Sunday, December 13, 2009

Video Games vs. Nature

My husband bought Ronan a video game, despite my objections to the contrary. This is one of the hardest things about parenting - not being in complete agreement all the time on how to raise your offspring. I am sure that it is a phenomenon in our house. John felt this game not only would be fun, but educational too. It is called Spore and it is all about evolution. The player gets to choose how to evolve (get eyes, go from water to land, be a carnivore or an herbivore, etc.). Of course, Ronan loves to play the game and if we let him, he would sit at the computer for days on end without food or drink to play it. This sets up a constant negotiation in our house. We have decided that he can play the game in the evenings if he has earned it (meaning that he has done his school work with no whining, he has done his chores, he has been kind, etc.)and for a couple of hours on the weekends.

We've observed a few things about Ronan and this game. It is certainly a motivating factor and he will often remind himself that he wants to play Spore and will make choices that allow him to play it, but not as much as one would think. He only got to play it one night last week, based on those choices. When he does play it, he delights in the creativity he employs to create these multi-eyed, multi-limbed critters, and if you are passing by he will offer to show you how he has evolved. He is motivated to do a little bit of reading and writing in playing the game as well.

The most surprising observation we have made is that Ronan does not seem happy after he has played it. Although the game is not violent (except for the carnivore aspect) it does inspire him to new heights of cruelty to his brother, sassiness, and a general despondancy for several hours afterwards. We shared this observation with him and he couldn't explain it, but did not deny it.

Yesterday he managed to crack the code I put on the computer to lock it, and began playing it before anyone else was awake. He played for about two hours until I brought an end to the day's evolutionary effort. As usual, after the game he moped around the house, complaining that there was nothing to eat and nothing to do (except hurt his brother). We decided to go for a walk, which was met with howls of protest. We walked to a pond in our neighborhood that has been iced over, thanks to a very cold week here. The boys played an impromptu, make-shift game of hockey for an hour and wanted to come back with more gear, which we did. The moment Ronan's feet hit the ice, a smile came to his face that never left and a fun, loving attitude broke through the surly one. He was a happy kid again, joyfully playing in nature the way millions of kids before him have played, oblivious to the cold.

We will take them to ponds and ice rinks to play, though we hesitate to do the organized sports thing. When it is too organized it seems to spoil it for Ronan. Playing tennis or baseball or hockey with Dad is fun, but doing it on a regular basis with a team seems to take the joy out of it, and ends all willingness in that activity for awhile. The magic seems to be this formula: play + outside + Dad. The formula for me is more like: creativity + mom. Either way, the formula for happiness requires no electricity, and I think we will be pulling the plug!

1 comment:

  1. Amazing discoveries, Tracy! I really admire the way you and your husband see and practice parenthood. It's in a conscious and present way that you are learning with your children and helping them to learn about the world. I read somewhere that the contact with nature liberates certain hormones in the human body that produce pleasure and joy sensations. It seems to me that the fact that this is what our specie has been doing since ever it also puts us in contact with our own natural instincts. Any way, I will keep all that in mind for the day I also have children :)