Once upon a time, kids played innocent video games that had, as their selling point, learning and teachable moments embedded in the fun. LeapFrog was one of these; a creative, book-oriented electronic game whose only purpose was to teach our kids how to count, how to read, and how to sing very annoying songs. My kids were no exception. We leaped with the best frogs.
Next came computer games, like Club Penguin, Toontown, and Jumpstart. These were adorable games where the kids learned to chat in controlled phrases, and they began to experience their first taste of competition. The next logical step was Pokémon and Naruto, where competition, chatting, and teamwork became part of everyday life.
From there, my kids jumped into League of Legends, where the sole purpose of the game was to annihilate other players. Yay, progress.
When my son was living at home, I would hear the muffled thuds, the not-so-muffled thuds, the cursing, the banging, and occasionally the overturned chair coming from the sanctity of his room. I wondered, but no way was I going into a teenage boy’s room alone; God only knows what science projects he had brewing under his bed or in his dirty laundry hamper. It was hard to tell if he needed a new hobby, more practice, or better friends. My daughter wasn’t much better, only her game frustrations were much quieter and spilled out to the dinner table in the form of dirty looks and grumbling.
I went through the usual parental worrying. Do they spend too much time online? Are they secretly chatting with some 60-year-old pervert in a pink tutu in this multi-player game? Do they need to get out and socialize with the real world? And most importantly, will they end up living in my basement into their forties?
Obviously, my kids got their video chops from their cool mom, right? Yeah, not so much. I don’t like video games, they make me anxious and I get stressed when I play. I blame Milton Bradley’s Perfection. While not a video game, it was a battery-operated panic attack. Besides, life is like a video game, with adventures to be found at the grocery store, the freeway, and, occasionally, the kitchen when I try a new recipe.
So, if not me, where did they get this video game aptitude from? Well, look one generation back, and there it is. Thanks, mom.
Oh yes, you read that right. My mom, sweetest lady, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the picture of innocence. My mom was a pro gamer before gaming was cool.
First it was Atari. That was too easy for her. Asteroids, tennis, and pong? It was like shooting fish in a barrel for my mother. Come to think of it, she had that game too.
The next level of her addiction came with new heroes, courtesy of Sega Genesis. Round, prickly ones named Sonic. Sonic ushered in some of his closest friends, including Zelda, who rode in on the wave that was Super Nintendo. The original Zelda, thank you very much. Kids think they know Zelda, but you’ve never played Zelda until you’ve played it on the original gaming platform, in full glorious side-scrolling wonder with its tinny music and recycled backgrounds.
Then, hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen … along came Mario Brothers. My mother immediately forgot everything else in the world as she threw herself into mastering this game. My family frequently went without eating for days at a time, no clean clothes, up to our ankles in our own game, “Chase the Dust Bunnies.”
Of course, that’s not true, but she was completely obsessed with the game. I still remember when she hit the high score or won the game, whichever the goal was. She left the game on the entire day as proof and if I recall correctly, she took a picture of the tv screen for good measure because she was afraid no one would believe her. I like to think that the birth of my brother and me were the happiest days of her life, but I tell you, I’m not so sure.
Once she conquered the world of supersonic mammals, Italian plumbers, and valiant quests, she went for a more maternal distraction because, apparently, a real family wasn’t enough stress. She went full on geek and got herself a Tamagotchi critter, which I think was a dog. She even took it camping and on vacation, so it wouldn’t die. I have no idea how long it survived, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was years. Hell, she may still have it in a closet somewhere, secretly feeding it and dutifully cleaning up its little digital poops.
I often wonder, does my complete inability to play video games reflect poorly on her? Or did her gaming ability soar straight through my DNA without passing GO and hit my kids squarely in the controllers, picking up power as it went? If that’s the case, then my great-grandchildren will be amazingly gifted… prodigies even.
As for me, I’m still playing the fun video game, “set my car clock for daylight savings time.” It’s been going on for days now. Fall back indeed. Just what the hell did I do with that owner’s manual?