Jul 01, 2013

    Cross-gen geekdom hits Manic home

    THE Supportive Spouse bought a new MacBook Air recently, and so our seven-year-old inherited the aged laptop his dad had been using.

    In a way, that hand-me-down computer has been a lifesaver. During the just-concluded June school holidays, our son used it to play computer games online - keeping him out of our hair for a couple of hours a day.

    First, it was Minecraft, the block-shaped world "it" game of little and big males everywhere for a few years now.

    Then, it was Games Of Throne Ascent, a free strategy role-playing game (RPG) based on the hit fantasy series. Of late, it was a variety of side-scrolling hack-and-slash games on the Lego website, including one where your avatar wielded a light sabre in Star Wars.

    Father and son would sit side by side at their computers playing these games simultaneously, challenging each other's high scores or discussing gameplay. Occasionally, one would exclaim excitedly to the other about the weapons he's acquired or special attacks executed. In short, it was cross-generational geek heaven.

    Typing at my own laptop in the same room, I would roll my eyes. But I secretly wished that I was done with my work so that I could join them. It was such great bonding.

    Instead, I did the mum thing, and started worrying about how much computer time is too much for kids. An irony, seeing as how, in the late 1990s, I was so addicted to a certain Local Area Network (LAN) first-person shooter that I would skip lunch at my first job, take a bus to the nearest LAN gaming shop, play for 30 to 45 minutes, and then take the bus back to the office.

    Still, having had my brush with computer addiction, I'm mindful about helping my son keep his usage in check. Now that school has started again, the rule is that he can play computer games only on weekends. Even then, we haven't actually stipulated how many hours of game time he can have - something the Supportive Spouse and I need to discuss before making it clear to the boy.

    Frankly, I find all computer games educational, to varying degrees - even Angry Birds and silly shoot-em-ups. RPGs teach you to keep an eye on the big picture, to plan ahead, to multi-task, and crisis management when the enemies start to attack all at once. Action-adventure and fighting games test the mental reflexes and coordination (just try pressing A, B, Left, Down, Right, Up, Left, Left, Right, Right, Up, Down, Punch, Kick, Punch in the right order for secret powers; now, memorise 50 different permutations for the different characters).

    Angry Birds, if you don't already know by now, is a test of your knowledge of physics: angles, trajectory, mass (big red bird or small blue ones?), acceleration and force.

    My concerns about my kids' video/online gaming habits, however, are tied up with another issue: the need to read. Growing up in a house full of books, and with professional writers for parents, it'd be a travesty if my seven- and three-year-old boys do not read as much as they can. Computer games, I feel, eat into their free time for reading.

    My reasoning is that, if the boys have no computers or iGadgets, they would eventually be so bored that they will pick up a book. With adults who have already established a life-long love for the printed word, like me, it is easy to switch between computers and books.

    For kids who are still developing the habit, adding gaming to the equation might throw them off the path of embracing texts for entertainment and knowledge.

    The solution? To monitor and tweak the computer-book balance as we go along. If gaming proves all-consuming, I would distract them with other fruitful activities or even impose a computer moratorium.

    Meanwhile, I'm taking comfort in the fact that my elder son is expanding his vocabulary by playing games. You never know when words like "smithy" and "macemen" come in handy - for composition or just continued geekdom.