Sunday, July 8, 2012

Polar Plunge

At some point, almost every child has a well-meaning adult pull him aside and warn him of the dangers of video games. As a child who grew up playing Zelda and Mario Brothers (at my friends’ houses, because we didn’t have a Nintendo...or a microwave for that matter) I’ve heard the warnings about kids whose eyes were stuck open from staring at screens for too long or whose fingers bled from pushing the jump button too many times. None of us thought video games could really hurt us though.

As a parent, I’m trying to take a moderate view on video games. So far my stance can be summed up this way: No video game shall ever enter my house or be played by my children under any circumstances. See what I mean by moderate? Today, however, I decided to relax my rules a bit and let my six-year-old try a computer game. I made my way to a website that has dozens of free, supposedly educational children’s video games, where I chose “Penguin Drop” because it had a cool picture of a penguin wearing a parachute. I figured there was probably even some math lesson in there somewhere.

Imagine my bewilderment, then, when the game loaded and a polar bear appeared sitting on an iceberg with a cannon pointed at the sky and a pile of little frozen cannonballs next to him. Then, as you may have already guessed, the penguins (wearing parachutes) began to drop. At first, my son (who apparently does not know how a polar bear would normally respond if penguin paratroopers began landing on his ice floe) just watched. Once three penguins landed with the polar bear, the digital ice broke, and the game was over.

“What am I supposed to do, Daddy?”
“I think you’re supposed to shoot the penguins.”

So the second time, I helped him by aiming the cannon with the arrow keys, while he pushed the space bar to blast the invading penguins from the sky. I have to admit the game grew on me quickly. I raced to swivel the polar bear’s armaments across the horizon while my son pounded the space bar. Soon, however, I realized a few important things:

1. Penguins and Polar Bears don’t actually live anywhere near each other.
2. If they did, the phenomenon I was watching would be blamed on global warming
3. There was no math, reading, or anything else remotely educational about the game.
4. The game was a lot like space invaders.
5. I would have a much better chance of winning without a six-year-old at the trigger.

So I let my son clear the air a few more times, and then sent him off to bed. An hour later, my eyes were dry from staring at the screen, sores were forming on my fingertips, and I could actually feel my IQ dropping. But there were a whole bunch of penguins dropping too. I’m sure my son will ask to play again soon. Next time, I get the space bar. 

I probably shouldn't be surprised that he likes defending the iceberg against penguins