Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Best Way to Play

I played it nearly every night for weeks until four in the morning. I only took breaks to get more ice and refill my Coke, go to the bathroom and go out on the apartment balcony to smoke. I missed classes and slept until noon. And then one night I finally reached the last dungeon, defeated Ganon and rescued Zelda.

The night I did that, I felt pretty satisfied, but then a day later, I was completely and utterly devastated. The Legend of Zelda was over. I tried playing it again from the beginning, but it just wasn't the same. It was the one and only time I ever invested so much of my time and mental energy playing a video game, second only to my high school years playing Donkey Kong at one of my favorite lunch haunts eating Frito Boats at a place called The Hot Dog Barn. And before that it was the Mattel hand-held football game, or just an old-fashioned paddle-pumping game of pinball.

The Legend of Zelda playtime was during my academically rough third year in college, late in 1987. So rough in fact that I took a break from college shortly after that time, and then finished my degree a few years later in 1993. It wasn't the late night video game play that drove me out, though; that was only a symptom of a greater ailment of not being motivated in school, another story for another time. I did work full-time then and continued to work until I finished school with great grades. Thank goodness.

But that's the point here. The point is that I never really played video games after Zelda. I lost interest; it was such an isolating and lonely exercise with no communication with others (unless they played Zelda, and my roommates at the time didn't). And even though the decades to follow video game creators and developers would produce for the world some amazing immersive and interactive games, I was done.

Fast forward to my wife Amy and I having children. Both girls have grown up with devices and the internet and are quite comfortable playing innocuous and cute kid apps and games. Those kid apps and games have now turned into multi-player games like Animal Jam, Minecraft and Roblox (Adopt Me specifically). Still cute and fun games, at least for them still pre-teen, Amy and I never played multi-player games growing up, because we had no internet growing up. No way to connect with others regardless of where they were at around the world.

That's the positive aspect of the internet -- the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time. The problem is the anonymity of the internet -- the sometimes unfortunate toxic, bullying and identity thieving scary side of online. And with games like Animal Jam, Roblox, Fortnite and many other multi-player games of today, user names aren't real names. Just fun made up names. So, we really don't know who these people are who play these games. They are strangers. And the Kidpower safety skills we practice in our family tell us to be wary of strangers, especially if they ask personal information of us -- What's your name? Where do you live? What school do you go to? That's information we implore them to never, ever give out.

We had to play the games ourselves, play with our girls, and we continue to do so in order to understand the scope and content of the game and how other strangers, people we don't know, interact with each other in the game. Many players try to "friend" each other in minutes of playing sometimes, and our rule is that if we don't know them, we don't friend and connect with them. Plain and simple. It doesn't mean they can't "play" with others in the game, it just means we must protect our children, their identities and their privacy and ours.

Since the new school year has started, they have discovered other friends who play the above mentioned games (but not Fortnite for our kids -- too violent), and have shared each other's user names to connect. As long as it's okay with the "adults in charge" -- i.e., us the parents -- then that's okay for them to friend each other in these games.

We're also doing the best we can balancing their screen time with reading time, chore time, homework time, outside play time, being with other friends in person time, and other activities. While there are those parents who don't let their children have any screen time and/or online gaming time, or very little, which is their prerogative, we're okay with it in moderation. And yes, there are times when we're both working away at home and we're not monitoring time as much as we should, but they sure as heck aren't staying up until 4 AM to play!

Recently I played a virtual reality Star Wars game that one of my friends brought with him when we had our annual get together. I wielded a light saber and fought alongside Darth Vader. The experience was fascinating and thrilling (I'm a fan of course) and quite disorienting, especially after playing for 20 minutes and taking off the VR goggles and getting back to this reality. He told me about another application of VR technology to help assimilate autistic children to various social settings, and I know there have been and will be many powerful gaming applications in healthcare, skills-based assessments and workforce training, and much more.

Because we're season pass holders, we took the girls to free-play day at the Beach Boardwalk where we could play most of the video games for free for two hours. There were dozens of video games with eye-popping graphics and sound effects, and there were even old school games from back in our day like Pacman and Donkey Kong and Frogger, a game that our youngest Bryce really enjoyed. Our oldest Beatrice and I played pinball. Then Bryce and I played some old fighting game, can't remember the name, but then I stopped abruptly after we beat on each other's avatars and I knocked hers out -- too violent. And then Amy rocked out to Foghat's "Slow Ride" on Guitar Hero. From the decades-old Pong to Roblox today, video games are here to stay, and the best way to play as far as we're concerned is to steer clear of violent content and to stay safe online.

1 comment:

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