In the conclusion of a three-part series on kids and gaming, ‘Superdad’ Chris Shulgan finally caves, getting a Wii for his 4-year-old son.
So you know the conflict, right? My parents introduced my kid to Nintendo Wii. He’s become obsessed with Mario Kart. I talked to experts about introducing kids to virtual entertainments; one that suggested yes, go for it, and then one that was just plain scary. Before I came to any decision, I was still mulling things over. I tend to do that. I mull things over for ages. I’m in a perpetual state of mull.
Facebook helped me procrastinate from making a decision. I posted on my wall: Should I buy my 4-year-old a Wii? Old friends weighed in, and the result was an experiment in communal parenting; the social network as advice maven. Only one friend voted against. The rest, most of whom had kids who were older than mine, suggested I go for it. “We’ve had a lot of family fun with ours,” said Amy Logan Holmes, the impresario of Open Book Toronto. “Especially the dorky bowling game.”
Mull continued. Did I mention this was the same week I spent installing the dishwasher? My mind was awhirl of 3/8 flexible plumbing supply tubing and Nintendo Wii. My boy and I headed out the front door to the hardware store around the corner, and one of my neighbours was just arriving home from a run. He asked me the usual what’s up, and I blurted out something about video games. “Oh, we have a Wii,” he said. “I never play it. You could have ours, if you want.”
My boy looked at me. Wide-eyed, zipping hypno-rays of yes toward my brain. Mull mull mull mull mull. “OK,” I said. “We’ll take it. We’ll take it for a week.”
Ten minutes later, the hardware store forgotten, I was walking back to my house, a bag of Wii accessories in my hand, one very excited 4-year-old in tow. It took me about 10 minutes to set it up. It was a little scary, seeing how geeked out he was about it. The first game was Mario Kart, of course. There was only one steering wheel. I made a mental note to get another steering wheel.
I started setting up a little Mii—the Wii’s little personal avatars. The challenge became to create a Mii that looked exactly like my son. Blond hair selected, green eyes selected, except the mouth was all wrong. I was scrolling through the various mouths when I became conscious of my boy watching me.
“Can I play?” he said.
He was there. He was standing next to me and his eyebrows were up, the way he does when he really wants me to say yes. I realized a few things. One, he didn’t care about the Mii. He just wanted to play. No: he just wanted to be the one with the controller in his hands. He wanted to be the controller. “Sure,” I said. “Sorry.”
I quit out of the Mii and started asking him what he wanted to do. He chose Wario on a motorbike. He chose the Mushroom Cup. And once he got the steering wheel between his palms he was transported into a world where his choices mattered, where his button-mashing affected things like the direction of a motorbike and his finishing rank in a race.
And I realized the allure of the video game to a 4-year-old boy. I mean, sure, I knew the allure of empowerment. I knew video games could be addictive to frustrated adults who feel powerless in the real world. But I wonder whether the sort of empowerment that happens in video games is perhaps healthy for a 4-year-old. Whether it’s therapeutic in some way. Here was a world where his will reigned supreme.
That was five days ago. We’ve had some tears since then. We restrict the game-play until the half-hour before dinnertime, when my wife and I are setting the table and doing the sautéing or whatever. It took a few days to establish that we weren’t able to play Wii any other time. And once that limit took, things have been fine.
I’ll be getting the second steering wheel this weekend, so we can play together. I’m looking forward to that. The rest of the time, I’m working on giving my boy more agency in the actual, non-virtual world. During morning pancake creation I’m letting him break the eggs, even though he sometimes gets the shell in the batter. I’m deferring to his preference, running shoes or rain boots, regardless of whether it’s raining. And if I ever get around to creating his Mii, I’ll make sure I’m letting him direct which kind of mouth he places on his avatar.
—Sherif Salama photo/flickr
This series originally appeared at Bunchfamily