The best Christmas present I ever received was an Atari 2600. Unwrapping it on Christmas morning is probably my most vivid Christmas memory. Over its life it received thousands of hours of playtime. Even after it became outdated (Nintendo’s were all the rage in high school), friends and I would break it out on occasion and play our favorite games. It and the dozens of games we owned were finally thrown away as the family packed up to move to Wyoming.
By far the best Christmas present our kids received this year was a Wii. And while I’ve enjoyed playing it with them as well as watching them play, it’s been somewhat troubling how addictive they find it. The boys would spend all day doing nothing but playing it if we let them. (We don’t. Its use is highly regulated.)
I bring this up because it amazes me how much time kids and adults spend playing video games. Even a lot of adults I know can’t live without their weekly game nights or spend hours after their kids are in bed playing World of Warcraft. Granted today’s games are better, more complex, and take longer to play than the ones I grew up on, but it really concerns me when I see the boys begging to play the Wii while they’ve got plenty of other toys and friends to play with as well as countless activities they can do outside. And though I wasn’t a video game addict, I did spend lots of time during college and the year or two after I graduated playing video games. Looking back it was time that could have been better spent honing my writing skills or spending time with friends, family, and loved ones.
This month we gave our boys a choice: they could sign up for spring soccer or baseball. (They both chose baseball. And, no, I did nothing to influence their decision.) The issue wasn’t what sport they were going to play but, rather, how they’re spending their time. And even though there are hundreds of clichés on why sports are good for kids, the real reason I want them to play a sport is so they can learn the amount of hard work it takes develop real talents as opposed to virtual ones.
While I don’t expect my kids to become professional baseball or soccer players, I know they all have skills they can develop that will help them later in life. It takes hours of practice to become a good artist, plumber, or computer programmer. Having the self discipline to work hard at something will carry anyone long distances in the real world.
We all have a limited amount time in this life. One of the best things we can learn at any age is what our real talents are and the best way develop and use them. Yes, it takes skill to hit a baseball 450 feet on the Wii (I’m still working n that one), but it takes more talent to hit a home run with a real bat and ball.
I’ll take the real talents over virtual ones any day.