So today George Takei shared this photo
on Facebook, and it got me laughing because I totally
used to do that to my little sister when she wanted to play, because when you're little you're a right bastard. (She caught on pretty quickly, though. Damn you, swiftness of child development!)
But then I got kind of fascinated by the sheer number of sanctimonious people pitching a fit about Spending Quality Time With Kids in the comments. Normally I try to avoid comments sections, but sometimes I just can't help but look because you think, "There is no WAY someone is going to get angry about ... oh, my bad." I have a whole lot of opinions about well-rounded child development and parents who terrorize their kids with the Quality Time ideal and the values and drawbacks of video games ... but better folks than I have commented on those things.
Right now I want to address one aspect of video games that doesn't get mentioned very often. I'm not sure if that's because it's an experience unique to me (because I'm guessing it's not), but here's something you never see pointed out in these arguments: video games are an avenue for imaginative play.
Sure, they're no substitute for being outside--but neither is reading a book. You've got to just balance your interests. And when we were
in front of video games, my siblings and I treated them a lot like we treated, say, playing with Ponies or Legos or Transformers or any of our other toys. We invented elaborate scenarios and dialogues for the characters--Mario's trek over Dinosaur Land was filled with arguments with Luigi, chats with Yoshi,* football games, food fights, random phobias, and all-around silliness, projected by our imaginations onto levels where the goal was SUPPOSED to be just getting from the left side of the screen to the right side. We would make up explanations for some of the weirder in-game phenomena. We'd abuse the hell out of our onscreen avatars as they acted out something that was only funny because our added narrative made it so.
As for the idea that video games can't possibly allow for interaction with other people--PLEASE. All of us--me, my brother, and my sister, plus any friends sitting in that bare room with us watching the action--were actively engaged. One of us might be playing, but all of us were involved in the invention, character development, song composition (yes, really), and resulting entertainment centered around the screen.
And later on I wrote sweeping epics set in Super Mario World and Hyrule (which were in the same world, actually, so Mario and Link had crossover adventures, as they did with Donkey Kong and Star Fox and Megaman and the Pokémon). I got a lot of writing practice from video games. Hell, my breakthrough into writing conlangs came when I decided to write a sentence in "Yoshese" and realized that I'd have to give it a real structure and thought "... this is fun."
I think people who never grew up with video games don't see that. And that's understandable--from the outside, a kid reading a book doesn't look very engaged, either; they're just sitting there staring at a chunk of paper. You have to look at it from the kid's point of view. Anything--rag dolls, Lego bricks, ponies, aquarium beads, paper dolls, yarn, toy trains, American Girl dolls, the sticks and rocks those self-righteous people are so enamored of--ANYTHING can help foster imaginative play, if the kid knows how to use them right. And believe me, if there's one thing kids know, it's how to use their imaginations.
So shut up about the damn video games, already.
*I think this is specifically why I don't like full voice acting in video games--the most I prefer is the incidental Charles Martinet-type noises, because I am supplying my own dialogue.