Monday, December 31, 2012

Games Without Frontiers

At 2 1/2 he is teaching his 5 month old sister how to play
Not sure if I should be proud or totally ashamed to admit that my son is a gaming prodigy / Amadeus.  He beat (credits rolling) his first video game (Crash Team Racing on the original PlayStation) when he was 3, before he was even fully potty trained or had given up the pacifier.  He would play on the old-style Nintendo 64 (Donkey Kong 64, Super Mario 64, and the Ocarina of Time) until the cartridges got too hot and stopped working... then he would take a break.  While some kids relaxed with TV or a movie, he played video games.

I can't be too embarrassed or frustrated because video games have been a motivating educational tool for him particularly (now 6th grade); he may be naturally good at math but video games helped him quickly subtract how many more coins he needed for the next level in his head.  Video games taught him to read because we wouldn't always sit with him and he realized that if he skipped reading, he didn't know what to do next (I would still love for them to have "an early reader" setting so that the language is less complicated).  He swears he will be a natural when he finally gets behind a wheel because he is so good at Mario Kart.  He knows soccer players and positioning better because of FIFA soccer on the xBox.  When he ran cross country, he thought of ever person he passed like he was in a video game... "just beating one boss at a time".  He can problem solve when he thinks of obstacles and projects as levels in a game that need to be completed.  I'm not sure what hours of Minecraft has taught him... I'll have to think on that one... it must be something...

Personally, I'm not a gamer and have a love / hate relationship with the medium:

We were so relieved when the kids got their first Gameboys, allowing my DH and I to sit in a restaurant pretending we were on a date.  I love that we can drive across the country while the kids link up their DSs and play games and laugh for hours.  I will always have fantastic memories of the family making alter-ego Miis and playing Dance Dance Revolution, golfing (even GG), WiiFit, and Mario Party.  I love the groups of kids that come over to wage epic battles on the Xbox.   I think it is healthy for kids to text their friends (teaches them how to type)* and play in imaginary worlds through their ipods.

I really don't like that kids seem to have nothing else to do if they aren't in front of screens.  I hate the violence of many games (and am not sure how it will effect these kids as they grow up).  I am annoyed with the obsession over something so trivial.  My frugal / practical / minimalist side really dislikes the waste of time and money.

But like it or not, we live in an age of game systems.  I've come to realize that my son (and husband) are going to be most excited about the video game gifts and I've learned how to buy the right ones.  As it turns out, all video games are not created equal.  Most games that are in the clearance bins, adapted from movies, or highly advertised on the Disney Channel, are poorly made and will rarely be worth playing.  So, to find good games, that are not just collecting dust, first check:

on this site, games can be filtered by system.  You can read reviews and ratings, just like you would about movies.  You can also see what people who spend all day critiquing video games (my son's dream job) think of the game.  They are really balanced, for example, if you are looking on the Wii, Mario Galaxy is an amazing game (one of my favorites for many reasons)... although your kids may have loved Wreck-it Ralph the movie, the video game is TERRIBLE and probably not even worth $10.  It links to applicable articles so that you can make good choices.  Before I let my son spend his Christmas money on a new game, he reads all of the information on it so that we don't end up with a $50 brand new game that is poorly made (and hence an even bigger waste of time and money).  We check to make sure the content is age appropriate, just like we would if he were going to a movie or reading a book.  For example, "Super Smash Bros Brawl" is rated Teen but the violence is mild and didn't bother me, even when he was young.

Extra Bloggy Info That Didn't Naturally Fit:
--I'm not terribly surprised by my son's skill at video games.  My DH and I dated for 7 years before we got married.  We spent a lot of time together but never lived together.  I remember after the honeymoon being shocked by how much of my DH's free-time was spent playing video games.  SHOCKED.  The funny thing is that he felt like he had really curbed it.  Since my DH is really a first generation gamer (Atari was out when we were in elementary school), we have always had a game system in the house.  It may not be the newest or most cutting edge, but we aren't far behind the curve.  Just like my daughter and I do crafts, my DH and son play video games together, and over breaks, sometimes that is all day.  It is their bonding thing...

--We buy a lot of games used.  Although GameStop is convenient, it is usually cheaper to buy games on Amazon or Ebay.  We also tend to get more money for the games we are done with when we sell them on Ebay rather than at a garage sale or at at GameStop.

*Not accidentally texting at 10:30 at night on Christmas Eve, as my daughter did to her best friend...

PS - the Peter Gabriel song, Games Without Frontiers - war without tears... has NOTHING to do with the blog.  It was going through my head as I wrote this.

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