January 25, 2014

Reining in the Video Game Monster

The exchange took place in a Barnes and Noble six years ago.  Seth passed a high school boy an envelope filled with $40 and jogged back to the child-filled van in the cold parking lot.  He was giddy as he opened the black bag.  One of our first Craigslist purchases brought the video game world into our humble home.  He just bought Everett a used x-box for his seventh birthday.

I look back on that day with anguish.  I was tormented with guilt, but relented as long as the kids stayed withing the agreed upon parameters.  Two hours on Saturday morning fully supervised by Daddy.  They were pretty cute in their three little wooden chairs as Seth guided them through an elaborate, timed game controller version of musical chairs.  Something about each kid (plus dad) gets a half an hour to choose the game played while everyone else rotates the second controller every ten minutes.  I was not usually involved, seeing as I was busy with laundry and trying to pretend that we had not invited this evil into our house.  Nevertheless, we did, invite it in.  It took a while for the kids to graduate from their sports based games and legos to what they play now.  We are adamant in our stand on what rating is allowed, but that doesn't mean that the big electronic monster isn't growing bigger and bigger everyday.  Our kids collect used video gaming consoles like their dad collects shoes. 

It goes without saying that as the time has passed, the restrictions on video gaming have changed.  We still have the standing two hours on Saturdays.  No longer a staunch 'musical chairs' of gaming, the kids have enough controllers, systems, and tvs to play at the same time.  Daddy doesn't monitor the game playing, that two hours is usually a good time for the two of us to run errands. Usually, if I have a doctor's appointment, or errand to run during the week, if school is done, the kids will play video games.  Once everyone bought their own iPod, we had to set up some rules for those.  Reading equals time on the iPod.  Nothing over an hour.  Somehow, though, the kids felt that if I was out and Seth was still working, video games were a good way to keep everyone busy. 

And that is how we got ourselves into a mess of too much gaming.  That would make a great Berenstain Bears book.  We have Berenstain Bears and Too Much T.V., but I'd love to see an updated one, in which Brother and Sister Bear argue over controllers, games, and consoles.  Their desires, dreams, and chatter are non-stop gaming.  Brother and Sister have forgotten how to be Bears, because their lives are spent defeating aliens with their wireless controller or using the Wii to defend a land from Chaos.  "I can't hear you!" Brother and Sister yell to Mother Bear as she calls them for dinner.  But that's not the truth, they just stopped caring.

This week, our gaming problem reached epic proportions.  Ella needs a new leg and we made three trips to the prosthetic office.  Added to a few trips to the grocery store, these long appointments meant a LOT of opportunity for video gaming.  Granted, it meant that everyone worked diligently on school to be done by the time I left with Ella.  This morning, everyone woke up excited about playing video games for two hours after breakfast.

I erupted.  Seth agreed.

After a lengthy conversation about expectations, Seth and I invited the kids to a family meeting.  We reminded them of our agreed upon parameters, and then as a family counted up the hours that video games were played this week.  A whopping ten and a half.  Even the kids were surprised.  Then we collectively made a list of amazing things we can do while 1-trapped in the house because it's -16 outside and 2-Mom is at the Doctor's, Costco, Piano Lesson, Prosthetic Office...  We filled three pages with some great ideas and a few not so good ideas (Ella suggested a pear eating contest, but I vetoed that on the grounds of it being a choking hazard).

We had an amazing non-electronic afternoon.  Everyone chipped in for a big brunch.  Everett helped direct a 'movie' complete with costumes and heroes.  Certain to be a huge youtube hit.  The kids braved the snowstorm and trudged around in the knee deep snow exploring the sewer behind our house.  And I'm okay with that.  Then they built a fort village in the basement, which remains up as long as I choose not to walk down there to do laundry.  I have gladly avoided the basement thus far.  Right now, a feisty game of Uno is taking place while everyone sips hot tea.  Every few minutes the chatter is punctuated with "UNO!" but I'll take that over the arguments over who gets the Wii and 'Why didn't you charge your own iPod, because I'm not letting you use mine!". 

The kids haven't forgotten how to play after all and though the monster still lives in the basement, he isn't running our lives.  Today.