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Big threat in a small box

by Steve McClure

I’m sure I speak for many parents out there who have had to deal with a threat to their children’s mental and physical well-being more terrifying than television, more pernicious than pornography and more insidious than ijime.

I speak, of course, of the frightening phenomenon known as Game Boy.

This seemingly innocuous “toy” is capable of reducing a happy, active child to the state of a robotic zombie faster than you can say “Donkey Kong.” In its defense, one could say that playing Game Boy is at least interactive, unlike TV. But most kids, at least in my experience, get bored with TV after a while, whereas with Game Boy, the situation is more like those laboratory rats that will keep consuming cocaine and ignoring food as long as those running the experiment keep them supplied with the drug.

“Ryan, come to dinner!” my wife and I will call out. No response from said 7-year-old. He is transfixed by the dread GB, eyes not so much staring at the ridiculously tiny LCD screen as merging with it.

He’s at it first thing in the morning. Even Cartoon Network, the previous mind candy of choice, has been ditched in favor of Game Boy. If I’m at home when he comes back from school, I hide the bloody thing until he does his homework and has at least a modicum of conversation with his male parental unit.

You will gather from all this that I am not absolutely enamored of Game Boy and will no doubt wonder why on earth my wife and I allowed Ryan to have one of the blasted devices. A very legitimate point, and one I shall answer by pleading weakness in the face of that most powerful and implacable force: peer pressure. Almost all his friends have Game Boys, and without one, Ryan felt left out of the group. Sound familiar to you parents out there? I thought so.

I’ve watched Ryan’s friends play with their Game Boys, and I have to say that a roomful of otherwise healthy, active children staring at the machine’s screen as if demonically possessed unnerves me. We read so much about how the physical abilities and strength of Japanese kids are on the decline, and surely this type of behavior is one of the causes.

My family and I recently had dinner with Lenny Kaye, guitarist/songwriter with the Patti Smith Group. After asking Lenny various questions about the vagaries of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, Ryan told him that he wanted a Game Boy very badly. Lenny answered by saying that video games are OK because they help develop hand-eye coordination.

But Lenny — whose advice I take seriously, since he’s a parent, besides being a rock god — also pointed out that you should divide your time evenly between playing Game Boy and reading books (and, I should add, playing outside in the fresh air and sunshine — remember that, kids?). I’d said the same thing to Ryan time and again, but I guess it carried more weight coming from an outside source like Lenny. Ryan assented, but — surprise, surprise! — it’s proving difficult to achieve such a harmonious and well-balanced regime.

My criticism of Ryan’s infatuation (which is really too mild a term — how about obsession?) with Game Boy is tempered by the fact that I used to be addicted to Doom, one of the most violent, vicious video games around. I even looked up cheat codes on the Internet. And Ryan knows this. Oh, dear. Such parental hypocrisy.

I suppose my best hope at this point is that Ryan will soon reach saturation point with Game Boy, just as I did with Doom. At which point we’ll both be ready for a healthier leisure-time activity, such as trainspotting or clay-pigeon shooting.