Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Manchurian Candidate

Looking around in Toyz R Us, I bumped into lady who was browsing the video game section with me. I was thinking about picking up a particular label--I don't remember which--when the lady informed me that video games cause seizures in children.

Just before I wrote this, I researched the subject just a little. Not that I needed to. Call it due diligence. The affliction is called Photosensitive epilepsy. This affects approximately two in every ten thousand children. These odds are five times more unlikely than losing a baby as a result of having amniocentesis, yet women do this almost by rote. People so afflicted are prone to having seizures as a result of flashing lights, or repeating patterns of light--which rules out the old Flintstones cartoon, that scrolled the same background as Fred and Barney cruised down Hollyrock Boulevard. I wonder if my cohabitant at the toy store has a television.

I doubt anyone reading this really believes that the above should be a deterrent, but be aware that the doomsayers exist. Here is my take on video games. If you put me in the cockpit of an airplane today, with a bit of instruction, I could be just a little bit dangerous. Why? Because I've managed complex sets of controls in a variety of games that required me to study and practice in order to manage the chaos of the game. You could say that I have a highly developed sense of hand-eye coordination, and I know this because I have mastered over a hundred different video games in my time.

As for my son, gaming has taught him to read, add, subtract, and to tell the relative difference between numbers. He has a map in his head and can tell me where any building in the game is and how to get there. The sheer volume of information he contains in his head for one game literally fills a book. Not only that, but it has given him the desire to learn more about reading and math, and a possible motivation to create something of its ilk in the future. When he was three years old, he could solve puzzle games like Putt Putt Saves The Zoo.

He still loves to go outside, just in case you may think he only plays video games. At two he was riding a scooter. At four he rode his bicycle without training wheels. For two years now he has been swimming, and can pick objects off the eight foot floor of the pool. I put everything in front of my son, sign him up for every sport and expose him to every craft class available, like art and woodworking. And of course we read together every night.

To me, video games are an important part of his development. I don't have any use for all that psycho-mumbo-jumbo that it stunts a child. The worst case, my son turns out like me, who grew up in a video arcade, Jousting with Eric, playing Loopin', Tron, Space Invaders, Gorf, Millipede, Xevious, Battletank, pinball and a host of others I have forgotten. The last I checked, we were both doing fine.

Neither of us has had a seizure yet, robbed a bank or liquor store, or killed anyone--yet. Perhaps someday we will, once the secret signal--Rosebud?--is sent that hits play on recorder in our heads, planted by the cartoon princess at the climax of Dragon's Lair.

**** Update ****

A friend who shall be unnamed has just alerted me to studies indicating that surgeons have better eye-hand coordination because of their experience with video games. A quick google search yielded this article. Here's an excerpt:
All those years on the couch playing Nintendo and PlayStation appear to be paying off for surgeons. Researchers found that doctors who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37 percent fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the task 27 percent faster than their counterparts who did not play video games.

16 comments:

Bernita said...

Shades of the urban myth.
Reminds me of the D&D fuss a couple of decades ago. Turn kids into a cult of psychotic killers.

mr. schprock said...

All I know is, Charles Manson and David Berkowitz played Candyland as children. Think about that.

Kathleen said...

People are crazy, aren't they? Everything in moderation. There is nothing wrong with video games themselves, the problem is when kids play all day every day, to the exclusion of everything else. Sounds like you're raising a well-rounded kid (or two) there, Scott.

Flood said...

My biggest arguement about the game systems is that they change so much it's hard to keep up. ColicoVision, Atari, Nintendo, 64, Gameboys, Playstaions, Xbox, PSP, yadda yadda.

I long for the days of Pong.

Jaye Wells said...

Kathleeen hit it on the head--moderation. Like TV and sugar and everything else we're admonished to shun.

jason evans said...

I first played Space Invaders in the arcades when I was 11. It was a rush to be part of the golden era! Dang, all those quarters, though....

Meander said...

my son learned to read from a computer game. just browsing through the blogosphere and happened upon your blog. i am glad i did!

fringes said...

I have nothing against video games. I do have something against moralizing strangers lurking in the video game section of the toy store. Did she pelt you with dirt and sticks?

Flood said...

Hey! Dirt and sticks are not only good fun but provide an excellent source of fibre.

I only have anecdotal evidence as my reason for making the little ones wait on the video games.

Scott said...

Bernita - I remember that one too, and I too played D&D.

Mr. Schprock - Ooooooh. So did I...

Kat - Thanks. Moderation--yes.

Flood - Ah, but that's the beauty. Technology is always on the move. As to your second comment, to each his own. But for me and my personal experience, I want my kids to be good at everything, to get a leg up early. Sticks and dirt are good to manipulate too. After all, that is what composes mudhuts--just add water.

Jaye - Here here.

Jason - It sure was. That was my first game too, right after Pong and it's slight variation of Hockey.

Meander - Nice of you to meander over to my place for a stay. Ha ha. Oooh. I know, funny.

Erica - I have that same problem!

Tee said...

I totally agree - my kids have learned so many skills from video games. We're selective about what they play - Only age appropriate, and most is directly educational (math games). Even when it's something like Mario, there are things to read and hand eye coordination, memory, etc.

magnetbabe said...

I think you are doing the right thing. I hate video games but if they help my kids learn and develop I'm not going to deny them that. The key (like others have said) is to moderate the time spent doing that. I don't know about that epilepsy business (sounds like scare tactics), I just don't want my kids zoned out ALL the time when they could be active outside or interacting with other people. Or learning the old fashioned way, with books!

trinamick said...

The epilepsy bit is actually true. A friend of mine couldn't play video games or it would send her into a seizure. In fact, she had a seizure when we saw Star Wars Episode I in the theater. No more action movies for her!

I can't play 3D video games because they make me sick. I'll stick to Pong and Mario Bros., thank you.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

This is the scare culture we live in, Scott.

If kids see someone shooting a prostitute in a computer game, they'll go out and do the same thing!!!!

In the same way that if they see an italian plumber chowing down on mushrooms and doubling in size, there is no doubt they will drop that gamecube, take evening classes in tradtional brass pipework repair and start munching fungi in the local park, attacking passing turtles in unprovoked outbursts.

The times they are a changin.

mcBlogger said...

My neighbours have christmas lights on their house that could be easily seen from space. I'm pretty sure they flash enough to cause seizures to those same few people you speak of. I have black out curtains for the holidays. haha

Toni Anderson said...

Well that is interesting. My hubby does a lot of surgery (on fish) and he loves Grand Theft Auto. It is a vice we hide behind the blinds LOL. But like yo he hasn't killed anybody yet.