Computer wars, 3: Family meeting

by Wolf Pascoe on January 13, 2011

Part 3 in a series of five posts.

Read: Part 1. Part 2. Part 4. Part 5.

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“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

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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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“What?”

“You can have a Wii. You can play sports on it.”

“Really?”

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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You might also enjoy (or hate):

An example of digital heroin:

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An example of digital methadone:

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. . .

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Photo credit: Dissociated culture of hippocampal neurons. © Copyright 2004, Paul De Koninck.

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Am I judging these games too harshly? Perhaps you have your own rating system. Express yourself. I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.

Want an alert to the next action-packed episode in the amazing adventures of Just Add Father? Scroll up to “Get E-mail updates” in the column to the right.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Sirena January 13, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Yes, I think you’re judging yourselves as parents too harshly. I’m sure most people would tell you that there’s no RIGHT way to parent. Maybe now Nick will become that star hockey player you and Nora have always dreamed of lol. I can’t wait to see how the Wii worked out!

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Wolf Pascoe January 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm

For an interesting take on the right way to parent, check out what this Chinese mother (a Harvard professor) says in a Wall Street Journal essay: Why Chinese Mothers are Superior

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BigLittleWolf January 14, 2011 at 1:57 am

I think you and Nora handled the situation beautifully. And it won’t be the last time you say no to something he wants, for his own good, as I’m sure you realize.

Kids have no idea how hard it is for the parents to actually execute on some of the restrictions we put in place. We hate to see them hurting or even confused.

And of course, as they get older, they get very skilled at wearing us down!

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Wolf Pascoe January 14, 2011 at 4:39 am

Everything about this job is hard. I’m hoping grandchildren will be easier.

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John Sylvain January 14, 2011 at 4:16 am

Like alcohol, marijuana and pornography, video games do more harm the earlier they are used. The arguments on the other side, that technology is important for these kids or that they’ll be left out of what their friends are into, ring hollowly in my ears.

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Wolf Pascoe January 14, 2011 at 4:41 am

Let’s not get carried away here. Who said anything about pornography? 🙂

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David January 14, 2011 at 5:22 am

I haven’t had to deal with the game stuff as much with my daughter. I guess things even out when she starts having sex far too early for my sensitivities. You make this story dramatic and heartfelt. You’re so honest (and funny) about the not knowing. The impulse to feel I must know what to do coupled with not knowing is sometimes unbearable. I try to keep connection with her in the same moment I want to move alone to the woods. Oh, the Zen of it all.

I can’t wait to hear what happens next.

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Wolf Pascoe January 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm

The impulse to feel I must know what to do coupled with not knowing is sometimes unbearable.

You said a mouthful.

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Sirena January 14, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Whoa! I just read “Why Chinese Mother’s are Superior”. That was great! It certainly gives one something to think about. Thank you for turning me on to that. I do hope you don’t call Nick “garbage” though….

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Wolf Pascoe January 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm

This lady is generating a lot of controversy. I’d like to hear from her kids in a few years.

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David January 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Not to fuel the fires, but check these out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=se8jmKHlXvU&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WosCGJ47gSA&feature=player_embedded

One question I had after watching these is about the quality of the homework (compositions, etc.) and this is not addressed.

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Wolf Pascoe January 14, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Ithinkwatchingthemmademybrainspeedup.

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Sirena January 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I had that same thought about how the “Chinese Mother’s” daughters would feel in a few years. I couldn’t figure out if she was totally serious or if some of what she said was an exaggeration. There must be some middle ground between completely letting kids run rampant and severe Draconian discipline. I can see who she would generate controversy. Well, like I said, it makes you think….

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Wolf Pascoe January 18, 2011 at 2:56 am

Here’s the latest from the NY Times:

Raising Happy, Imperfect Children

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Sirena January 18, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Yeah! I just read the New York Times article by Christine Carter. FINALLY someone is thinking rationally (well, like ME anyway). What a novel concept raising HAPPY children. That was a great article. Thank you Wolf!!!

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Wolf Pascoe January 18, 2011 at 10:07 pm

JustAddFather is here to help. There has been SO much response to the Dragon Lady that I have to think some good will come of it.

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Tracy TC January 20, 2011 at 3:55 pm

I commented somewhere along the way on the Asian mother that her kids can work someday for my kid. I haven’t checked it out in detail, but a reliable source told me that her book ultimately ends up with her admitting heartache, and that the big brouhaha (the out-of-context excerpt) was a publicity stunt by her publisher, or something like that.

Bless you for leaving Nick to roam through the house processing his feelings. That is the hardest part for me to watch, being the “fixer” that I am. =-)

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Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Letting Nick have his feelings, particularly his feelings he’s being abandoned (even though in fact he’s not being abondandoned) is the hardest thing for me.

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Tracy TC January 20, 2011 at 3:57 pm

P.S. I personally think the Wii was a master stroke. You are teaching him to find alternatives to less than optimal situations.

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Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm

What’s really interesting about the Wii is he wants me to play with him, otherwise he get’s bored with it quickly. I do play sometimes, but I must admit the idea of his being bored with a computer game thrills me.

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Tracy TC January 20, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Enjoy this brief time that he still invites you to play. 🙂

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Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Yes. I do love it. I never close my study door.

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