Island Packet — There’s a kid in our neighborhood — I can’t name him because our neighborhood is pretty thoroughly Facebooked — who comes by a few times a week. He’s a good kid. He’s a little flighty and has some attention-span issues, but he’s a really sweet kid who we disappoint each time he shows up with our home’s deplorable video game situation.
By “deplorable,” I mean we don’t have any. We are without Wii. There is no Xbox, no PlayStation. Somewhere in the garage, there’s a plastic tub with an ancient, ’87-vintage blow-on-the-Double-Dragon-2-cartridge old Nintendo, which represents the precise moment that my video game evolution reached its bitter end, much like real evolution did with Charles Krauthammer. I’m not even sure my TV — a fat, bulbous horror that is hopelessly confused by widescreen broadcasts — can handle these fancypants new systems without exploding. Somewhere, we are being pitied by the Amish.
Still, each and every time this kid steps into my house, which he has visited literally hundreds of times, he asks if he can play the game that he has inevitably brought with him, then betrays a barely containable sadness that we have not, in the smattering of days since he was last over, obtained a PlayStation 3 to tend to his needs regarding “Lego Star Wars.”
My son, for his part, would not know a PlayStation 3 from a yogurt-filled showbox, which is how I’d like to keep it for as long as is possible — which I’m guessing will be about another year, or at least until I let him go to this kid’s house, which is evidently a small warehouse full of PlayStation 3s.
Here are two uncomfortable truths about parenting: 1. It is probably a good idea to limit your kid’s exposure to video games. 2. It probably is a good idea for your kid to know what everyone else is talking about. These two uncomfortable truths, I hardly need mention, do not play nice.
So for Christmas last year we began bridging the gap. Grandpa got my son a Nintendo DS, but that doesn’t really qualify as a video game, because my son is pretty terrible at Super Mario Bros., and when my son finds he is not good at something, he becomes frustrated and immediately redirects his attentions to either a train or Fruity Pebbles.
But he also has a thing called a Smart Cycle, which is like a little exercise-bike video game. So when the neighbor kid comes over, he plays the DS and my son plays the Smart Cycle and for many minutes in a row the two of them barely look at each other. It’s actually a little sad. “Look, I won!” my son will virtually plead atop his Smart Cycle, looking back at his buddy on the couch, whose eyes, of course, are tethered desperately to the DS as if by some sort of dark magic.
Anyway, I say this not to make fun of what is really a perfectly sweet 6 year old, but to illustrate that this child is what I had in mind earlier this afternoon when I was teaching my son how to play the Super Mario Bros (I am getting to addressing the scorching hypocrisy here). I did this because the other morning we arrived at school to find that a classmate named Brendan (I can use his name because this school is home to about four thousand Brendans) brought in his Nintendo DS, and needless to say this made Brendan quite the cat’s pajamas that day, and he drew the class’ boys over as though he had some sort of tractor beam attached to him.
And I figured, OK, I’m not getting a PS3 for the house anytime soon, but my son probably should have a working knowledge of what this DS/video game thing is about.
So when we got home that day, I figured, OK, let’s learn some Super Mario Bros. And I came to discover this universal truth: Super Mario Bros., like baseball, country music and religion, is nearly impossible to explain to someone who has had no exposure to it in the past, and attempts to do so generally end in your starting sentences with the phrase “No, push right on the thing and then press X to jump on the mushroom guy and NO! WAIT! NOW! NOW!” before you end up wondering why you sound like a babbling over-caffeinated maniac.
My son, for his part, put up with this pathetic attempt at education with a sort of blithe detachment, which culminated with his handing me the DS and announcing that he was going to play trains and leaving me to handle the boss at the end of World 1-1 (which I did, obvs). That’s just as well. Old people are not meant for video games. Kids are — at least in a few years.