February 04, 2012

All of the macro, none of the creep jacking

I often complain that my youngest son, With-a-Why, spends too much time playing computer games. Boy in Black always defends With-a-Why’s gaming habit, explaining it’s really not much different than what he experiences when he plays chess with a friend — he’s doing analytical thinking, he’s being strategic, he socializes with other players, he discusses the games with his brothers and friends, which is bonding. I get all that, and it’s true that my academically gifted son isn’t challenged by anything at school, but still, I worry.

“He’s really good at Starcraft II,” Boy in Black will say to me. “He’s made it to Masters. You should be proud.”

Despite Boy in Black’s reasoning, it drives me crazy to watch With-a-Why stare so intently at a computer screen. So I was pleased when I saw that he was using the behavior modification calendar his sister had given him. It’s in the living room right next to his laptop computer and I’ve watched him put stars on it every day. I figure the behavior modification chart will push him to spend time away from the computer. He gives himself a star for each hour of an activity he does.

“I read for three hours today,” he announced yesterday. That meant three green stars for him. I know he’s been giving himself a gold star for every hour of playing the piano, and a silver star for working out at the gym.

Last night my husband and I were leaving to go out to dinner just as Boy in Black arrived home for the weekend. “I need to work on my purple stars,” Boy in Black said to With-a-Why, grinning, as he unpacked his laptop computer. While everyone else in the country is moving to thinner, lighter laptops, Boy in Black has gone in the opposite direction. His laptop looks like the controls of a spaceship.

“I know,” said With-a-Why. “I’m falling behind. I haven’t had time.” He opened his laptop, pulling the little table it’s balanced on closer to the couch. I looked at him suspiciously.

“I got more than eight hours of sleep last night,” Boy in Black said to me. “I got a red star for going to bed before midnight.”

“For you, that’s a good goal,” I said. He rarely gets enough sleep. “What about the purple stars? What are they for?”

“Starcraft,” With-a-Why said, without looking up. He was already starting intently at the screen.

“Playing computer games?” I asked incredulously. “You’re giving yourselves stars for playing computer games? That’s one of your goals?”

“Of course,” said Boy in Black. “We’re building skills.” He grinned at me as he slid into place next to his little brother on the couch. “I’ve been slacking this week because of my research.”

“I’ll work on my Protoss while you work on your Zerg,” With-a-Why said to his brother, “I still need to get those forge fast expands down.”

“Just don’t rage quit when the roaches show up at your door,” Boy in Black replied.

“GG, N00BS,” I said as I left. It’s pretty much the only phrase of computer game speak that I know.


Nels Highberg said...

World of Warcraft reference?

jo(e) said...

It's a reference to Warcraft III, which they say is entirely different from World of Warcraft. They don't play WoW

With-a-Why: "WoW is an RPG, WCIII is an RTS (a skill game)."

Magpie said...

fascinating. have you read "reality is broken"? you might like it. it's oddly interesting, with a lot in it about playing computer games and why it's a good thing.

jo(e) said...

The title, which was suggested by my youngest son, who was sitting next to me while I wrote the post, is meant to show the contrast between Warcraft III and Starcraft II.

jo(e) said...

Magpie: I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list of books to read.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

My son loves computer games, too, and learns a ton from them... My fear is that he might forsake life for gaming -- that gaming might affect his life the way alcoholism affects some others. Every once in a while we let him binge on the computer and so far he's been able to recognize the lethargy and anger that result from it. Self-regulation: the key to adulthood : )

Zhoen said...

He could become a fabulous surgeon. Not joking at all. Hope he does something with a better lifestyle, but in terms of skill, it's not a bad achievement.

jo(e) said...

Zhoen: Yeah, he would make a good surgeon -- he's got the academic skills to get through med school easily -- but I don't know if that's on his list of goals.

jo(e) said...

Jennifer: Exactly. It's all a matter of balance.

Passerby said...

WHOA, if he's in Master league you really should be proud! Go kid!