Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rage Against the (Video) Machine


As a child of the 80's, I grew up with the occasional video game.  I remember visiting my cousins' house and playing Atari and I remember the neighbor across the street had some fun Sega games.  Gradually, kids in my class began to talk about Nintendo and eventually my sister even received a Game Boy for Christmas.  But aside from playing a few hours of "Tetris" here and there, video games never really excited me.  I never had the attention span for them-- they always seemed so boring to me.

The fact that most kids who have major attention deficits are easily engrossed in video games kind of amazes me.  There's not much more mundane than watching a little character on a screen try to jump around and catch imaginary coins or bananas or colored pebbles.  And to me, there's absolutely no reward.  So you advance to the next level and do the exact same thing.... for what?  More coins?  More points?  More of nothing?  And I should probably admit that seeing kids zoned out in front of video games drives-me-nuts.  I have no idea why I have such a deep, visceral, annoyance with video games but I cannot seem to shake it.

So it probably comes as no surprise that I've always proudly stated that "No kid of mine will become a video game junkie!" And like the long list of words I've eaten, I need to admit that my kid is on the slippery slope of becoming a video game junkie.

Somewhere in the midst of his minion obsession, we introduced Charlie into an innocent little phone game called "Minion Rush".  Trouble is, it turns out the game is completely addicting to our little man.   And while his daddy argued that the game was benefiting C's reaction times and problem solving skills, I saw changes in Charlie that I didn't like.

I noticed that while the game is not violent, Charlie would be very agitated after playing.  His mood would go from calm to crazy and his tolerance for frustration was always lower after playing the game.  I noticed that on days when C played the minion game, he had a hard time playing with any of his other toys.  We have a basement full of toys-- creative, fine motor, gross motor, manipulatives, books, dress up, musical, imaginative, athletic, etc..... yet he claims his toys are all "Bo-wing".  While he's usually a pretty compliant little guy, when the timer signals the end of his Minion game time, he cries and yells and shouts things that seem a little out of character.

Now, I must admit that having Charlie occupied for what could be hours at a time is a nice little break for his parents.  And, I do understand how people fall into this allowance.  Believe me, half of the reason I let him play in the first place was because I could just do my own thing for 20 minutes!  But eventually, the cons were outweighing the benefit of 20 free minutes.  Finally, I insisted to both Charlie and his daddy that The Minion Game will now only be played on weekends.

We are two weeks into our new minion-free lifestyle and so far, things are going well.  C used to beg to play the game like Maddy begged for people food-- following us around asking over and over if he could play it now.  After just four minion-free days, the begging had lessened and he started to  remember the fun he could have with his other toys.   After almost two weeks of minion-free days, I am noticing that he isn't asking to play the game or watch tv as much as before, and he is playing independently more.

Lately, he seems calmer and less agitated, and remembers to ask for help when he's frustrated.  Honestly, the lack of the minion game has forced me to interact with him a bit more as well.  We always play together, but I realize that he might need a few new ideas of ways to play with his toys, or suggestions for inventing new Tinker Toy creations.  This has been one of the surprise blessings of giving up the game.  Of course, all this good behavior could just be a fluke-- he's famous for fluking his behavior right when we think we have things figured out.  And, the fact that we've been able to get outside more in the past week has also helped.  But I'm hoping that these behaviors stick-- maybe he'll forget all about those little yellow guys by the time each Saturday rolls around.  Highly unlikely, but it's always good to dream, right?

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