“Brian, I don’t want you playing Nintendo longer than 30 minutes.” “You’ve already had enough screen time this week. Read a book.” “I don’t want you and your friend playing more than an hour. You need to spend some time outside.” These were all phrases used by my parents to motivate me to do things other than playing video games.
During most of my childhood, I wasn’t allowed to play video games on school days, and I could usually only play an hour or two on weekends. These strict rules began to change once I was 17, but by then, I had grown accustomed to thinking of video game-playtime as a reward.
Even though my parents limited my time with video games, I don’t think they intended to hurt me. Instead, they wanted to create an optimal future by exposing me to various activities. My parents saw video games as nothing more than a waste of time, so they had me involved in numerous extracurricular activities they believed would land me a job in addition to making me “well-rounded.”
Instead of digging through the recesses of my mind for negative comments my parents made towards video games, however, I would rather compare the effect extracurricular activities and video games had on my younger self. Read on to discover how video games, martial arts, and cello influenced the now legendary, Brian Shirk.
The Karate Kid With a Smidge of Taekwondo
At the young age of five, I was not only handed my first NES controller — I was also a new student at a relatively new dojo known as the Best Martial Arts Institute. There, I learned to do ten perfect push-ups every time I said the ‘Y-Word’ (aka ‘yeah’), and I also quickly learned to follow my sensei’s commands.
Unlike many Karate instructors, Sensei Best was determined to teach his students ethical behavior in addition to showing us how to defend ourselves. While most local dojos had their students breaking boards and performing spinning kicks, Sensei Best taught us the fundamentals and importance of “not using our skills outside the dojo except in the most extreme of circumstances.”
What I learned: Modesty and kindness, along with the added benefit of being able to protect myself and friends.
A Synthesis of Beethoven and Yo-Yo Ma
When my mom was young, she wanted to learn to play the piano, but she was very poor and lived in a town with limited opportunities. Since she missed out on potential stardom, she didn’t want her kids to share the same fate. Therefore, I became a pianist at the age of five.
I wouldn’t say that I was a talented pianist, but I played well enough to win a Junior Bach Festival competition in addition to receiving other awards. Despite these successes, however, I never enjoyed playing the piano. I felt that it was valuable in helping me develop music comprehension skills and perfect pitch, but playing the instrument felt like a chore. And it wasn’t exactly cool.
At the age of seven, I took up another instrument after hearing it at a summer music camp. I loved the sound of the cello, so I felt inspired to play that four-stringed beast that could also serve as a war club. My first cello teacher felt that I was quite talented, because I was able to memorize advanced pieces quickly and play them with feeling. As a result, I continued to enjoy playing the cello up until I changed instructors and started playing in an orchestra.
When I began playing in a local orchestra, it was exciting at first because of the diverse set of instruments, but my interest soon waned. This resulted from the snobbish atmosphere of my orchestra, its highly competitive nature and conductor favoritism, and I didn’t appreciate how band and orchestra were perceived by my peers. I began to detest it, and I rejoiced when I was finally able to quit after my last year of high school
What I learned: I gained an appreciation for various types of music, but grew to despise competition and egotistical individuals.
Playing With Balls
My dream as a naive elementary school student was to become a basketball player. I was obsessed with the NBA — I enjoyed watching Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon throw down the rock. I was also an avid basketball card collector who would play ball at any opportunity. Unfortunately, my Jordanesque ambitions were cut short as I decided to quit basketball due to time constraints and the increasingly large egos I’d encounter. It also didn’t help that I was short up until the end of high school.
With tennis, I had a little more success. I started playing during a week-long camp at my local YMCA and ended up having a great time. I made a best friend there — and we’d often have competitions to see who could hit the fuzzy yellow ball the farthest regardless of whether or not it landed on the green.
After my best friend quit, I began to lose interest in tennis, but I played competitively for awhile until my seasonal allergies got in the way. That and my involvement in Youth Symphony prevented me from continuing my short stint on the varsity tennis team.
