I Hate Video Games

I know it makes me sound horribly cranky, but I simply loathe video games. Handheld, console, online, I hate them all. I hate the noises they make, I hate the ideas they give my children, I hate having to monitor “computer turns,” and I hate the fights they cause. I didn’t play them much as a kid—I didn’t have an Atari (and didn’t really want one), and only occasionally did I go to the houses of friends who did and play theirs. I played a little Ms. Pac Man, but it seemed like a waste of money. So I am quick to admit that I don’t “get” video games or what’s so great about them.

My kids, of course, love them, with varying degrees of adoration. The oldest would play all day if I’d let him, eyes glazed, completely absorbed, and oblivious to everything around him, including natural disasters. The house could flood and he wouldn’t notice until the internet connectivity was affected. Maybe not even then—he’d probably just look up at me and whine about how “laggy” the machine was. That’s his explanation for any disruption in his game—the “lagginess” of the machine.

My daughter likes them a lot—she likes to watch while her oldest brother plays, as well as play herself, and the two of them talk about characters and strategies. But at 7, my daughter is still young enough that eventually she decides to turn the game off and go run around outside. My oldest, at 11, is quickly growing out of the “playing outside” phase. I remember when it happened to me, in about 6th or 7th grade. No longer did Laura Albert and I play “Laura and Mary” (based on the TV show “Little House on the Prairie” of course, but with only two daughters—Carrie was always off with Ma, or napping, and once I think we had her dying of some mysterious disease, and acting out a funeral at which we sang “Jesus Loves Me” and  pretended to bury her on the “hill” above our “house,” which in the book was how they buried the dog when it died, which I knew but she didn’t, and at the time seemed fine, but in retrospect seems a bit morbid). Instead I just wanted to sit around and talk. I don’t remember what we talked about—nothing particularly spectacular or shocking—but I distinctly recall not wanting to “play.” This was also about the time that video games started to be mainstream, and you could find Space Invaders and Asteroids machines in pizza restaurants, and we had actual arcades in the basements of places. Arcades always seemed to be in dark basements in the 80s.

The twins like video games well enough. They have Nintendo DS handheld games, and will play things online like Club Penguin or Roblox. But they too are inclined to turn it off and go do something else after a spell on the computer. Neither of them cares much for the Xbox or the Wii (they get used infrequently by the oldest and the youngest, which causes me to ask regularly why we still have the goddamned things, a question that has still not been answered to my satisfaction).

The number of game systems and devices for playing games is staggering (although probably not particularly uncommon). We have 5 laptop computers, 4 Nintendo DSs, an iPad, a Kindle Fire, a Kindle Fire XD, an Xbox, and a Wii. Thank god, I always say, that we have fourteen fucking devices with which to connect to the internet.  And of course they nag me to be allowed to play them. I finally had to insist we have “Screenless Saturday” because they would just rotate from one screen to another—TV, computer, iPad, DS, Xbox. I’d shut down one and they’d move to another one, like rats relocating to a new nesting area when the homeowner gets a cat.

I’m not much of a fan of any video game, but there are a couple that set my teeth on edge and make me want to put my fist through a screen. The first of these to come into my life was Webkinz.

If you’re not familiar with it, Webkinz is an “online world” (they all seem to be online worlds) inhabited by animals. These animals are the “pets” of the individual player. Players obtain these pets by nagging the shit out of their parents in a store that sells stuffed versions of the pets, then when their parent is worn down and vulnerable, the kid takes the animal home, types a special code into the computer from the tag on the animal, and plays a song on the site called “Piggy Plum Pie” four hundred and thirty seven times in a row. This completely demoralizes the parent, they disintegrate into a quivering pile of unresponsive mush and, when the kid asks, allow him to eat nothing but ice cream and frozen waffles for dinner. Take my word for it.

Kids can play games and win “money” on the site, which they can use to buy clothes and furniture for their “pet.” When they get tired of games and shopping, there’s music they can listen to. It is, without exception, absolutely unbearable. The worst song is the aforementioned “Piggy Plum Pie,” but there are others almost as bad. They all have strong, positive messages about being brave, having fun, not stealing cars, that sort of thing. They’re all music videos of sorts, where they have a cartoon with an animal or animals acting out whatever the message of the song is. And every single one of them sucks. Of course, children love them.

