Tom, my ten-year-old son, bought himself a Wii yesterday.
This was not without some debate. Joanne and I, as parents, have been leery of all the high-end electronics that kids have these days. This is partly out of economic necessity — good God, the cost of these toys! — and partly out of a sense that it’s all just, y’know, too much. There’s something deep down in both of us that says that a fifth grader shouldn’t have a $250 cell phone, though apparently a whole hell of a lot of them do. Tell you what, kid: When you can remember to bring your jacket home, we’ll talk about things to put in it. Maybe start with a rock and work up from there.
For a long time, we resisted video games, too, which is nothing but hypocrisy on my part. I shamelessly begged my parents for an Atari VCS when I was young and it took more than a year to wear them down to jittery, twitchy nubs, but I did it. And then I played the crap out of it. Did you know that the bomber’s expression changes when you get to 10,000 points in “Kaboom!”?
Which is my concern, of course. I don’t blame the evils of society on video games any more than I blame the evils of society on television or high-fat foods or anything else that I really, really enjoy. But I do know all the mistakes I made — all too well — and I’d like to steer my kids away from as many of them as I can. Console games led to computer games, which led to programming computer games, which led to programming in general, which led to my career. And, dammit, they deserve better. I mean, I can’t even afford to spend a few hundred dollars on a cell phone for a ten-year-old.
But video games are a part of adolescence and I do love them, and we’ve been slowly ramping up, trying to emphasize playability and value over the latest whiz-bangery. I bought an old PS2, and we pick up perfectly serviceable used games for ten bucks a pop, and that’s been tons of fun. Tom’s brothers bought themselves a couple of Gameboy Advances, all on their own, at steep discounts, because they’re now considered antiques. Learning the value of things is just as important has having the things themselves.
And yesterday, Tom bought a Wii.
He’s been saving for nearly a year — gathering his allowance and gift money and skipping souvenirs when we go on vacation to add the cash to his pile. He’s more than earned it — his patience and persistence beat the crap out of mine, and I’m theoretically the adult. He set his sights on something he wanted, balanced the costs against the benefits, showed the discipline he needed to achieve his goal, and did it.
And more important: It’s his — he owns it, and he can do whatever he wants with it. The pride of ownership, of achievement, trumps being handed something any day. I really want him to learn that lesson, because so much flows from it: Hard work has benefits. Don’t take the easy way out. You own something and nobody can take it away from you.
So this one goes in the plus column: my kid recognized value, exercised discipline, and took ownership. You’re damned right I feel smug.
Or at least I did. After the boys were asleep, I went upstairs to try the Wii, and the little jerk had hidden the controllers.
Well, his controllers.