I have to preface this by saying I don't "get" video games. I don't play them myself. Not since my dad and I conquered Myst anyway. If I'm going to sit down and stare at a screen for two hours I at least want to have a blog post to show for it.
I have heard plenty of different takes on video games in good, Catholic homes. I always fell out on the side of "we don't need that in our house." But, as you can see, I've come around (some).
When the Wii was new and people were impatiently waiting on Best Buy lists to get them, our Uncle Bill used his keen trader instincts to wander into a little electronics store and wander out with four of them. He sold two for a tidy profit, kept one for himself, and sent the last one our way.
The kids were ecstatic. I was worried. I hated (and still do hate) the phenomenon of my rambunctious, energetic kids reduced to slack-jawed, zombie-children by video games, cartoons, or the E*Trade baby. But, I'm not one to look a gift video game console in the disc slot, so we decided to give it a whirl.
And I have to say, I still kinda hate it. But it gets to stay, and here's why.
- The kids enjoy it. I am frustrated by the fact that they rarely look like they are enjoying it <zombie-stare, wrist-flick, wrist-flick> but they say it's their favorite thing ever. So I will take them at their word.
- They can learn temperance. God put us here. In this place. In this time. In this environment. And he did it purposefully. I love old-timey, but I also love here and now, and we try to avoid sheltering our children completely from the culture. There is plenty of good to be found if you're willing to sift through all the rubbish. I want my children to be able to discern good entertainment from bad. I want them to learn to use their time wisely and choose recreation appropriately. Video games can help us do that.
- They are forced to enjoy each other's company. At our house kids are not allowed to use screens alone. We only have one TV and one desktop computer, so it's partially just logistics. But I also think it's important to be required every time to go through the steps of finding someone to play with, then agreeing on what to play, then swallowing your frustration as your little brother's Lego Short Round falls off of the rope bridge and gets exploded into Lego bits by the alligators AGAIN, just as your Indiana Jones finally gets the airplane going. Because, in this house, if you shout "HEEEEEEY!" or "C'MON!" or "Bob-BEE!" the Wii turns off and you go outside. Period.
- It affords occasional whole family fun. I must admit that I personally enjoy playing the Wii way more than I ever thought possible. Not so much that I would ever voluntarily do it. But when forcibly conscripted into participation, I have enjoyed our family Wii tennis and boxing and bowling tournaments. It doesn't require any extraordinary thumbing skills. We have played in groups of three generations and everyone can do it and enjoy it. Our new Disney Dance Party game (thanks Uncle pat and Aunt Brie!) was a great way to spend New Year's Eve with the kids.
- It is something with which to threaten them. This one is the kicker. The other reasons are more important, but this is the one that really keeps the thing in my house. My standard rule is no video games unless it's dark, raining, over 100 degrees, or a feast day (Sundays count). The kids are not allowed to even ask me about the Wii until all school work, chores, and music practices are completed. My dearest hope is to train these children to do those things without being asked. We are short of that lofty goal. But the Wii has proved again and again to be an excellent motivator. And it's also my go-to punishment. It's hard to ground my homeschooled kids. They really don't go anywhere non-essential. I would rather just give up on their moral upbringing all together than confine them to the house. So how to punish them when you need something that stings in a lingering and memorable way? Screens. If you don't give them stuff how can you take stuff away from them?
I don't have much experience with video game consoles other than the Wii. But I would highly recommend a system with at least the option to make your kids move around some while they're playing. If you have the right game in, you can really get a workout playing the Wii. My parents have an Xbox kinect, which also gets you moving.
There are plenty of games that would not be welcome in our house, but there are also are plenty of cute, fun, and funny games out there for kids to play.
Some of our favorites are (clicking the link will take you to Amazon) . . .
- Just Dance: Disney Party It's a silly game, but grown-ups and even boys in my house have been sucked into it. There are separate sections featuring Classic Disney and Disney Channel, which is nice because if I'm already putting up with video games I probably can't handle Hannah Montana too.
- Wii Sports This one came with our console, lo these many years. But we still play with it. On rainy days I let my kids do WII PE. The boxing matches are hilarious.
- LEGO Lord of the Rings All the Lego Wii games actually. We've got Batman, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones too. The games are challenging for the kids and adults in my house and have a really cute sense of humor. For instance, when a character "dies" he just explodes into a bunch of Lego parts, then regenerates. It cracks me up every time.
So, I definitely had concerns about letting video games in even a little, for fear that they would take over my family's life. I did NOT want to be the family with a teenager playing a DS during a wedding, or a grade-schooler watching cartoons on an iPad at a restaurant, or a toddler playing on a smartphone in a shopping cart.
But I realized that if I fear a problem, I need to address the problem. I need to be a parent. I need to set appropriate boundaries and guidelines. I want to avoid shielding my children to the point that I deprive them of opportunities to learn and grow and strengthen virtues.
So that's why we have a Wii. How about you? Are you forum or aginnum? Are you aware of any really good games I don't know about. I'd say the ones I've listed qualify as morally neutral.