Dialing it Back
My seven-year-old is slowly fusing his arm, elbow and shoulder into my rib cage. His head migrates across my field of vision like an eclipse. He is a full contact cuddler, particularly when my laptop, currently an uncomfortable cinder of heat resting in the delicate place that gave it its name, is displaying anything he finds remotely interesting. And when it comes to my laptop, interesting can be defined potentially by almost anything. Even a good, solid disk defrag.
In this case, however, his interest is more legitimate. We are watching (H to the Usky) Husky, a relatively well know "shoutcaster", commentate the action of some high-level Starcraft 2 play on YouTube. That I am watching broadcasts such as these is a point of discussion for another time. What is relevant here is that when it comes to my family, I fall a distant second in the “Interested in Starcraft 2 Stuff” race.
On the screen we are watching as a cadre of Vikings - think Starscream as imagined by Blizzard -- make their way across a map called Kulas Ravine to harass a Zerg player who is decidedly vulnerable to the air superiority coming his way.
“That guy better get some Mutalisks!” Announces my child who is still a handful of years from hitting double-digit-age, and you know what? He’s right. That’s exactly what the Zerg player, some Diamond level superhuman, should be and is doing.
In this moment like countless others before, I realize that I have created a monster. If anyone can appreciate my son’s passion for games it’s me, but increasingly I am forced to admit that my indoctrination may have gone way too far.
Watching my oldest child play a video game is a lot like watching the sun fuse hydrogen. Brownian motion has less chaos than him with controller in hand. Were I to wire him up for a PET scan, I’m sure that while he is happily manipulating worlds built from digital Legos his brain is lighting up like something to which the Boston Pops might play the 1812 Overture. Games electrify him, and though it generally gives me pleasure to see him happy, there is a mania about his game playing nature that is unsettling.
To be honest, if I could dial it all back and have never introduced him to games in the first place, I might do it. This is an odd perspective to have for a life long gamer, a disconcerting conflict between my gamer self and my dad self, because I know that in measured doses and within the realm of reason gaming can be a extraordinarily positive adventure of the imagination.
He has been playing games in one way or another since he was two. I struggle with the question of whether this electricity that is my son is his nature, or whether my exposing him to video games so early on had an impact on his development. Now, I’ve seen the opinions and science on both sides of this debate. This really isn’t about that so much, because if there is one thing parents almost universally assume, it’s that any challenges our kids face are an inevitable indictment on some decision we made which completely screwed up their lives.
I too live in that realm that says if something is wrong, chances are it’s because of something I did. It’s not a healthy place, and I envy the parents who have the capacity to appear to shrug off every senseless niggle of doubt. I can not. When my son appears only too happy to shut off the rest of the world and let video games exist at the center of the universe, I worry (some might say legitimately so) that it is because I hardwired my own passion for the platform into his too early developing mind.
For this reason we now tightly control his exposure to games. A half hour a day of earned game time is the norm, with some bonus time here and there for good behavior and special occasions. It seems a reasonable accommodation, and he attacks those chunks of time with the ferocity of a hungry tiger in a butcher’s shop. To be honest, it feels like we’re running a daily half-hour long methadone clinic.
And, in the meantime, should I be remotely interested in getting home to settle in with a quick game of Starcraft 2, he is glued at my side. I used to tell myself that this was time we were spending together, but in the harsh light of day it’s not. It’s a contact high.
Frankly, it’s changed the way I am raising my second child. I am not nearly so proactive in showing him digital entertainment, never even letting him hold a controller at his young age. I have no idea if it’s an over-reaction and any perceived results are just related to the basic differences between the two boys. I’m operating without a manual or a net, so I just kind of do what makes the most sense at the time, and this is what feels right today.
I’ve no doubt that in six months I will be blaming my decisions now for whatever troubles wait down the road.
The weird thing about it though is how actively I, as a long-standing hardcore gamer, am trying to get games out of my children’s hands. It was not a position I would have once taken, and only serves to again remind me of how very different I thought parenting would be versus how it has turned out.