Farm Progress

Kids love video games, and that's OK as long as there's balance

Commentary: Video games come out in bad weather; provide education as well as stimulation and entertainment.

Rhonda McCurry, Freelance

January 13, 2017

6 Min Read
VIDEO OBSESSION: Kids love video games, and yes, they can get a little obsessed. But as long as they have other activities too, a binge now and then won't hurt. At least that's one mom's opinion.Jupiterimages/Creatas/Thinkstock

Farm kids are not encouraged to play video games, pure and simple. After all, when your parents or grandparents own part of planet Earth, you are expected to go outside and enjoy it, not sit in a chair and use a controller to move electronic superheros on the screen.

My kids don’t live on a farm; there is only a backyard, front yard and a city park to play in. And though we do enjoy the sunshine as much as possible, there are times, even hours at a time, when my older kiddos get out the video games.

It doesn’t bother me to see them play, though I know it bothers the grandparents. Video games are deemed as a lazy way to pass the time. But it’s really about the evolution of video games in a household. Times are different from when my mother grew up (1950s and early 60s). She tells stories of not having even a television and that her parents sat the kids on the porch each summer evening to just “talk.”

Sometimes, she said, they wouldn’t say anything to each other at all. This is a beautiful thing, and I can appreciate it, but let’s also consider that they pumped water from a well, housed harvest help in a bunk house and kept a bucket under the kitchen sink instead of a garbage disposal. Things have changed and advanced, and electronics are a part of daily life for most households, especially those with young children.

When I was 13 years old, my cousin, John, got a brand-new Nintendo. It was such a big deal. He lived on a farm but would get off the school bus, head straight to his family’s bunk house, turn on the old dial television and power up the silver Nintendo box. He played Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong incessantly. I remember the bags of chips around him, and the movements of his eyes and hands in perfect time together, and the noises. His parents were farmers, and he lived and worked on the family farm, too, but we thought he was kind of cool and a little lucky to be able to play Super Mario Brothers after school.

I also married a man who has played plenty of video games in college and early adulthood. He would buy the new NCAA football game each season and play for hours. Even after we were married, he’d come home from work and play for a few hours. Did this appear lazy? Perhaps, but he was an adult, and I was his wife, not his parent, so he played games until his 25-year-old heart was content. I would say he grew out of this phase as we grew in our marriage, namely after having children. Who has time to play video games when you have four toddlers running around the house? It’s like we live inside a Super Mario Brothers video game now.

Currently, our 10-year-old son, Jackson, has an obsession with video games. He started with the educational ones, designed by Leapster and ABCmouse, but transitioned into a handheld Nintendo 3Ds. Now he has a Wii U and a PlayStation 3, and plays them a lot. He is busier with them more so in the winter because we are cooped up inside, but it is something I probably am guilty of providing for him because he and his friends enjoy it. Jackson and I buy new games, trade in others and hit the GameStop store, and that’s fine with me.

Jackson loves other things, too, mostly football and showing pigs, which are clearly outside activities, but he also loves his video games. He likes the figurines that come with the Disney Infinity game, and he just sold his carrying case of 31 Skylanders figurines to earn a little money. His friends play these games, too, and it’s common to hear him on his iPod or with a buddy laughing and screaming at the screen, trying to get to the next level.

Am I a bad mom for allowing this? Sometimes I feel a bit guilty, but that quickly fades away when he comes to tell me about Odell Beckham Junior’s recent three-finger catch or how the Madden 2017 game made his beloved New York Giants seem like they’re real on the screen. The games are so colorful and challenging that I do think Jackson’s mind is stimulated. I could keep him from these games, but that seems a bit mean. His friends do it, he doesn’t argue or cause problems when he plays and lately he’s included his sister, Anna, in some of the competitions. To my surprise, she likes to play. They cackle and razz each other.

There are farm-related video games, too, so much so that when the Kansas State Fair rolls around a person can literally find a few video games on the fairgrounds, educational in nature, so kids can simulate driving a combine or farming a field. It attracts the city kids who stare at their iPods, iPads and tablets, and that brings them into the ag world, even for just three minutes while the video game is blaring.

I am not a gamer, nor do I want my kids to be, but thanks to today’s technology on iPods, iPads and Wii U’s they have an instinct on how to make characters jump, duck and run. They move their fingers so fast that I can’t tell which button they’re pushing. I hope they are learning a bit of strategy. I hope they’re learning to take turns. I assume they’re learning more about Disney characters or football plays.

Video games also keep them out of my hair, I’ll admit that, and it’s probably wrong to use the screen as a babysitter. But man, it works, and in our household it’s not for extended periods of time, just enough to get dinner made or entertain friends when they drop by on a cold winter day.

Video games won’t guarantee my kids become the next CEO of Koch Industries, but they are a fun and interesting part of pop culture. The days of playing with figurines and sitting out on the front porch to talk are different — not gone — just different. Plenty of adults have televisions in their garages or play Candy Crush during their lunch break. To me it’s the same concept — video games are a part of being a kid and having fun. And in a world where there are plenty of things to be scared about, I just want my kids to have fun and to look back and say, “Man I had a great childhood.”

Being in 4-H and sports fosters this as well. The fact that we spend seven months of the year, twice a day, feeding, rinsing and walking market animals makes me feel better. So yes, my kids are obsessed right now with video games, and I think it’s going to be OK.

McCurry writes from Colwich.

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