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My Second-Grader is Brainwashed by Zelda

A mom discovers that it takes a short time for video games to take over her son's imagination.

He’s only entering the second grade, and my son’s brain is already fried.

That is, he has discovered video games. My son, who in his younger years checked out book after book from the library on penguins, birds of prey and marine life, in addition to his fascination with the solar system and even eyeballs, has suddenly abandoned all reasonable conversation.

I could even handle the obsession with Lightning McQueen and Hot Wheels, and though I tried hard not to roll my eyes when he started talking nonstop Star Wars and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it was mostly interesting conversation.

We don’t even have a Wii or anything cool like that. My son is hooked on old-school Zelda, specifically the Ocarina of Time. His ridiculous concern with all things Zelda is so
bad that we had to ban all video game-related conversation at the dinner table just to get a break.

One low moment for my son was when, on the first day of summer vacation, he hit the hard reality of hearing me tell him that, no, summer did not mean endless video games. Just like during the school year, Link would have to make his appearance for a limited time on the weekend.

Maybe it’s because my siblings and I didn’t have much use for video games, beyond an initial fascination with Frogger when Atari was coming out. Or maybe it’s because my mom kicked us out the back door when we woke up and let us back in at dinnertime during summer vacation. My parents were serious about keeping us in the backyard: we even had an outdoor drinking fountain.

I know that some studies say that kids who play video games can increase their skills with problem-solving, decision-making and hand-eye coordination. But I am good at ignoring some studies. I ignore them because my in-home research panel has revealed that when video games are going too long, my kids’ eyes become bloodshot and everyone gets irritable. Especially me, from tripping over the cords snaking across my living room.

I know moms who wouldn’t dream of letting their kids play in the backyard without a parent outside, but allow unlimited television and video game time. I think turning off the games to send kids outside is good for them. It staves off the risk of developing obesity, which is more likely than whatever we fear might happen if they play outside by themselves.

Unstructured play with supervision from afar is also crucial, in my opinion, for strengthening of sibling relationships and allowing their imaginations to run wild.

I love the things I hear about when I am not in the backyard with my kids. Last year, I saw from the window that my two oldest kids were digging holes by the swing set. When I asked them about it later, their response was, “We’re digging little outhouses for the birds so they will stop going potty on the swing set.”

The in-home research panel thinks that was a good problem-solving exercise.

And I can’t write about video games without addressing the elements that just aren’t appropriate for kids. Even reasonably tame Zelda has a couple of ethereal characters that seem sexual in an indefinable way. Some video games not only incorporate scantily-clad female characters but also unnecessary violence. And we call this playing.

Right now much of my son’s backyard play involves a plastic sword and shield, which tells me that he is pretending to be Link even when he is not playing Zelda. But from my kitchen window where I fold laundry and supervise, I can see a healthy boy fighting an epic battle in his imagination. And I am sure he will try to tell me all about it at dinner.

Summer Stevens June 22, 2012 at 02:39 AM
I have to say without Zelda I wouldn't know where I'd be. It's graphics and fantastic story arks led me into writing and art. Now I'm a painter and an author, and Zelda inspired almost all of it. In addition it helped me discover what I love, and it's a very problem/puzel solving game. I think it's great your young boy is into old school games and ocarina of time is a classic. It inspired me to look into new things and if anything has expanded my mind. I doubt it fried your child's mind and just because he has found something new doesn't mean his past interests are gone. He has just added to them and expanded his mind to more things. I'm sorry if your child doesn't like to go outdoors because of it, but some people aren't outdoor type. Also of all the games out there nintendo ones such as zelda and mario are some of the best for younger minds; opposed to call of duty, and grand theft auto. With all due respect I think just because you don't personally do it or enjoy an activity you shouldn't take it from your child who does. Long live the triforce!
Summer Stevens June 22, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Oh one more thing Zelda IS FAR FROM INAPPROPRIATE! There are no revealing outfits, no suggestive dialog (as I writer the dialog often is well written for the character and time period the games are pretending to take place in. I have to admire the character design and build too.) there is no guns or blood and no killing. Also just future advise this is in no way an attack on you but I think when you write something you must research and study it. It seems to me although your son may tell you about it you have little knowledge of the multi-billion dollars franchiese of video games or nintendo or even zelda itself in particular. Please don't say or act out of ignorance to no fault of your own, know the subject your writing about inside and out.
Nicholas Alexander Jabbour June 22, 2012 at 12:49 PM
All I can say is that my parents had similarly ridiculous boundaries and superstitions about video games, and it actually became a self-fulfilling prophecy of the video game addiction they were so desperately afraid of. When i was little, my parents set a limit where I could only play 20 minutes each on Friday and Saturday (which is ridiculous, since you can't even get from one save point to the next in many games with such little time). This continued from when I first played video games at age 5, up until I was 15 or 16. Over the course of that decade, they tried to crush the supposed "addiction" I had as hard as possible. Every tiny slipup or mistake I made was an excuse to ground me from gaming, anytime I mentioned video games when not playing them or showed enjoyment while playing was a sign of "addiction", and games were the scapegoat for any minuscule behavior they disapproved of. Here's the scary part... as the years went on, I actually BECAME addicted because their boundaries were so strict. My controlling parents did everything they could to choke video games out of me, that it only made me obsessed. I was hardly allowed to play, and I had to alter my behavior around them just to "keep them happy." Then, 1 day, my parents decided I was a "lost cause" and stopped caring. And guess what? Over the next month, I calmed down and became stable. And I started playing in a disciplined manner, only about an hour or so a day. Coincidence? Highly unlikely.
Nicholas Alexander Jabbour June 22, 2012 at 01:30 PM
"May the way of the Hero lead to the Triforce." ...And may the that Triforce grant COURAGE to find a woman of WISDOM and together destroy the POWER of evil in the world! :-D
Johannes Offenjor June 23, 2012 at 07:32 AM
Right, I'm not going to leave a long drawn out comment about how this article is BS and how, quite frankly, stupid the mother is for thinking this. Instead, I'm going to give you some ideas of how PROUD you should be of your son. I am 13. A VAST majority of my vocabulary came from ZELDA! It is a long game, and frankly you should be EXTREMELY proud of your son if he is only in the second grade and can play through an entire zelda game WITHOUT help. OoT isn't an easy game! I think you really need to wise up and stop him reading stuff life Wimpy Kid! Frankly, If this kid can cope with long zelda games he is likely far more intelligent than his grade 2 peers and you need to stop being so... well.... stupid! Video games are an OUTLET for imagination! Let the kid have his fun! Maybe if he was close to an important exam and MUCH older, but 2nd grade!?! Honestly, this is ridiculous!

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