Owen really, really, REALLY likes video games. He went through a massive Minecraft phase a while ago, which I justified was okay because it was actually teaching him life skills and he was creating things, and, in survival mode, was eliminating ghosts and zombies, which aren’t real.
But now his activity of choice is Roblox on the computer, which is essentially a site with a bunch of crowdsource-developed games. Some of these games are pretty neat. But really, he spends most of his time playing Murder Mystery or Assassin or some tycoon game where he has to amass the most wealth in a short period of time.
I can’t overstate how ambivalent I am about it all.
On one hand, who am I to dictate what my kid does with his free time? And he loves it – enough that he tells me stories about what he’s doing and how he’s made another level and how much he loves that he got a radio in one of his games. I love that he’s found something that challenges him and sparks his imagination and excitement.
But he gets sucked in, to the point where, left to his own devices, he’ll play for HOURS without a break, and we have to force him to do actual human things like use the bathroom or eat or OMG JUST GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY BEFORE YOU TURN INTO THE ZOMBIE OF COMPUTER DOOM.
Then I remember when I was a kid, and I spent my summers in my room with books, getting sucked into them and not wanting to stop, my parents coming in my room and telling me I needed to eat lunch or go to bed or to just take a break, because geez, Karen, it’s summer! GO OUT AND PLAY.
So clearly I had similar focus, except with books.
Still, though, I worry about the other people in this game. Roblox isn’t great with the parental controls – you can designate him as being under 13 and turn off the overall chat function and make people friend request him in order to chat. But in every game, there’s a chat function where you can talk with the other people playing the game, even if you’re not friends. And that can’t be turned off.
We have told him that he needs to tell us if he wants to accept a friend request of someone he doesn’t know, so we can show him how to verify it’s a real person, at least, instead of a marketing bot, and if someone starts chatting with him that feels like a tricky person, not to respond, and NEVER, EVER, EVER tell someone on the computer you don’t know your address.
But then I look at my own life, and I feel like a total hypocrite. I met two of my very closest friends through the computer. I have received and sent dozens of things to people I only know through the computer over the past decade. I have met up with people I only know through the computer on vacation.
Not every person on the internet is a stalker or pedophile. I know this.
But you guys, this is my KID we’re talking about.
And then there’s the fact that he’s playing games which require him to kill or be killed, or focus on amassing a lot of money any way he can (if that means stealing, so be it). It goes against our family rule: we don’t hurt things or people. And I don’t have the words to tell you the depth of my worry that the act of killing people in a game when he’s 9 will somehow escalate over the years.
This fear keeps me up at night.
But mom, it’s a GAME. It’s not REAL! I’m not hurting anyone. It’s pretend.
Which is true. For him, the games represent imaginary play, which is so important. And outside of the computer, he’s well-liked and kind and loves our dog and kittens and still cries whenever I yell and loves baseball and soccer and is super loyal to his best friend and takes care of younger kids and really likes to swim.
He’s a good, intelligent, kind, fairly-well adjusted, curious kid.
Playing a game of Assassin on the computer won’t turn him into a monster. I hope anyway.
It would be so much easier if he loved books.