Something I see a lot at the desk of the library — all the time, really — is parents looking for something for their kid to read “to get them to put down the video games.”
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t get it. I’m actually on board with all the “get kids to go play outside dammit” advice that you see on every mommy blog that your friends repost to facebook with comments like “things weren’t like this when I was a kid!!!” without a shred of irony attached to the fact that the mother doing the blogging spends at least half her day online promoting her brand. And if kids are truly doing nothing but playing video games, then yes, I bet we can find them an engaging story that they’ll want to read just as much as they want to play.
But it often starts to fall apart after that. The goal, it seems, is not to engage the child in question with more hobbies that they are invested in, but to get them to stop the one that the parent doesn’t understand. It isn’t that the child is spending too much time playing games, but that the parent thinks the activity is worthless regardless of how much time is spent on it. And I just want to pick them up and shake them and explain to them that some of the most compelling storytelling I’ve ever experienced was in games, and that the same experience wouldn’t be possible in any other type of media.
I didn’t have a game system growing up. My mom didn’t like video games. I was lucky enough to have an enormous backyard and an insatiable love of reading, keeping me happy and entertained for just as long, but when given the opportunity to play a game — a borrowed gameboy at recess, Crash Bandicoot in the basement of the house we stayed in that time we went to Lake Tahoe to surprise my grandparents — I leapt for it.
I didn’t really notice that pattern in myself until after college, when I first got into games regularly. Finally having my own computer gave me the chance to play my own games. Unfortunately I also for the first time had my own boyfriend who taught me the games, and, friends, he wasn’t great at it. The teaching, I mean. He was great at the games. He showed me.
The point is, I have always been interested in games, but until I got to college I didn’t have the opportunity to engage with that interest on my own terms — it was always at friends’ houses, or in that one vacation house basement with the playstation. And I think about all the stories and experiences that I missed out on because of that. It’s not to say that kids should all be given every game system and free reign of the TV all day. I get it! No one plays outside anymore, and it’s a shame! Go lick a tree or something! But I know that there were stories that I could have used as a kid, in games, that I never got the chance to play through. And there are games that I could have played and loved as a kid that I just don’t have time for as an adult. I wish I could have done more with games when I was a kid. I think my life would have been richer for it.
And I want to ask those parents, what if your kid never ever read a book? What if they never had the chance to read a single book in their lives? Just a whole branch of media a closed door to them. What would that be like?