“Video games are a waste of time for men with nothing else to do; real brains don’t do that.” – Ray Bradbury, author
“I play video games all day, which is what I love doing… so I’m very happy.” – Stampylonghead, gamer
Let’s see… Ray Bradbury or Stampylonghead? The man who gave us “Fahrenheit 451” and “I Sing the Body Electric” or a 30-year-old English dude living in his parents’ basement making “Minecraft” Youtube videos?
Well, with apologies to the world-renowned futurist, this week I’m with Stampylonghead.
And that’s because our son Sam is turning 10 this month. And, according to him, he’s the only boy in his class who doesn’t have an Xbox or a Playstation. In the fourth grade, apparently, that’s a social problem. A big one.
All the boys are into either the culture-defying “Angry Birds: Star Wars” or the braincell-defying “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard,” and Sam – not the most demonstrative of kids to begin with – is feeling like he’s got no one to talk to since he’s always operated under the campus guideline that “TV talk” is not allowed at school.
This is a Waldorf school, you see – they’re less digital, more natural. When we enrolled, we envisioned our kids competing with the school knitting team in the needle-work championship and taking part in the grandest maypole dances this side of Bavaria. Little did we know: on the outside these fresh-faced innocents may appear like a bunch of neophyte violinists performing “Fur Elise” with sort of pomp reserved for an 18th century Viennese court.
But on the virtual-reality inside? They’ve shed the blood of thousands, and they’ll shed the blood of thousands more.
Joanne and I may be hopelessly naïve, but we’re no fools. We’ve known since our older kid Jack was in the lower grades that far more kids were playing “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” than was recommended by Parenting magazine. (Jack’s 14, officially the oldest kid in the western hemisphere not to have a “console” or a cell phone; irreversibly dooming our kids’ social lives is not only a guilty pleasure, it’s cost effective.)
While we’ve grown looser over the years in our rules about screen time, for some reason we’ve held out about video games. It just seemed important to us that the kids lose all their milk teeth before they lose something else with the roadside hookers of “GTA5.”
And let’s be clear: I don’t think video games are the end of childhood innocence as we know it. I enjoyed ‘em as a wee lad myself – heck, my play calling for the Niners in “Madden ’99” is the stuff of legend.
But the simple truth is: the more time with your hands on a controller is that much less time with your hands on a book, or a basketball, or scissors, or paint brush or a glue gun. Most video games are the equivalent of mental Halloween candy – a Tootsie Roll for a nourishment-seeking frontal lobe. (A maker space, however, is a delicious dark green asparagus — better tasting than the Tootsie Roll kids realize.)
Still, the wonders of asparagus weren’t getting Sam invited to as many birthday parties this year, and we felt we had to act.