You should rage-quit while you’re ahead

Posted 9/11/20

Growing up, my parents actively discouraged me from playing video games … until the Nintendo Wii arrived. This new gadget allowed players to exercise while playing innocuous virtual games like …

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You should rage-quit while you’re ahead

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Growing up, my parents actively discouraged me from playing video games … until the Nintendo Wii arrived. This new gadget allowed players to exercise while playing innocuous virtual games like tennis, boxing and baseball. (Although truth be told, my mother got very real tennis elbow from Wii tennis.)

My parents assert that most video games are too violent, and they aren’t alone. Parents of millennials were highly likely to rail against video games such as “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto.” Their argument was that players would mimic these characters’ explicit behavior in real life. Rest assured that “Angry Birds” did not cause my teenage angst, just like “Dance Dance Revolution” did not prepare me for middle school dances.

My first permissible role-playing game (RPG) was Hasbro’s “Dream Life,” which the company aimed specifically at preteen girls. As the main character, you could buy new clothes, get a makeover and choose your crush. You earned points by becoming popular. It comes as no surprise that 1) the game gave me unrealistic expectations for middle school, and 2) Hasbro eventually discontinued it.

Nowadays, I have access to tons of video games and consoles courtesy of my boyfriend, who grew up playing dozens of typical games from the ’90s and the aughts. He has developed stronger gamer logic than me, which means that when we both play a new game, he can figure it out more intuitively. He knows how to jump, dodge and move through an area without having to constantly look down at the controller. He has better reflexes, too, which I attribute to thousands of virtual boss fights.

Moral panic is pretty standard when it comes to each decade’s trends. Consider public reactions to ’50s television programs, ’70s punk music and the ’90s hip-hop scene. If the 2010s moral panic was over video games, this decade’s panic could easily be screen time. After all, video games walked so that interactive phone apps could crawl.

Video games’ influence can be noticed in our current digital strategies. I recently sat in a webinar about how to bring gamification — using tactics like point values and rankings as incentives — into volunteer management. Grade schools and universities have also used gamification to encourage students to complete lessons. I could see this year’s average increased screen time similarly influencing future program design.

Parents of young children are trying to limit screen time as it begins to surround their lives — from classes, to after-school activities, to virtual playdates. I appreciate the New York Times’ contrasting stance from the middle of stay-at-home: “Like all tools, our new tech tools just have to be used with proper care, attention and responsibility. Rather than solely relying on ‘the stick’ of lockdowns, quarantines and curfews to enforce physical distance, the internet and online games provide much-needed ‘carrots.’”

When I get ready to raise children in the digital age, I’ll probably look deeper into the effects of too much screen time. For now, I plan to tell my future kids about the glory days when I was top-ranked in Nintendo’s “Arms.” They will probably react in the same apathetic way I did when my dad said he was a pinball wizard.

Rachel Horowitz resides in Chatham County and works in Pittsboro. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.


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