When my goblins were at their smallest (I call my kids goblins, by the way.) I thought the hardest part of being a parent was going to be keeping them from hating me the minute they could speak. I fretted and worried that I wouldn’t have anything in common with them when they gained any form of independence. I imagined myself spending countless hours researching how to make my progeny converse with me and tell me about their days. When my oldest was two I realized what my biggest parenting challenge was actually going to be, and it had nothing to do with making them like me.
When Jenna was born, I was in college and taking nineteen credits. I had her 2 days before the beginning of my second semester of my fourth year. I had to e-mail my professors from the hospital and ask them for homework. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time stressed and longing for a mental escape. Thus, came about my World of Warcraft addiction.
Jenna spent her first months of life in two places primarily: taking senior level literature and theory classes, and on my lap while I geared up Igraine, my max level troll shaman. It came as no surprise to me when she insisted on creating her own character before she could walk. However, what did come as a surprise was how irritated I got watching my still teething goblin run in circles and die repeatedly.
“No, honey. Look, go here. Do this," I had a visceral compulsion to tell her, "Don’t pet the doggies. They aren’t nice. The doggies will eat you.”
Jenna thought the doggies killing her was hilarious.
Fortunately for me, Jenna soon discovered that WoW could be like her own virtual doll house, and became content running around cities, talking to merchants. Her gaming appetites grew, and she began to branch out into new games about the time her little brother, Cole, discovered his own love for running Igraine to her doom.
Jenna actually had a bit of a talent for games like Super Smash Brothers, and she listened pretty well when I sat over her shoulder and told her which buttons to push. I thought I had figured out how to teach the goblins how to game. Turns out Jenna is just one of those kids who soaks up information like a sponge and regurgitates it hoping to please her teacher. Cole, on the other hand, is what I call a free spirit.
If you tell my son to play a game one way, he will almost certainly ignore everything you’ve said and play it differently. Cole lives by his own set of rules. (If I’m being completely honest, I envy that.) When he was four, he decided he wanted to learn to play Mario Kart. I am notoriously bad at racing games, but I try my hardest to keep my car on the track like a good little racer and cross the finish line in hopefully not last place. When he first picked up the game, Cole struggled with keeping his car going the correct direction and with overcorrecting when it strayed off course, it was hard not to take the control from him every time to show him what to do. Watching him one day, I realized he was doing pretty well. He had raced his way into fourth place, and I cheered, “Cole! You’re doing so well! Keep it up, buddy.”
This was a mistake. Cole immediately veered off the side of the road and parked under a billboard. He declared that Donkey Kong was feeling tired and needed a nap. Cars rocketed by him leaving him in their dust.
I told him this wasn’t a game where your guy took naps, it was a game where your guy fought hard to win. He gave me the side-eye and a bit of a scoff. “Mom, he was tired, and now he needs to go to the store.” He immediately pulled away from the sign and continued the wrong way down the track. I choked a little. This was not how the game is played. In that moment, I nearly exploded. The act of not telling him how wrong he was came extremely close to ending my existence.
Since then I’ve tried my hardest to just not watch my dear boy goblin play video games. This almost always works, but there are times I slip. This very thing occurred this past Christmas. Cole got a 3DS from his dad and I, and Paper Mario from his sister. I watched him play through the tutorial, reset the game, and then start playing through it again. Clearly not learning from my mistakes I asked, “What are you doing? You’re supposed to keep going, bud. You can’t win if you don’t get to the end of the game.” He looked at me and said, “The best part of the game is the beginning, Mom. I can just play games to have fun.”
That is logic that I simply cannot understand, but telling him that games are only truly fun if you beat the competition seems like something that would get tossed into the bad parenting category. So I bite my competitive tongue. Literally. The pain helps distract me from spouting off horrible life advice.
Since becoming a mother there have been sleepless nights, months of convincing goblins that toilets are not evil, serious conversations about lying, weekly reminders that both parties are culpable no matter who started the fight, and countless battles of will. I've watched two very different young humans evolve out of similar looking babies, and I've learned that I could use some intensive courses in meditation, relaxation, and remember how to simply enjoy playing a game.
My fears for the future are still there, but for now, at least, with seven and a half years of experience, I feel I can say with authority: The hardest part of being a parent is watching my kids learn how to play video games.