‘acceptable’ on a screen in a game and what is acceptable in real life.
5) Be proud of your kids’ academic, sporting or musical achievements. Every child has something to offer and something to be proud of. Parental pride shouldn’t be linked to a screen and violent play.
If kids must play games, I have one word – Nintendo. There are strategy games, games which encourage responsibility such as caring for pets or keeping a town thriving and the Wii games keep them active. Please don’t make them grow up too soon. One day you might regret it.
Now I have to go and drag my boy away from the Wii and get him back out into the fresh air.