When my big kids were babies, I admit I was pretty judgmental about video games. “They’ll rot your brain!” my inner mother-voice ranted.
And when they were preschoolers it was easy to keep screen time of all sorts to a minimum: we had no TV, instead staying entertained with the same small pile of VHS tapes and the radio. For years, the only “video game” we owned was an ancient JumpStart CD-ROM featuring activities like “Dress the Bear.”
This caused a little marital friction, I’ll admit. My husband Jon is a techy guy who loves gaming and, most of all, new gadgets. I, on the other hand, had never really been into gaming, save a childhood obsession with Ms. Pac-Man and Pitfall, and a few sleep-deprived months in the 8th grade, when we spent long, marathon weekends trying to beat Super Mario Bros.
Today’s video games, though? I can’t even work the controls right. The characters can go in all directions! And there are so many buttons! The bad guys attack from all sides! It’s overwhelming!
But as the kids got older and started making more friends, the pressure to play video games got stronger. And after a while it started to seem silly to tell the kids that they couldn’t share in an activity Jon loves so much, so I loosened the reins a bit and allowed a game machine or two into the house, including a first-generation Xbox that my husband modified to work as a media center.
Grudgingly, I accepted gaming as a part of our home experience. But I still didn’t “get” it.
Until we got Rock Band for Christmas in 2007.
For the two glorious weeks of winter break, I spent hours in front of the television, belting out tunes and trying to learn to play the (pretend) bass. The kids and I mastered tune after tune, and spent a holiday gathering of extended family gathered around the screen, singing our hearts out.
I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun.
Eventually we did rock so hard that we broke one of the instruments, and after break ended, I did have to return to “real life” rather than sit in front of the screen all day singing. But I never got over my love for Rock Band.
I think what I learned from that experience is that it’s not entirely fair for me to discount something that everyone else in my family loves — or worse, to look down my nose at it. But I can figure out a way to show interest in something that interests the people closest to me, instead of just blowing it off as a waste of time.
If it had been up to me alone, we never would have gotten an Xbox 360 to begin with … but then think of the fun times we all would have missed together.
I admit that even now, I sometimes struggle to get on board with my husband and boys’ passion for gaming.
And I’ll probably never love games involving mystical creatures or zombies. But thanks to some of the newer technology, the cooperative, “real life” types of games (like Rock Band!) are becoming more and more available, and easier for uncoordinated folk like myself to use … and I’m ready to jump in and play.
As my boys get older, I can feel the window of time — the opportunity to really get to know them and create these family bonds before they slip away to start their adult lives — narrowing. And while 10 years ago video games felt like nothing more than a convenient way for Mom to get the occasional break from my then three- and five-year-olds, these days, I’m eager to find ways to share time with my teen sons and am looking to video game time as a way to stay connected as a family.
Today, while my boys were at school, our new Xbox 360 with Kinect arrived and my husband jumped on it like a kid on Christmas morning. Within 15 minutes, he had it all set up and was playing a rousing game of soccer with our preschool daughter Clara. It looked like so much fun, I joined in with enthusiasm.
Well … maybe too much enthusiasm. Within five minutes I stubbed my toe on the sofa so hard that I benched myself for the rest of the afternoon.
This time, though, I’m planning to get back in the game. Luckily, with the Kinect, I don’t have to learn how to use any complicated game controllers, but I can’t guarantee I won’t sprain something.
But hey, maybe this is my chance to get the boys on board with one of my favorite pastimes, too — one in which I might stand a chance of being a real competitor.
I couldn’t help but notice there’s a Kinect game called Dance Central.