Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Value of Video Games

One of the main reasons we moved from the West Coast to the East was my in-laws. Not just Grammy and Grandpa, but the three of Jeff’s four brothers who also live in New Hampshire with their families. We try to go there as much as we can, even if it’s just to hang out with these fun people we are related to. But sometimes they make it easy on us, and they come here.

This would explain the minivan filled with little people that pulled into my driveway last Saturday. Sam loves when this family comes to see us. Being the only little kid in our house full of teens, he loves these two male cousins, who are just about his age. Their little sister tags along in their play and gives him a temporary feeling of being the big brother for a change.

They piled out of the van, gave quick hugs to the grown-ups and quickly scurried up the stairs to our toy room. The adults sank into kitchen chairs and began to catch up on life and kids and family news. There was rumbling upstairs but we all ignored it and wrote it off as the good kind of chaos.

Then the inevitable happened. Trying to mix that many kids, with ages ranging from 13 to 4, is not without its hiccups. The cousins were playing fine. It was my kids who were struggling. Big brother pushed little brother’s buttons, just to show him who was boss, and little brother pushed back. Not something you’re proud of, especially when you’re entertaining company, but knowing that the ‘company’ was family, with kids of their own, I had to assume they understood. So we needed a new game plan, and maybe a little more supervision.

We called them all back downstairs and Jeff set up the new Wii game we got for Christmas. We started with boxing, then moved on to bowling and tennis. When keeping two players busy wasn’t entertaining enough for the crowd, we switched over to Rock Band. Fortunately our guitar collection has grown to the point where everyone who wanted an instrument could have one.

It was a huge hit. The little guys played the easiest settings alongside their older cousins, who played expert. The fun was in the thrill of feeling like a real band. There was much dancing, jiggling, gyrating, and bouncing. And there were a whole lot of smiles.

I have to give credit where credit is due. I never wanted any video games. I’m not a girly girl but there are some things I just don’t get about male interests. Video games fall into that category. I played Pac Man on a table top machine at a Pizza Hut when it first came out. I was fifteen. It was entertaining enough but I never understood why my fourteen year old brother seemed mesmerized by it and couldn’t get his dollars changed out to quarters fast enough.

Soon there was a place downtown called Pin Pan Alley. It was where all the teens gathered on Friday nights, the guys to be sucked into the rows of blinking video games, the girls to stand next to their machines, hoping to be noticed once Mrs. Pac Man was eaten by the hungry circle men. I hated that place. There were no overhead lights so it was hard to tell where your friend went once she walked more than three feet away, and the noise guaranteed a headache if you could stand to be there for more than a half an hour. But it’s where everyone hung out (boys!) so I suffered through.

We had the basic Atari game at home but Pong was so monotonous that even my brothers left it to gather dust after a few rounds. Then I was off to college and my grown up life. And I was sure I was done with video games for good.

Fast forward a few years and suddenly my house was full of little boys. Their daddy and I had many discussions about having video games in our house. I just didn’t understand the point. But he was male, obviously, and he loved the idea of another toy to enjoy with his kids.

We inherited an older system from my brother. The boys, and even my daughter, found much joy in the racing games that came with it. There was even a version of Frogger, the only game I ever played at Pin Pan Alley. I began to soften. But I still just didn’t get it. Had I been a single mom, I almost guarantee my boys would have had to go to a friend’s house to ever be exposed to a video game.

And now we seem to have more gaming systems (and games) than I can keep up with. A year ago Grammy, of all people, gave us our first Rock Band kit. Then Santa (at Grammy’s house) left a Wii system under the tree with my kid’s names on it. And now I’m finally getting it.

It’s not my favorite thing to do but I understand it’s value. When it’s too cold to go outside and the house is full of kids, whether they be little ones or big ones, the charms of video games are more than evident. It’s like an interactive board game where wiggly kids get to move around.

And what’s not to like about that?


Terry said...

I totally get the entire picture. We moved out West from the East to be near family. When the cousins get together it's wonderful but not without its challenges. Will is right in the middle, not quite old enough to hang with the older cousins and too old to want to play with the little ones--BUT those video games!!!!!!! I hate them too, BUT everyone seems to enjoy them. I tried Wii Tennis and almost hit the TV with my fine forehand. Everyone laughed at me. I am amusement for all the kids it seems.

Amber said...

I've never thought of it that way. I guess I always associate video games with the screaming and tantrums that surrounded them in my house.

Yet. Wii's Rock Band (Guitar Hero? I get the two mixed up) is different. It allows for multiple players. It also helps teach rhythm and appreciation for music.

Living next to family is almost essential, no?