Editor’s note: Seems like a lot of gamers I know are coming across the very problem that Daniel brings up: How should you introduce your young children to video games? Perhaps no right answer exists, but read on for Daniel’s take — and some questions. -Greg
The recent birth of my son has sent my mind leaping into the future and wondering about the decisions I will have to make that will shape his outlook of the world. How will I explain religion to him? Will he accept my general abstaining from spirituality or will he start preaching to me? What kinds of questions will he ask me about sex, death, morality, and politics? Will either one of us be satisfied with my answers?
Then we have the matter of pop culture: Which Star Wars trilogy should he watch first? Who should be his first captain of the USS Enterprise? And whatever shall I do about video games?
It sounds silly to put pastimes on par with philosophical issues, but the reality is that all of this stuff is going to come up. Parents don’t get to choose what their kids will be into, but they certainly get a vote.
I was raised in a Jewish household, so Christmas has always felt foreign to me. My parents loved The Beatles, so I’ve always been more interested in their music (and their peers’) rather than Elvis’. Can I really say that one of these culture-defining choices had more of an impact on me than the other?
Of course, there is no direct relationship between what my parents supported and what I adopted. They both strongly encouraged me to read more books, so much so that I eventually rebelled out of spite.
They were fairly ambivalent concerning video games (never outright condemning them but not accepting them, either), but I embraced them and continue to hold them in high regard.
So where does that leave me and my son Go? I haven’t started playing music for him yet but I’ve been considering building him a playlist. Books are going to be important for his bilingual education; I wish there were a local library with a significant English collection but I don’t believe there is.
Movies will come later, I suppose, and we’ll just have to see what’s appropriate at that time. I can’t wait to take him to a movie theater for the first time. It’s just too bad there aren’t any cinemas here in Japan with gilded lobbies or curtains.
Video games are another story, for where do we begin? In my case, the Atari planted the seed, and the rise of arcades cultivated it. Over the years I played everything I could get my hands on and watched the medium evolve from abstract blocks and beeps to hand-drawn sprites to the advanced 3D models used today.
Should I try to simulate that experience for Go with a (condensed) journey through gaming history? Or should he jump in at the present level and start his journey with Pokemon or whatever the kids are into nowadays?
The catch here is that the road of video games is largely a one-way street, while that of other media is more timeless. I can read a 50-year-old or even a 100-year-old book and I should be able to comprehend it and potentially enjoy it at face value.
Likewise, when the time comes, Go should have little trouble understanding Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark even though they were made 30 years before he was born. But if Go even looks at a modern video game, how can he then pick up Super Mario Bros.?
The good news is that Japan offers me a lot of options in this matter. Arcades still exist in great quantities, and a number of them carry older games to appeal to older gamers. This country also houses a roaring retro-game market (which I wrote about earlier this week), so I could pick up an actual Famicom and a few of the classics to give Go his first taste in style. Of course, all three consoles have their share of downloadable versions of old games, to say nothing of emulators on the PC.
So what do you think? Should Go get the history-lesson approach to gaming or just ride the wave of high-resolution 21st century awesomeness? If so, is it worth picking up the authentic hardware to deliver the complete experience? Am I underestimating children by assuming they can’t simply go back and play old games once they get a taste of HD graphics and stereo sound? Are video games as timeless as films, books, or music?