Monday, January 7, 2013

Game on.

Growing up, we didn't have video games at our house, so as far as I was concerned the notion that they turn kids' brains to mush may as well have been a cold hard fact. My brain was still intact and I never played video games...sounds pretty true to me!

I bet my sister the scientist couldn't read that without rolling her eyes.

But I can't help it. I'm not a scientist. I'm more of a go with my gut, facts schmacts, that looks kinda cool let's try it, kind of gal. I mean, facts are fine and all but they only tell part of the story. At best. Sometimes - gasp! - they're not even true.

Video games are no exception. Do you have any idea how many highly intelligent people are doing very serious scientific research on the effects of video games on kids? Like, a lot. And they've found strong evidence supporting just about everything you could imagine.

So are video games the way to make a better world or just a fast-track to obesity, social isolation, violent tendencies and an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality?


Confused yet?

Add to that all the other potentially credible sources - the blogger whose son learned to type by playing Minecraft on the computer; the Facebook friend who swears video games gave her nephew ADHD; the smart, beautiful, outgoing and successful friend who claims to have spent entire summers holed up playing Zelda - and it becomes abundantly clear: we have no choice BUT to decide for ourselves.

My gut used to tell me there was no way I was going to let my kids play video games. But then I actually had kids (no quicker way to change everything you ever thought you knew!) and Angry Birds came along and suddenly I realized there might be more to these silly games than meets the eye.

And now? Now that the floodgates have opened and the Wii and DS have become a permanent part of our lives? I couldn't be happier. Really! Because when I watch Liam play some of the games he likes (lots of different Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Big Brain Academy - hey, if it involves the Wii it counts as a game - Pictionary, Wheel of Fortune...) I see a kid who can strategize, multi-task, learn from his mistakes and persevere until he masters whatever it is he's trying to accomplish. He reads each manual cover to cover and if he still gets stuck, heads to YouTube to do some research. Don't tell Liam but all that gaming looks WAY harder than anything we're doing in school.

And as for the social isolation bit? Please. Liam might be well on his way to becoming a full on gamer (oof, still hard to say that), but I can assure you, he's not going alone.

Because the way he plays, video games are a group sport. When he and his buddies play their DSs (or 3DS XLs as he can't help but correct me every single time I say it...), they play TOGETHER. They can link up and play the same game at the same time but usually they just sit right next to each other and take turns playing and watching. It never takes long for them to power down, change into costumes and run outside to play "live action Mario" on the trampoline.

He plays Donkey Kong with Dada (and easily schools him every time...), does Wii Fit with me (way more entertaining for me than doing it alone!), and prefers most of his games with an audience (aka, Finn).

And this past weekend, Liam took his social video gaming to the next level.

It was a meeting of the Mario Masters, a championship Liam came up with after seeing how good some of the grown ups in his life are at old school Mario. Contestant number one was Uncle Erick (or should I say Doctor Uncle Erick) who actually started this whole video game frenzy a few summers ago when he introduced Liam to a Batman Lego video game at his house. And contestant number two was our good friend Meredith (aka, the kid who played Zelda all summer long and yet still managed to grow up to be awesome and not at all socially awkward!).

Liam has been talking about pitting them against each other for months, and was so excited that we could finally make it happen. Can I just say, it was such a fun night. The Mario Masters took the competition very seriously (which meant a lot to Liam and was completely hilarious to watch) and did everything they could to defend their title (short of laying off the wine, of course). In the end, Doctor Uncle won by a hair. His prize? A trophy! But since Liam is a loving and generous little guy ("and everyone did a great job working together and taking turns"), he made one for Meredith too.

How lucky he is to have such strong role models in his life. And how lucky I am to have walking talking examples of what (selectively chosen) video games can do to (highly intelligent, mentally stable) kids. No amount of research or facts could give me peace of mind like that.

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