Monday, December 23, 2013

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What If My Son Grows Up To Be A Video Game Nerd?


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Part I

Tristan attended a charter school about 10 miles away from our apartment, in an even smaller Oregon town than the one we lived in. There was a bus that picked up students for the charter school at Home Depot, about two miles from our apartment. Usually Mel took Tristan to the bus around 6:30AM. However, she was one month pregnant and one morning she wasn’t feeling too good, so I offered to take the morning off.
Normally I was heading to work a good hour before my family was up, so it was unusual to step from my bedroom and see Tristan already awake, sitting on the sofa in his Skylanders Underwear, short white legs folded beneath his butt, bald round head gazing down and encased in blue light, playing Plants Vs. Zombies on the iPad. It was still dark outside and all the lights were off. The living room had an eerie blue green glow to it and all I could hear was the sound of moaning zombies munching on plants accompanied by a haunting soundtrack. It was not the way I usually started the day, but it was not unexpected, either. Tristan, who was six, had a video game problem. In fact, I would go as far as to say that he was addicted. 

Plants Vs. Zombies

“Good morning, Gooey,” I said.
Tristan’s nickname was Tristan Gooey Mac Flip Edwards, a name he received off a box of Mac and Cheese. It went through a few variations (Gooey Mac, Mac, Mac-magooey…) but eventually was shortened to simply, Gooey.
“You need to get ready for school,” I said.
“I’m playing a game, Dad,” he said, with authority and reason. He said it like it was a concrete argument for not doing what he should be doing, same as when someone in my office says, “I’ll be there in a minute. I just need to finish this email,” or “I’m on the phone with a student. I might be a little late to the meeting.” He said it like what ever he was doing was very important and couldn’t be disturbed.
“Game time is over, dude,” I said. “You need to get dressed.”
He didn’t respond.
“Close the game,” I said. “We need to get to the bus. I don’t want to have to drive you to school.”
Nothing. He acted like I wasn’t even there, speaking directly to him. I snapped my fingers.
“Hello! Hello! Shut off the game.”
Tristan looked up at me in a daze, like I’d just woken from a deep sleep.
“What?”
“Holly crap, Tristan. I told you to get ready for school.”
“Oh yeah,” He said. “I forgot. Just let me finish this game.”
“You forgot! You forgot! Seriously? It was two minutes ago. How could you forget?"
No response. The zombies had already, once again, hypnotized him.
I reached out and ripped the iPad from his hands. “Give me that,” I said. 
He stood and reached for it, but I held the iPad out of his grasp. His right hand started to shake, his gaming hand, and his soft pudgy face went slack. His eyes grew wet with longing, and then his knees buckled, like he had just lost a family member or experienced some other great loss. He started to cry out in tongues while sprawled out on the floor: loud angry noises.  Gyrations rattled his small body. 
This is the face Tristan often gives me when I ask him to turn off a game. Please notice the Angry Birds T-shirt. 



Eventually he started chanting, loudly, “I was in the middle of a game!”
The chanting, combined with the zombie music still coming from the game, his white skin, and the fact that he was in his underwear, made it seem like he was the resident of an insane asylum.
We didn’t have time for this. Tristan was supposed to be at the bus in ten minutes, and instead of being dressed and eating breakfast, he was sprawled out on the floor in his underwear, throwing a shit fit. He’d probably woken half the apartment complex by now, but he didn't care. The only thing he cared about was finishing his game.
Mel got up because of the noise. She looked tired. Her hair was in a messy braid.
“What’s going on?” she said.
I told her about the game, how we needed to get going, and that I took the iPad away.
Mel rolled her eyes, “Just tell him that he can play it on the way to school.”
We often held video games out before Tristan like a carrot to get him to do certain things. I hated it. I wanted to fight with her. I wanted to tell her that I felt doing stuff like this was only feeding his addiction. But before I could, she turned her back to me and went into the bedroom.
A big part of the problem was that Mel was also a game addict. She would never admit to it, and when I mentioned her video game addiction, she got really mad at me. “I am not an addict. I just need to play a level on Mario every five in my text book to keep from falling asleep.”
“Seriously? Isn’t that an inefficient use of your time?”
“No. It’s not. I still get just as much work done.”
“Somehow I doubt that.”
Glare.
We had this conversation a few times, and every time we did, it sounded like she was trying to justify the fix she needed to take the edge off her life.
“It’s just a few seconds between pages. I need it.”
 I keep expecting her to one day say, “I can quit any time I want,” or some other cliché line that is often said by addicts. Once I even asked her to say, “My name is Melodie Edwards and I am a game addict,” but she wouldn’t. Without admitting that she had a problem, I knew that she would never change. 

John Malkovich
I suppose part of the problem was that I didn’t play games at all, and compared to me, everyone had a gaming problem. But I will admit that when Mel and Tristan played games together, I got really jealous. They often sat side by side, each holding a Wii controller, gazing at the screen and discussing what was happening in the game.
“No. Over there. Over there.”
“Get in the bubble.”
“ Ahhh… he is shooting fire.”
 “That guy is huge!”
And so on…
They laugh and joke and smile. Mel really connects with Tristan while I often assume that he hates me.

I went back into the living room where Tristan was still throwing a fit. “Tristan, chill out. Listen, if you get ready really fast, I will let you play the iPad on the way to the bus. But you will need to hurry.”
He exhaled, angrily stomped into his room, and started getting dressed.
And as I placed the iPad into his backpack, I thought about my older brother.




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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University. 

2 comments:

Matthew Oliver said...

This is super interesting, Clint. As a guy who grew up *being* the video game nerd, this perspective is fairly brand new for me. In my case, the video game obsession turned INTO a social outlet and even a thesis for my second masters. (Well, the second thesis is in development, anyway.)

Clint said...

I suppose I am old fashioned that way. I always assume that gaming is going to turn Tristan into a shut in. However, things are different now. There are social networks built around gaming.