The Devil's glass
I thought I would be the cool dad playing video games with my kid. Turns out I want to go back to the 80s.
Having children makes you different in a lot of ways. You’re basically the same, of course, but you lose an awful lot of rest and spare time and I guess the constant barrage of criticism (I hate this food, I don’t want to go to bed, why can’t I draw on the walls you fascist) changes you for the worse. I still feel like an autonomous human with thoughts and feelings, there’s just a lot of responsibility and worry. Maybe it wasn’t such a huge change for me because a decade ago I started a company and had employees so I was already used to lying awake and fretting, slowly turning into a dull and overwhelmed husk of my former self. Yay for preparedness!
Anyway. The eldest is turning seven this summer. All of his friends have iPads, some even have smartphones, and I’m going to resist that shit for however long I can get away with it. My kids watch some TV on Fridays and weekends (and they get to watch a whole bunch more if they’re home sick). They also both have very generous access to audiobooks that I pick out and play on their bluetooth headphones. But the rest of the time? It’s like the 1800s in here. I will not let the Devil’s glass window into my home until circumstances absolutely force me to.
And yeah, it feels weird. It’s very much NOT what I envisioned the future to be like.
It will come as a surprise to nobody that computers and video games were absolutely magnetic to me as a kid. My wishlist every Christmas from nine or so was topped by “Commodore 64”, later changed to “Commodore Amiga” and it wasn’t until I was twelve that my parents finally caved and got us one. That computer went on to define my personality and career in a pretty definitive way. Looking back on it, the timing was pretty good. I got to spend my early childhood outside, biking around with friends and exploring.
As a Xennial nerd I comfortably straddle the digital divide that a lot of my contemporaries struggle with. I learned to program as a young boy. I had to fight my operating system to provide enough memory in order to start programs, I had to understand how a CD-ROM driver gets loaded, I had to fiddle with the registry, and I had to find creative ways to defeat copy protection.
In short: being into video games in those days gave me life skills. It also gave me scars, because while it’s easy to forget today, there was a pretty hefty social cost to liking computers too much in the 90s. It… built character, maybe? I don’t know. It was the price of admission, and definitely a part I could have gone without. Probably a blog post of its own.
Being into video games today, though, in the year of our lord 2023? It entails clicking a colorful icon and then having soulless A/B-tested dopamine shot directly into your fucking eyeballs by billionaire warlords and their minions. Your time with these monstrosities is wasted rather than spent. I still play video games ‒ my drug of choice is Rocket League, where I’ve racked up 500 hours since 2016 (ranked Diamond 2, by the way, and pretty happy with that) which works out to about an hour and a half each week. That’s a healthy amount, I think.
Because these days, like most people, I play to forget. It’s hard to worry about all the grown-up bullshit going on in your life while going for a perfect half-flip rotation. I’ve decided that some gaming is okay, just like a glass of wine is okay. I will sometimes pour myself a whiskey on a regular Wednesday and sit brooding like a 50s salaryman while looking out over the ocean. And everything in moderation including moderation, which means it’s also fine to go on the occasional bender with friends. I know what I’m getting into.
My kids, though? No way. Absolutely not.
Won’t somebody think of the children
Just like I wouldn’t give them a bong or a fridge full of beer and slap them on the back, I’m not going to give them an iPad and let them go nuts. I get that it means a lot less work for you, the parent, because the children will be lost in their device for hours at a time, but let’s be very clear: you signed up for that work. Just like you’re on the hook for providing them food and shelter and making sure their teeth are brushed, you’re on the hook for guiding them towards being well-rounded individuals with good imagination and healthy coping skills.
Complete prohibition won’t work, of course. They will be introduced to iDevices and gaming consoles, but in good time and in an appropriate dosage. The thing you have to remember is that these products are designed for MAXIMUM ENGAGEMENT and aimed at people who have been jaded and corrupted by years of dopamine addiction. It’s not something you should just put in your child’s hands. SMBC said it well:
It’s up to me to make sure they get to the Goldilocks Zone of just enough, so they won’t overdose when they get more freedom. It’s a hard balance to strike correctly. I don’t know if I’m screwing it up or if I’m doing it right, and there’s no way to know until it’s years and years too late.
The worries you take on as a parent are very real, and very grounded. I worry that they won’t have enough friends, I worry that they won’t do well in school, I worry that they’ll fall in with the wrong crowd. There are so many ways that a young life can go off the rails. And the only way you can combat it is to send them into life armed with thoughtfulness, empathy, interpersonal skills, and imagination. YouTube, TikTok, and Roblox won’t give you that.
There will be no iPad in this home.