Saturday, April 05, 2008

Game Pursuits

Sean, Clare and Kevin were up early this Saturday morning, which delighted Aidan since usually he and I are the only ones active before 7 am. They were going to a SPARQ football combine in town, where Sean will be taking part as an eighth grader. I almost didn’t get up to see them leave, because Aidan had woken up well before dawn and had been lying next to me wriggling and murmuring “Are we going to see Liam today?” “Where are we going?” “Is it time to get up yet?” — I mumbled answers and tried to say my Tessera since it was pretty obvious that real sleep was over for the day.

I thought better of it, though and went downstairs to start coffee and make sure Sean got a protein drink before he left. I had dreamed that he met Brett Favre (his longtime hero) at the combine and Kevin dreamed he found Sean had already been rated low on the SPARQ even before they made it to the competition. Sean said with a grin, “I am going to go back to sleep when I get home!” Aidan and I waved them out the door.

It has been interesting to watch the older kids take such different directions as they grew up, and see how opportunities seem to present themselves in the most interesting and unpredictable ways. Liam showed a leaning towards academics and computer designing as he grew older. Clare became very interested in music, cinema, literature and vintage clothing and fashion. She plays guitar, violin and piano decently, sings, writes reviews of movies and buys vintage sewing patterns and makes her own clothes. She hunts through thrift stores for interesting accessories — hats, clip on earrings, wraps, shoes. Sean has loved football since he was a small boy and that path has led him to enrolling in the high school so he can play varsity QB and, in his aspirations, college football and maybe even NFL. Brendan, our different learner, wrote an entire novel in his teen years, and pores over nature, history and football books.

Sean went through a more inactive stage, like all my pre-adolescents tend to do, where he slept late and seemed very sluggish. He is past that now and works intensely at his football training. He lifts weights four times a week, alternating upper and lower body workouts. Almost daily he is on the field with his dad or uncle doing football drills. He gulps down protein smoothies. He never complains about any of this. It’s very interesting to see him develop such diligence in pursuit of what he wants to do, as the others did, as well, in their own areas of passion.

The younger ones are having a quiet morning taking turns playing video games. We are experimenting with a new system. I struggle constantly with the balance of “screen time”. Ragamuffin Rosie quoted someone called Dick Gallien who wrote:

“To me, there are 3 ideals in life. I) to find some worthwhile activity, which will support you, yet it brings you such inner satisfaction that you would do it for no pay. 2) A piece of earth upon which you are content to spend the rest of your life and would not sell for any price. 3) A partner who feels the same about #1 and #2.

“If only teenagers were aware of and had the luxury of time to pursue the 3 mentioned goals; however, they don’t; for society has contrived a series of fragmented distractions for the young, each with an institutionalized array of gaudy, external rewards, which in an of themselves become the goals, while totally overshadowing the pursuit, discovery and development of activities, which are capable of sustaining themselves through inner satisfaction. Schools institutionalize the distraction . . . ”

To me it seems that video games, at least in our house, are somewhat of a mixture of (1) and the “fragmented distractions”. My husband is a game designer, and I can appreciate in theory the beauty and cleverness of a well-designed game, one that sets honest challenges in a well-thought-out imaginary world. Furthermore, in our house game-playing is a quite social undertaking that unites all the age groups in a shared interest and appreciation for each others’ efforts and accomplishments.

Yet the same things that make a game good make it distracting, to me, from other things that matter too. I find that my boys’ world can close in to the attraction of the immediate, gaudy reward, and so I am constantly looking for ways to balance, to moderate. I realize I have the same disposition, too — my distraction of choice is a book or following an internet trail of thought, but it’s the same thing. It leads to good things, but it can be overdone, it seems to me.

Anyway, my most recent attempt at fitting this element of our lives into a reasonable compass is to hand out six hour coupons to each child and let them use them at their own discretion. Feels artificial but Kieron, my 12 year old, wanted his time under a bit more control than the “twice a week afternoons” we were doing previously, and that was the best solution we could come up with. We’ll see.

Aidan has a V-Tech game with a keyboard and he is next to me saying, “This is my laptop, Mom — we both have one”.
Kevin just called to say they had arrived and everything is just getting set up there — the kids are getting their height and weight measured.