Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Joy Sticks

Last weekend Erin went to a UIL math competition. I was proud of her for making the math team because she was the only freshman. She allowed as that being a freshman was the least significant factor in her minority status. More important is the fact that she is not male, Asian, or the owner of a Nintendo DS. These seem to be the markers fro true math geeks. (Okay, I admit it. Everyone is a little bit racist.) There is not much she can do about not being male or Asian, but the Nintendo DS is at least a possibility.

Like most these days, our family has had our share of game systems - Nintendos, Game Cube, PS2 - and we have all enjoyed them. And for Erin, the Gameboy that was a primary source of entertainment during elementary school has been replaced by an Ipod as her constant companion. She did ask for the Nintendo DS saying that it was important to her success as a math nerd. This is not such an unreasonable request, is it?

For years, video games have been targeted as the devil in the lives of children; they make kids fat, stupid and violent. What made kids fat, stupid, and violent before video games existed? Blaming any single thing for all the problems with the youth of our society is absurd. Like anything, video games probably have some negatives, but I think that the positives far outweigh any negative impact that playing games has.

I may be from the first generation of real video game playing kids though I came to it much later than my own children. I was in college before I became a serious video game player. Pac-Man was the reason I graduated magna cum laud in three years. Almost every night, after practicing and studying, a friend and I would head to the local pizza joint, usually around 11 pm. We would each drop a quarter in the table top Pac-Man machine and play for hours, often leaving an unfinished game when the restaurant closed at 2 am. Granted I did spend a great deal of time sitting at the game table, it did not make me fat. How can you eat when you have a hand on the joy stick constantly? It did not make me stupid. In fact, it was pretty good at honing hand-eye coordination, problem solving skills, and patience. And, it certainly did not make me violent. I still have a special place in my heart for Blinky. I admit it. While in college game playing was therapy. In addition to Pac-Man, there was Q-bert and Dig-Dug. Wow! I miss those guys. Another true confession: an hour and a half before I got married, my maid of honor and I were at this very pizza place playing Pac-Man.

I must confess that 20 some years later, I still play games, in much the same way as I did back then. Only now, it is Zuma or Puzzle Inlay on my computer in the wee hours of the night. Now the benefit is not so much therapy as it is that they say that as you age, your mind will stay sharper if you do puzzles or the like each day. So, Zuma becomes an age-defying agent. Actually, I really don't care about the benefits, or lack thereof, I simply enjoy playing games.

As a parent I suppose that I should take the whole game playing thing a little more seriously. What if all those people are right and it is bad for kids. No. They can't possibly be right. I think that playing video games may have more benefit now than it did back when I started playing.

If nothing else, video games bridge the generation gap. Today in my class at school (yes, it is a music theory class), we had a long discussion about games and game playing. Almost every one of my students has some kind of game system and plays regularly. I took my jaunt down memory lane mentioning to them the games from my youth. Much to my amazement, they had heard of, and some of them had even played, all the arcade games from the early 80's.

In an effort not to be one of those parents stuck in the past, I make an effort to play the current games with my kids as well. Me playing DDR is quite entertaining. It doesn't really matter that I am terrible at it; what is important is that the girls and I all have fun and we do it together.

When my children have children of their own, I hope that they will reminisce about their days playing Mario, FIFA soccer, Spyro and DDR. And, maybe there will be a Pac-Man machine at the senior citizen center so I can share the joy and show the grandchildren how it all started.