A Missing Link

I am not a parent. Yet, as a child of the ’80s, with two half-brothers born in the ’90s, I do have a unique perspective on the first and second generations of children raised by videogames. Personally, I was one of those who spent far too much time attached to a console or a computer. My brothers, on the other hand, are unique specimens who had no viable gaming outlet until last year. Currently seven and eleven years of age, I changed things on Christmas of 2004 when I bought them a GameCube.

As a child, I was a video game addict. I started on the Nintendo, then got a SEGA Genesis and followed that with a computer I used largely for gaming. Between all these, a friend and I would spend countless hours on his Commodore 64. This upbringing – despite the repeated admonishments to go outside – led me to my livelihood. Yet, I am the exception. The bulk of kids glued to their controllers will not end up in the game industry. As such, many argue that their time has been wasted. While it remains to be seen whether my brothers will agree with this sentiment, their first console has had a remarkable impact on their life.

For the first ten years of the older brother’s life, he had no direct access to a gaming medium. The family computer was aging and in a state of disrepair so, despite his best efforts, gaming was too frustrating to be a true pastime. He would play occasionally at a friend’s house or even try to get our old Nintendo to work, but his gaming experience was relatively limited.

The two boys are what you would expect of kids their age. They have friends, they run around, they fight, they laugh and they ride bikes. This has not changed to any great degree since the GameCube entered their lives, and according to their mother Martine, this is due mostly to her direct involvement in their gaming lives. Many of their friends, she says, play games all day long and are truly addicted.

I was most interested in how the addition of a gaming console in a household with two boys, four years apart in age, has changed the dynamic between them. Typically, kids with that large of a gap tend to go their own way and have their own social circles independent of each other. This is how it was for my sister, who is coincidently also four years older, and me.

“I think they get along better, because they’re learning how to share,” said Martine. Since the GameCube was introduced into the house, they found a common form of entertainment. They race cars against each other and do a lot of their fighting in Super Smash Brothers, rather than the living room floor. “They can do things together,” she adds.

Before the GameCube, the younger brother could often be found following his older brother around the house as the elder tried to play with friends or toys. This led to frequent tantrums, as the elder simply wanted to be left alone. The tantrums have virtually disappeared since the introduction of the console. They remain at awkward ages in relation to each other, but the console – as a joint gift – is a common link and they must share.

That said, it has not totally quelled all dissension between the two siblings.

“Sometimes they fight when one thinks the other has been on longer,” explains their mother. To cut through this she has strict rules on how much time each of them can play and alternates who gets to play first. The entire process requires a lot of parental investment, but keeps things civil.

My initial concern, when considering the present, was that the age gap would manifest itself in their respective skill levels and make the GameCube extremely frustrating and disheartening for the younger of the two. This has been the case from time to time, but the young one has developed a remarkable tenacity. Last time I was home, the slight seven-year-old won several rounds when playing his brother.

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My concern regarding the age difference has also been alleviated by their different tastes. They often play racing or cartoon fighting games together, but the elder takes these games to a new level. They are his passion. The younger brother instead prefers action-adventure. These games are typically single player, and sometimes a bit difficult for him. Here the different skill levels play to his advantage. If he cannot do it, he fetches his older brother to get him past hard spots in the game. On one occasion, when I was home, I was enlisted to get them by a particularly hard mission in the Shrek videogame. Even in single-player games, it has become a bonding tool.

Martine believes that neither of her sons could be classified as addicted. While it is their favorite thing to do, her careful regulation of their time allowed ensures that time spent playing never gets out of hand. And, many times, there are simply a host of other things the boys would rather be doing.

Economically, the GameCube has had remarkably small impact on the house. Things are complicated by virtue of two children – if one gets a game the other must have one – but since its initial purchase, they have only gotten approximately two games each from their parents. That said, it has become a catch-all for family gifts. Anyone who wants to buy the boys a present seems to bring them a videogame – I might be the worst offender in this regard. As a result, they have a very healthy collection.

The addition of a console can also act as a motivating factor. One of my earliest memories is being afraid to swim under water. My father had a horrible time trying to teach me to swim, despite growing up on a river. So, one day, he combined my two favorite things. I was a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I loved my Nintendo. Thus, with the promise of a shiny new video game, I learned to swim underwater in a matter of minutes.

But seldom is anything in life all positive. The hot button issue of gaming and the mass media has been how violence affects kids. I am firmly of the opinion that, in the long term, if someone goes on a rampage after playing a game, then the game can no more be blamed than The Catcher in the Rye can be for John Lennon’s murder. Yet, in the short term, I do believe it can cause some smaller scale problems.

As a child, I was notorious for jumping off furniture and miming ninja kicks after watching Mighty Morphing Power Rangers. This practice eventually led to the show being banned in my house. My younger step-brothers demonstrate similar behavior. “I find if they watch too much violence they tend to take it out on each other,” notes their mother. Frequently, after a particularly rousing game session, the two come clamoring into the main living room to fight in a way eerily similar to what they have just seen in game. It is play-fighting, and would happen independently of games, but the games give them something specific to imitate. Is this kids being kids or do the games inspire the violence itself, not just the form it takes? It is a tough question that requires more study.

Despite this play-fighting, the addition of a gaming console into my brothers’ lives has been more positive than negative. It has improved their sharing, their relationship and given them a pastime that keeps them busy. Perhaps the positive side of games has flourished in their home because of parental involvement. The specific games played are supervised and time spent playing is not unlimited. Like most things, gaming is good in moderation. And whether or not they enjoy playing games themselves, this moderation is perhaps the most important way in which older generations can have an effect on younger players’ gaming experience.

Dana “Lepidus” Massey is the Lead Content Editor for MMORPG.com and former Co-Lead Game Designer for Wish.

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