Monday, June 29, 2009

What Is This Teaching Our Children?

That question's all over the place nowadays, it seems. People, even those without children, cannot approach an object or an idea without endlessly worrying about its effect on their offspring.

Picture this absurd scene:

A man sidles up to a public drinking fountain, eyeing it suspiciously. Suddenly, he stops. His jaw drops and his knees bend slightly. His index finger, levered outward and upward by his astonished arm, points accusingly at the refreshment-dispensing appliance.

"Behold!" he cries, "this abomination, lurking here against this very wall! Note its unnaturally reflective surface and its cold, utilitarian design! Is this what we want our children exposed to? With their soft, PlayDoh-like brains and their wondering eyes with the sleep crusties in them? For God's sake! They'll believe that water comes from metal boxes and not from Culligan men! Citizens; take up your sledgehammers and--!"

Well, you get the idea.

Very young children are, by nature, sticky little information sinks. It's their imperative to learn all they can about the world by listening to, touching, trying to eat and biting on everything they come across. This serves them well if there is a discerning adult around to steer them past things that lie or try to touch/eat/bite them back.

In those few cases where the adult is non-discerning or steers like a blindfolded moose with all four legs tied together, you end up with one of those people who still try to put everything in their mouths and are at great risk of winding up in a cult. (Interestingly, threatening them with a spanking or a time-out still has the same deterrent effect it does on a three-year-old, so there are advantages.)

So kids are stupid. But they were sort of born that way.

One of today's biggest (cause of; scapegoat for--pick one depending on viewpoint) excessive and chronic stupidity in the population at large is video games. It seems to me that the kid who blames a video game for "making" him bring a gun to school is giving a slightly more sophisticated version of the "he started it!" excuse; kids are liars. But that's a discussion for another time and another blog.

Pretend, if you will, that you are 11 years old again. Also, because it's funnier this way, pretend that you are very stupid; anything you see on TV, even if you're controlling the action yourself with a gamepad, is real. Garfield? Real. The Lucky Charms leprechaun? Real and creepy. Newt Gingrich? Infuriatingly real. The latest in console video games? Real and stunningly rendered.

Now that I have laid the groundwork, I would like to tell you my tragic tale. Kind time-wasters, I am not asking for your sympathy. I am merely putting this out there as a warning.

It was 1994. Rareware's Donkey Kong Country had been released to some fanfare, and after watching, wide-eyed, as my friend played it, I just had to have a copy for my own Super Nintendo console. Never before had I seen such realistic graphics. I had just barely avoided believing that Mario was real; right up until I saw a turtle with wings. Magic mushrooms and clouds with eyes were one thing, but I mean honestly now. You almost had me, Nintendo! Almost!

But Donkey Kong warped me. I believed every pixel of it. Fast-forward a year to my family vacation in Florida. We were out touring a swamp on one of those boats with the big fan in the back--I still don't know what they're called. We were all enjoying the ride and learning a lot from our guide about different types of mosquitoes, when I saw an alligator.

It was swimming toward our boat.

I was the only one who seemed to sense the danger we were in.

I acted.

Well, to make an R-rated story PG, I was in the hospital for three weeks because Donkey Kong Country taught me that you could kill alligators by jumping on them.

Lies. Filthy, lousy, 16-bit lies. No impact spangle; no exclamation of "og!" or "ugh!" from the alligator, and it did not fall off the screen when it was all over. It turned out to be foul-tempered and bitey.

I would like to leave you with a list of other video game lies for you to warn your children about. Think of it as a little assistance from The FooDaddy; some power steering.

  • Collecting a hundred pennies gives you an extra life, allowing you to start over if you fall off a cliff.
  • Stuff from Japan is cool.
  • Driving into and successfully avoiding oncoming traffic will give you "boost," which will make spiffy flames come out of your exhaust pipes.
  • Holding "Y" makes you run faster.
  • All soldiers hold their guns out at arm's length and swing it in a mild arc as they run.
  • Eating leaves or drinking Slim Fast can cure injuries (such as zombie bites).
  • As long as they're on your team, you can punch your friends all you want without hurting them.


  1. I like this. This is the game that I never got to play. I get to have a childhood that I never got to have.

  2. Likey post. LOLed at the part about soldiers in video games. They do look absurd, especially when they get stuck on objects about a foot high, like rocks or broken crates. And you have to kill yourself with a grenade to escape.

    As a side note, I Googled "the foodaddy" and it brought up this here blog! I thought that was spanky.


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