The other one that sends me into profanity-spewing fit of rage is fucking Minecraft. I always refer to it as fucking Minecraft (unless I’m addressing my children; then I call it fucking Minecraft in my head, but edit the name when I speak it). If you don’t know what this is, you don’t know how lucky you are. Fucking Minecraft is what would happen if Webkinz and Pokemon had a baby, and it was a complete asshole. It has the most annoying traits of both. It’s a game that’s played online as either a single player or multi player game, and the players create “worlds” for themselves. The graphics are very blocky and technologically primitive looking. There’s a lot of stuff about diamond swords and diamonds in general, and some guy named Steve and something called a Creeper (I think; or is that in Dora the Explorer? No, in Dora it was Swiper. Right, so I think it is Creeper), and leveling up, and servers and I don’t know what all. I confess I don’t really understand it all that well, in spite of having heard about it in painful detail almost every day for the last year or so. I could look on Wikipedia or something, but that would mean I was voluntarily involving myself with something to do with fucking Minecraft. There are even songs about it, although they’re not part of the game itself; someone (some bastard or group of bastards) takes popular songs and rewrites all the lyrics to be about fucking Minecraft. My kids whine and beg to get me to buy these songs for them. They’re as bad as the game itself. Worse, actually, because the game requires them to be somewhere with internet connectivity, but the songs are saved locally on portable devices and can be played anywhere.

But worse than the games, worse even than the songs, are the YouTube videos. Now the popular thing is to make a video of yourself playing fucking Minecraft while you narrate your activities, and post it on YouTube for other people to watch. This activity seems to me to be the most tiresome, blatant display of navel gazing ever exhibited (yes, I recognize the irony in making that statement on a blog). Of course my oldest wants in on this. He wants to make videos of himself playing so he can post them and get hundreds of “views.” For reasons of internet security, I refuse to allow this. He’s only 11, after all, and I don’t want to expose him to the comment trolls any earlier than I have to. I know he’s already seen them in the comment threads of the videos he watches, but to have the dickhead trolls commenting on his own efforts brings it to a much more personal level.

What’s maddening is that every product now produced on planet Earth has some form of online game that kids can play. Open a box of graham crackers, a can of soup, a jar of peanut butter, and somewhere on the label is a message urging kids to “go online and play!” FUCK. THAT. Even at the dentist's office, they give away little plastic toys in plastic bubbles, and when you open the plastic bubble to get the toy out, there’s a little slip of paper that falls out encouraging kids to go to squoobies.com or some shit to “play online.” Again, FUCK. THAT.

I don’t really know where all this will end. I assume that one day they’ll lose interest in some of these games, but some of them I predict will stay with me for a lifetime. I work with engineers, and some of them still play crap like Halo and Living Dead Auto Theft Shoot Kill Maim Zombie Attack In An Online World or whatever the hell those games are. I suppose eventually I’m going to have to let my kid do the video thing he wants to do so badly too. All I can say is, I hope that what they say is true about listening to your kids talk when they’re little encouraging them to communicate with you as teenagers. Because if it’s not, and my kids stop talking to me at 13, I’ll have listened to thousands of hours of pointless drivel about fucking Minecraft and Club Penguin for nothing.


One Funny Motha said...

I think I love you. Great last line. Also this: "The house could flood and he wouldn’t notice until the internet connectivity was affected." Oh.My.God. So true. I also loved the line about Webkinz & Pokemon having a baby. Too funny. My son's 11 & the exact same way. He watches the videos to "get cheats" on how to do things on Mine Craft so I don't mind that as much. He never asked to make a video & I'm surprised to hear there are even trolls on Mine Craft videos writing nasty things. Really? On a video game?

Tracy said...

Thanks! Yeah, I vacillate on the videos--he does watch them to get ideas, which is fine (I read plenty of magazines to get ideas for stuff, so I can't exactly criticize), but they make him want to make his own, and I'm just worried about him putting himself out there with all the creeps and weirdos on the internet, you know? And yes, trolls on video game videos--they tell the person who made it how they suck or they're just copying someone else--stuff like that. There are some real assholes out there. Glad you enjoyed it, and nice to know there are other moms in the same boat! In this case it's misery loves company!

jaklumen said...

Here by way of @RageMichelle (Rubber Shoes In Hell).

You wouldn't enjoy coming to our house, then: my daughter is OBSESSED with Minecraft, and she regularly joins me playing old-school arcade games on MAME with my X-Arcade controller. We just finished up a round of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a little while ago.

We only have one mobile device, though-- my wife's tablet. Everything else is firmly stationary on a desktop. We are poor.

Tracy said...

Thanks for stopping by! I actually don't mind if other people play video games, as long as I don't have to deal with them. I know lots of people love them. It's just the way they affect my life that makes me want to throw something through a plate glass window. And since I don't "get" them, I have a hard time sympathizing with my kids in their love for them.

The really infuriating thing is everything but one laptop (mine, purchased) and the iPad (my husband's, won in a sales incentive program at his office) is that they ALL came from my father in law. Laptops, Kindles (one a gift to my oldest for his bday, one an old one he didn't want anymore), even the money for the DSs came from him. He was an electronics addict. When he died, I just happened to stumble onto his Amazon account (on one of the aforementioned laptops) and found that there was a $300 Samsung Galaxy that was on backorder or something waiting ship! I cancelled it fast, but seriously? He didn't NEED it--he had two other cell phones! GAH!