21 Aug 2014
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My Second-Grader is Brainwashed by Zelda

A mom discovers that it takes a short time for video games to take over her son's imagination.

My Second-Grader is Brainwashed by Zelda

He’s only entering the second grade, and my son’s brain is already fried.

That is, he has discovered video games. My son, who in his younger years checked out book after book from the library on penguins, birds of prey and marine life, in addition to his fascination with the solar system and even eyeballs, has suddenly abandoned all reasonable conversation.

I could even handle the obsession with Lightning McQueen and Hot Wheels, and though I tried hard not to roll my eyes when he started talking nonstop Star Wars and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it was mostly interesting conversation.

We don’t even have a Wii or anything cool like that. My son is hooked on old-school Zelda, specifically the Ocarina of Time. His ridiculous concern with all things Zelda is so
bad that we had to ban all video game-related conversation at the dinner table just to get a break.

One low moment for my son was when, on the first day of summer vacation, he hit the hard reality of hearing me tell him that, no, summer did not mean endless video games. Just like during the school year, Link would have to make his appearance for a limited time on the weekend.

Maybe it’s because my siblings and I didn’t have much use for video games, beyond an initial fascination with Frogger when Atari was coming out. Or maybe it’s because my mom kicked us out the back door when we woke up and let us back in at dinnertime during summer vacation. My parents were serious about keeping us in the backyard: we even had an outdoor drinking fountain.

I know that some studies say that kids who play video games can increase their skills with problem-solving, decision-making and hand-eye coordination. But I am good at ignoring some studies. I ignore them because my in-home research panel has revealed that when video games are going too long, my kids’ eyes become bloodshot and everyone gets irritable. Especially me, from tripping over the cords snaking across my living room.

I know moms who wouldn’t dream of letting their kids play in the backyard without a parent outside, but allow unlimited television and video game time. I think turning off the games to send kids outside is good for them. It staves off the risk of developing obesity, which is more likely than whatever we fear might happen if they play outside by themselves.

Unstructured play with supervision from afar is also crucial, in my opinion, for strengthening of sibling relationships and allowing their imaginations to run wild.

I love the things I hear about when I am not in the backyard with my kids. Last year, I saw from the window that my two oldest kids were digging holes by the swing set. When I asked them about it later, their response was, “We’re digging little outhouses for the birds so they will stop going potty on the swing set.”

The in-home research panel thinks that was a good problem-solving exercise.

And I can’t write about video games without addressing the elements that just aren’t appropriate for kids. Even reasonably tame Zelda has a couple of ethereal characters that seem sexual in an indefinable way. Some video games not only incorporate scantily-clad female characters but also unnecessary violence. And we call this playing.

Right now much of my son’s backyard play involves a plastic sword and shield, which tells me that he is pretending to be Link even when he is not playing Zelda. But from my kitchen window where I fold laundry and supervise, I can see a healthy boy fighting an epic battle in his imagination. And I am sure he will try to tell me all about it at dinner.

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