Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Video Games: the end of innocence

My five year-old son has never played video games. It wasn’t because I took a hard line against them at all, but just because he somehow never seemed to discover that they exist (this happens with firstborns – they can cruise around in a state of sweet, sheltered oblivion whereas their little siblings know all about Miley Cirus and Sponge Bob Square Pants before they can walk and talk). Primo’s sweet oblivion ended, though, when my good friend and sometime gamer, Clarice, came over, and corrupted my Adam of a son by handing him the forbidden apple of gaming.

What I am trying to say is my kid’s become a video game junkie. His fall was fast and irreversible, I fear. And his poison? Plants Vs Zombies.

The game works like this: zombies lurch across your front lawn, trying to get into your house, and in order to stop them you have to plant sunflowers, which is turn generate suns, which, when collected, give you points. When you reach 100 points, you have enough for a weapon with which to fight the zombies – these include peashooters, whose flying peas knock the zombies’ heads off, cherry bombs which annihilate a whole gaggle of zombies and other weapons of mass zombie destruction crafted from fruits and vegetables. The better you get at fighting them, the more zombies come at you, and the more quickly they run, so that inevitably, even your arsenal of peashooters and potato explosives are not enough to stop them from entering you front door and eating your brains.

Yes, eating your brains. That’s what happens at the end of this video game.

Clarice told Primo about it because she and her husband were playing it at home, and she knows he loves all things spooky so she pegged him for a zombie-appreciator. That’s putting it mildly.

Whenever there’s a free moment, the kid is begging to play this game, while I, a gaming innocent, am desperately trying to institute some reasonable limits. We started with 10 minutes after his homework is done, instead of watching TV but then he’d wake in the morning desperate to resume his zombie-busting campaign, so he’s been getting 10 minutes in the AM, too, instead of TV. This was all well and good until David told him that if he got enough points for going to bed without a balls-out shit fit, he could get the app on his iTouch. Good incentive it was: only trouble is, the game has now become mobile.

It’s not even just the game he loves, but the whole world of the game. Last night, he shirked his post-homework TV show just to perfect his illustrations of the zombie characters, and when he went to bed, he begged me to print out a picture of them to keep by his bedtime. To give him good dreams. Because everyone knows that a brain-eating bloodthirsty zombie is better than a dream catcher to prevent nightmares.

The worst part is. as a new convert to this game, he seeks to convert others, so whenever a friend comes over, he begs me to let them play. I don't know what the rules are about this stuff, but I don't let my kids watch TV at playdates so it seems like video games should be out of the question as well. Primo, though, goes apoplectic with this refusal: he just wants to SHOW them, he begs, he just wants them to have a glimpse into the life-changing experience which is Plants vz Zombies.

"Just for a minute!" he begs, "Just so they can see the cherry bombs! I won't let the zombies eat our brains - I promise!"

Then I try to explain that this game might be a bit scary for some 5 year-olds, and a touch violent for their parents' tastes. Moreover (and this I consider silently) its the beginning of a new year of school, we're all just getting to know each other. I can't risk Primo getting pegged as the blood-lusting kid whose mom indulges him in overly-mature video games, especially when its a huge deviation from the way we normally roll. The most mature material we allow on TV is Curious George and Primo's such a softie he wouldn't dole out a karate chop on the playground last year even when I begged him to defend himself from a gang of bullies.

So, our compromise has been that I'll email the mom of the child in question with a link to the game, so she can preview it and lend her blessing. Which means I've somehow become a grassroots promoter of this game, the which I'll continue here by giving you the link too.

Good luck fending off the zombies and zombie-loving children.