Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The last straw (or more likely draw)

Prior to meeting my children, I was certain, with no shadow of a doubt that they would never play video games in my house. Those of you who know me in present day can appreciate just how far I have come, or more clearly just how much letting go I have done (or continue to do).

My husband actually was the first to start bringing the whole video game issue to life. Even before the boys had ever seen or wanted for any sort of system/game/experience we had a couple of arguments. Our first failed attempt at being down with video games ended in my husband removing the system from the house and lying to the children about it's working condition. Yep, we did that, back then in a time when our footing was a little less grounded. The boys memory of it all is truly how appalling it is that we told such a lie to them. I guess they have come to expect more of us.

None the less, time moved on and my boys did indeed experience video games at friends houses and the appeal with there. The passion was mounting and I had some work to do. For me, it involved taking a look at my own fears, concerns and worries and not just in the quick peek surface view kind of way. I had to pull them out, lay them in front of myself and untangle the roots to find the source.  You see I knew plenty of families who had happy, healthy, enjoyable children and video games. In fact, one of my most favorite families had a no rules policy around games and their children where excelling in a host of areas (tons of which grew out of their freedom to explore all and any game that came their way in that no holds barred go for it live your passion kind of way).  I discovered, my fears/concerns/worries were not attached to or based on any real life first hand experience. They were tales told to me by well meaning folk, or stories shared by well meaning research, they were stories I had been holding on to that had no relationship to the here and the now.

So we bought a Wii, for our then 5 and 3 year old. And because of where we were at in our own journey it came without rules or strings. It was another tool brought in to the house and available to use in any way that worked for those encountering it.

There were days, many many days, when I had to bite my tongue, as my three year old sat for hours in front of the screen. He didn't want to do any of the things we used to do and no amount of coercing or nudging could move the lad. I had fears arising now based on what I was seeing, they met up with those put in their by the afore mentioned well meaning folks and researchers.  Here I was once again, looking at some stuff and trying to untangle it in a way that made sense for me and as always preserved the relationship I have with my boys.

This time (as often is the case) it was the boys themselves that showed me the way through. When I could sit and listen, what I heard was children learning through play. Sure the mode was a new one for me, but the sounds of discovery, delight, problem solving and cooperation were the same, as were the sounds of frustration. The big loud noises, the tears were the same in this venue as they were when trying on a new skill in any venue. Once, I could really hear these sounds of play, I was free (for the time being) from my fears and I could see so much more clearly the value of this play and the skills that were being mastered all around me.

The one thing I hung on to in the very back recesses of my mind, was first person shooter games. You see I knew I still had issues with this style of gaming. For the first three years of our video game adventure there was no interest and so I was able to carefully tuck that fear aside. I worried a little when the PS3 first arrived in our home and I saw the abundance of shooter games marketed for the system. However, I rested assured as the purchase was made for sports games and the passion for those was huge.

And then the summer of 2010 showed up and after a few visits to favorite peoples homes, a passion for shooter games was spawned. My eight year was desperate to buy an XBOX in order to play Halo. GULP!  I had learned, from my own past, to simply keep my mouth shut and support the interest, heck who knew where it would really go.

Well, it went through a fast paced money acquisition that involved cleaning basements, repairing decks and washing a large number of cars. It involved hours of You Tube viewing, conversations and the interviewing of friends. It was supplemented with real in the forest recreations of the game with anyone who would play. I encouraged, questioned, I listened and honestly inside I wept a little. Could my eight year old really want to kill people on screen ?

Sensing something one night he said to me, "hey Mom, just cause I play shooting games doesn't mean I will change. Cause I know I never want to join the army or have a real gun."

My arms surrounded this thoughtful human being.

And then there in the airport, as we are about to board a plane he says to me, "I'm not going to buy an XBOX cause that's way too much money to save up."

Phew, I sigh and I smile. Again, I don't have much to say, cause I have learned in theses moments all that is generally required of me is to listen.

"When we get home can I do Gamestop and buy Modern Warfare with all the money I made? "

And there ya have it, the passion and interest were not lost simply shifted, in a way that supported a faster immersion in to this new style of video gaming. Once again, because of my commitment to this process (you know the one that values and respects my boys opinions and passions) and cause I  know it's not really up to me how they spend their money, I took him to the Gamestop and he bought the game.

That is how the last straw of my resolve to keep any sort of video game experience out of my home was broken. It has me doing a ton of reflection lately and yes once again listening.

Play is how my children learn. The bigger the idea, the more play required in order to cycle the ideas and information in to their frame of reference. War, guns and violence are super big complicated ideas that I often have a hard time understanding. So, it would make sense that they would require a huge amount of playing with. And that it would make sense to want to understand it through the eyes of the solider, through the eyes of the victim, through the eyes of the enlisting officers and on the list goes. I dare say this is livelier the any history book I have encountered.  And cause the adults in my boys life are always near by the gaps are filled in with the bits and pieces of information as they are asked for, further cementing a deeper understanding of the world around them.

My learning once again leaps forward as I see what is truly before me, apart from the stories that are shared with me by well meaning folks and researchers, who's knowing of my children is far less then mine. I see that my children do not fall prey to the media they encounter but instead take information tear it apart, look at it from different angles and put it back together in a way that makes sense to them in the present moment.


  1. This very much reflects my own journey in accepting video games for my family, and yes, it takes constant work on my part to be informed. Very well said.

  2. Thanks for sharing so honestly, Shannon. As Amy said, this reflects my own journey. Before A. was even conceived, Grant and I had the "no-Nintendo" discussion (I was on the "no" side, him... not so much). But it came clear to me that by drawing this arbitrary line in the sand, I was actually making my son's world so much smaller than it needed to be.

    Yes, I have issues (still) with 1st person shooter games... I always have (ever since G. was first playing Duke Nukem on his P.C. in our dating years). But my husband has several tucked away for his own use for the PS3 and I know that one day, my son will want to play these games, too.

    I guess part of my reluctances has to do with what I see as a loss of innocence... but when I look back on my own childhood, at my son's age, I was pretty well informed about the world.

    Re: research. There is as much research pointing out the benefits of gaming. That research has really helped me put aside my fears and concerns and see what it is my son is actually doing when he plays games. (To Game or Not to Game)

    Next stop: Lego Universe and World of Warcraft. Bring it on.

  3. Shannon, you are amazing. Your honesty serves you well and teaches me, and others, how freeing it is, for you to express yourself on your blog, to the world. Thank you for sharing. You are a brave heart. Love, Elin