Part 3 in a series of five posts.
“Strange,” mused the Director, as they turned away, “Strange to think that even in Our Ford’s day most games were played without more apparatus than a ball or two and a few sticks and perhaps a bit of netting. Imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatever to increase consumption. It’s madness. Nowadays the Controllers won’t approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Nick, Nora and I sat down for a family meeting at our dining room table. The three day moratorium on computers was over. We had to set a new policy.
Nick knew that in breaking my laptop he’d committed a felony. He’d gone through the three day withdrawal period without protest. The house had been much calmer, a return to more innocent days.
“Nick, it seems like things are going better without the shooter games,” I said.
Nick said nothing.
“Mommy and I think it’s best to stop them.”
Nick began to cry. Not a petulant or angry cry. A cry of pure pain. A signal of loss, abandonment and despair. This cry touches a place of such deep vulnerability in me that it’s all I can do to keep still and bear it.
“Those games aren’t good for you, Nick,” said Nora. “It’s why you got so frustrated and broke the computer.”
“Can I still play Sid Meyer’s Pirates?”
“But Pirates is a baby game!”
Nick left the table. For the next twenty minutes he raged about the house, crying and muttering to himself. At such times, Nora and I have learned, it’s best to let him be. Now it was particularly hard, as both of us felt we’d set him up. We had sanctioned the games in the first place. Half an hour later he came back to the table.
“Why?” he said.
I laid it out, as best I could.
“The brain gets so used to the way the games do things it’s hard for the brain to learn to do other things. If you keep playing you’ll have trouble when you get to middle school.”
“The games make my brain cookoo?” he said.
“Yes. Some games make your brain cookoo.”
“What about my DS?”
We’d forgotten about the Nintendo DS, his hand held game player.
“We’ll go through it game by game. You can keep some of those games.”
More tears. More pain.
As I watched him, I tried to comfort myself. I told myself that it’s impossible to be a parent. You can’t know everything about everything. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s not your fault that you allowed some evil screens to babysit him, you lazy, stupid child-torturer.
“Nick, mommy and I have decided one more thing.”
“You can have a Wii. You can play sports on it.”
He’d been asking for the Nintendo Wii. For months we’d resisted. Now we’d decided to relent to soften the blow of losing the shooter games.
Were we using the Wii to sugarcoat Nick’s loss so we would feel better? Yes, we were. Weren’t we just trading one potential addiction for another? Yes again.
The Wii was a lesser evil. It was more nuanced than the first-person shooter games. It required the focused concentration of sports. And its gratifications were more subtle, less instantaneous than those of the shooter games.
The Wii was not a definitive solution. The battle for Nick’s brain wasn’t over, but Nora and I needed a breather. The Wii was methadone.
And methadone, I consoled myself, was better than heroin.
. . .
Next time: Part 4, Starfall
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An example of digital methadone:
. . .
Photo credit: Dissociated culture of hippocampal neurons. © Copyright 2004, Paul De Koninck.
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