I've never worried much about raising children addicted to video games. Maybe it's because I've been deprived of the hot systems just about all my life, and I just want to play the games myself.
But mostly it's because I'm kind of in awe of the determination needed to master anything, even a platform game. It may be useless in the grand scheme of things, but don't you have to admire the concentration, memory, and reflexes it takes to work your way through dozens of levels over and over again on your way to the end?
I feel that way about other socially-denigrated pursuits of youth, like skateboarding. Ever since reading a piece about Tony Hawk in one of Glenn Stout's Best American Sports Writing collections years ago, I see the grinders on campus in a different light. Falling down over and over and over again to master a physical feat? That takes discipline. As a lifelong quitter, I find that praiseworthy.
Archer's been playing our new Wii every afternoon after school. His first attempts at Super Mario Kart and Boom Blox frustrated both of us. He oversteered wildly and twisted his body instead of turning the wheel, ending up careening from one side of the track to the other. His "throws" with the Wiimote were more like awkward twitches of the shoulder and arm, and he couldn't let go of the button at the right time to get power. The result was a string of last-place finishes, puzzles unsolved, and anger or tears when Mom tried to intervene and teach better technique.
Last week I came home before dinner while Archer was driving his Mario Kart around, and I asked him if I could play. Without my noticing, it turns out, Archer has been honing his skills. His kart stayed on the track, and his steering was much more accurate. He had learned about all the items to be picked up, and kept up a running commentary about his position in the race ("I'm in 2nd! Now I'm in 4th!") and the weapons he deployed ("I just threw a Bob Bomb, and now I have a turtle shell").
It's always gratifying to me to see Archer connecting physical movement with abstract concepts -- like playing the piano. The Wii is a powerful motivator for that connection. By learning more subtle ways of moving the controller, he can score points and have more fun because he's succeeding at the game. All of it works to reinforce that brain-body-realworld connection, and helps him to discipline his movement and concentration.
Wii Fit has been a big part of that, too. Archer does a workout every day, and while he's not confident in his balance (he leans on a chair for any single-leg exercise), he takes great pride in his form and stability during both yoga and strength. It's hard to believe that a boy who deals with his autism by lurching around the room stimming and spinning could spend three minutes on the Warrior pose and slow lunges. But the competitive aspect -- rankings, points, the whole apparatus -- makes all the difference. He takes pride in his movement now, and even tends to do the exercises along with us when we're doing our workouts.
The fact that the Wii emphasizes big and small muscle movements makes it more defensible as a constructive activity, of course. But even in its most traditional modes, I'm not inclined to see much downside in my kids working hard to master it. I'm happy to see them working hard to master anything.