I do not have enough fingers and toes to count my clients who play video games. The intensity of their usage ranges from so-called addiction to highly regulated passion (by parents, of course). I could join the chorus of individuals (comprised largely of clients’ parents) whose attitude toward video games ranges acutely from direct loathing to suspiciously eying. After all, video games have been linked to poor relationships with family and friends, decreased reading and homework time among adolescents, and possible aggression. But, I’m not willing to “sell out”, as one of my client’s would say. I’m also not willing to recount the standard fine-motor, hand-eye arguments either.
The parents of my clients often describe playdates during which video games were the sole activity. Two kids staring at one screen for several hours. How is that different, they ask, from one kid starting at one screen for several hours? Typically, there are many ways I answer this question, depending on the situation. A small get-together two weekends ago has shed some light on video games.
It is 10:00 AM on a Saturday in late September. I pull up to a client’s house. Rex excitedly answers the door and runs to the basement. I follow him to the basement to see Theo, who always arrives before me it seems. Shortly thereafter, the doorbell rings. Upstairs Rex and I go, opening the door for George, who is closely followed by John. The four boys barrel into the basement, bags in tow. I know the contents. Not surprisingly, Shaw is late. They each unload their bags, frantically, dumping a pillow case on the living room floor on Halloween night. In a flash, Brawl is going. For those of you not in the know (which is, by the way, entirely acceptable and not surprising), Super Smash Brothers Brawl is a Wii game with many well-known characters (Mario, Sonic, Kirby) and some lesser-known folks (Samus, Wolf, MetaKnight) battling each other in comedic fashion.
After an hour, the boys tired of this game. During this hour, there was only joy. No arguments. No anger. No frustration. Voices were loud, they were happy, and they were joking. Surely, this is my proof of the value of video games, right? Wrong.
Three hours later, after lunch, hide-n-go seek, dart tag, and Yu-Gi-Oh card trading, we returned to the Wii: Super Mario Brothers, a game that’s difficulty increases exponentially with the number of players. The boys played with the max amount: four. Mario, Luigi, Blue Toad, and Yellow Toad worked simultaneously on the screen toward the same goal (completing “levels”). As a side note, I’ve played this game with one other adult and, well, let’s just say, we needed some alone time afterward.
For one hour of Mario Bros., there was chaos. Bossiness (“Hurry up!”), arguments (“But that was my mushroom!”), frustration (“Why can’t we beat this?”), anger (“I keep dying”), quitting (“You won’t let me have the green Yoshi, I’m done”) and…success. They worked together to “beat” 9 levels of the game, not to beat the others’ character for 9 battles. Was it easy? No. If you listened to them, did they sound “nice”? Not always.Was everyone happy? Nope. But, in the end, they worked together in ways unmatched by any other experience. No project at school, sport on the playground, board game at home, or activity in my office could do this for them.
So goes my argument for multiple sets of eyes staring at one screen.