What I learned: These sports were valuable to a certain degree — they kept me active, but they just didn’t appeal to me.
Bible Study With No Objectivity
Between 7th and 8th grade, I was involved in a two-year-long Lutheran church ordeal, called Confirmation. While there, I learned that Martin Luther was a wonderful man who changed the “corrupt nature of the Catholic Church.” I was also involved in Bible seminars where we discussed how God was justified in destroying Sodom and Gomorrah in addition to identifying Jesus’ second coming by studying the Book of Revelation.
As a middle school student, these weekly meetings were incredibly boring, but I didn’t notice my church’s complete lack of objectivity until years later. Unfortunately, my church withheld important details about Martin Luther such as him being an anti-Semite in addition to advocating the crushing of peasant rebellions. We also examined the Bible under the viewpoint that everything contained within was from God himself instead of a collection of writings from several authors.
What I learned: Reciting biblical passages and creeds over and over is more important than studying what is actually in the Bible.
And now we come to my favorite childhood activity: Boy Scouts. I was told that Boy Scouts would teach me how to be a great citizen in addition to learning wilderness survival skills, but it turned out to be a sham. While it was true that I learned certain aspects of citizenship and how to tie unusual knots, I also became aware of the intense bigotry and conformism central to that organization.
Certain Boy Scouts were kind, humanitarian individuals, but many of the Scouts I encountered would drop n-bombs and other racial slurs frequently. The racism in my troop quickly became evident after the only person who wasn’t white left after a month due to frequent harassment. I also witnessed numerous derogatory comments towards Asians when I was helping translate for Japanese Scouts during a summer camp. I could also go into the numerous personal attacks I received, but I’ll spare you what could potentially be a lengthy rant.
What I learned: I became increasingly aware of prejudice shown towards those who are “different.”
Reading Nudie Mags
I’ve “read” a porn mag before, but this subtitle is mostly a joke. Really though, I spent a lot of time reading — partly because of my childhood interest in fantasy novels and also due to my parents’ encouragement. From reading, I learned to use my imagination, and I also expanded my vocabulary — so much so that I could write my own dictionary if I wanted to (I wish).
What I learned: Frequent reading enabled me to comprehend a deluge of textbooks and made me patient enough to tolerate the boring literary works I’d encounter during high school.
The Vilest Form of Entertainment and Learning: Video Games
The other activities I was involved in clearly left me with a variety of positive and negative feelings. In some ways, these extracurricular activities benefited me, but I was also exposed to the dark side of humanity. Perhaps dealing with these issues in activities such as Boy Scouts allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for video games.
Video games are often portrayed as a form of entertainment that corrupts young minds and turns them into dysfunctional individuals, but my case suggests otherwise. When I played video games such as Super Mario World, I could have spent additional time playing sports, but it’s unlikely that the latter would have allowed me to recuperate from my other activities.
Super Mario World may not have increased my athleticism and reading comprehension, but it made me feel happy and content. When playing Super Mario World, I didn’t feel that I had to prove anything to anyone — I could just have a good time by utilizing my reflexes.
Likewise, playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was invaluable. I could have used my game-playing time for reading or solving jigsaw puzzles, but that was unnecessary because Zelda taught me to be unconventional. Zelda forced me to formulate strategies for defeating bosses and required me to travel between worlds to solve complex puzzles instead of clearly defining everything as occurred during school.
Games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Xenogears, and Chrono Cross were equally valuable, because they encouraged me to take up new subjects. Each of these games motivated me to examine the history of our world, its religions, and its philosophies.
Video games also helped me cope with my middle and high school struggles. Without these “brain-rotting Nintendo games,” I could have dropped out, been involved in criminal activities, or have sold drugs like my peers. Fortunately, the creative worlds of gaming convinced me that persevering was worthwhile. That’s not to say that my experiences with other activities were the opposite, but video games were the glue that held together the jumbled collage of my existence.