When I was a youngster, growing up in Jim Thorpe, my family always had a favorite game that got played nearly every night after dinner. Parcheesi was the hot ticket for a long time. Later, we graduated to card games: 500 Rummy, then Pinochle. Video games, of course, didn't exist.
The forerunner of the video game was a Saturday morning kids' show called "Winky Dink." If your folks sent for a Winky Dink screen, you could help Winky battle evil. Here's how it worked: You plastered the plastic Winky screen onto the TV in the living room. Static electricity kept it up there, I guess. Then, when Winky needed help, you were ready with your crayons to give it. For instance, Winky might be chased to the edge of a fatal precipice. "Draw a bridge for Winky," a voice directed. You drew the bridge. Winky crossed it. "Quick, kids. Erase the bridge." You rubbed off the crayon with an old cloth and the pursuing villain was foiled. Not exactly "Grand Theft Auto."
The first video game I encountered was "Space Invaders." The game consoles first appeared in pubs. You fed the machine a couple of quarters. Soon little space ships were descending on your planet, while you used a joystick to move your gun back and forth at ground level, trying to blast the little buggers before they landed. This was all in black and white. The same was true for such successors as tennis and racquetball.
The first video game to enter my humble abode was "Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade." A tiny cartoon Indie reenacted the main episodes of the movie. Unfortunately, the version my son and I had on our computer was a bootlegged edition that we got for free from friends. It lacked the instruction manual. Without the booklet, we lacked the tips. Without the tips, our Indie always got creamed by a big Nazi guard in the Austrian castle that came up pretty early in the game. This got to be pretty frustrating and we soon stopped playing the game.
By the time Claire was old enough to play on the computer, "Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?" was the hot item around our place. Carmen roamed the world and Claire learned a lot of geography while trying to find her. PBS approved. So did her mom and I.
Our best friends have three sons. Growing up, they were addicted to video games. My wife Joanne, a reading teacher, and I shook our heads in disapproval. "They should be outside playing… or else inside with their noses in good books," we whispered to one another. Today, all three are highly successful computer programmers. Boy, did we call that one wrong!
Never mind that… I haven't played a video game since we retired "Carmen." I love my 27-inch iMac. I hug it every day. But I'd rather lose to my brother Leo in a brisk round of rummy than lose to my Mac at anything.
Aside from the aforementioned Carmen San Diego computer game, I never played video games. For whatever reason, it was something that I simply refused to do. I remember when my brother got Goldeneye - game based on James Bond, obviously, and the only video game I can clearly recall from my childhood - and begged me to play it with him. Heartlessly, I refused. It seemed like a huge waste of time to me.
It still does.
This was also before video games become realistic and ultra-violent.
I try not to judge gamers too harshly. After all, how can I judge what I absolutely do not understand? I know good people who play video games. Smart people. And yet, I have to wonder: what is the appeal in killing people?
Because let's be honest, that's the selling point of most of these games. Whether the goal is to steal a car, win a war, or defeat evil, the means is generally the same. You shoot people (okay, occasionally zombies, too). And that just isn't cool with me.
I know, I know, they aren't real people. Life doesn't necessarily imitate entertainment. There are probably a hundred more arguments in favor of video games (though what they are and whether or not they're convincing, I have no idea). I'm not blaming anything bad in the world on video games. But still.
I'm an outspoken liberal when it comes to most subjects, and I certainly don't believe in censorship, but you better believe that any children of mine won't be playing any game where faux-human blood splatters the TV screen on a regular basis. I don't care what you say, that just can't be good for kids. Sure, maybe a video game won't ruin their lives or turn them into gun-wielding psychopaths - but tell me, what good will it do?
Of course, I've been known to indulge in watching The Real Housewives of Orange County, so I suppose there really is no accounting for taste with my generation.