Mama Said: Video games - fun or foe?
When you say Fortnite to Emily Martin she doesn’t really understand what you mean. But she knows it’s only a matter of time
This month, we welcomed Ryan into our lives. And when I say “welcomed” I don’t mean it. Ryan is a YouTuber who started off his career by unboxing toys on camera and now he’s the star of YouTube channel, Ryan’s World. He’s worth $160 million, apparently. He’s 9 years old. And he’d had 45 billion views of his channel as of February 2021.
Be assured, I had to do a lot of Googling to write those things and I still don’t really understand Ryan, so don’t feel bad if you don’t either. Also don’t feel bad if you don’t care. Anyway, I’m seeing Ryan’s face a lot on the screens in my house. I think at least 25 billion of Ryan’s clicks are coming from us. And Tag with Ryan is a video game where, as far as I can see, you direct a little digital version of the child-millionaire Ryan to run about collecting things (money, probably) while your phone makes a noise that, after a while, feels like Ryan has somehow got a teeny tiny little drill and made a hole in the side of your skull.
The playing of video games is a totally new pastime in our house. Girl is 7 and, so far, I’ve got away with her being quite content to just do some colouring, or play with Barbie, or her brother, make a den, go in the garden or watch a bit of TV to reset when things need to calm down. When people talk about “Fortnite” and how they never see their kids anymore because of it, I just smile at them and think… what? I don’t really understand what they mean.
There’s something really irritating about kids playing video games. The way they zone out. Just pale, lanky zombies sitting all over the sofa, not helping clear away mugs or joining in with pleasant adult chit-chat. But as a young person, I was just as bad. Me and my little friends used to love video games. Sonic the Hedgehog diligently rolling about collecting those rings, Super Mario skidding through the water in his Kart on a cheeky shortcut to win the race. There was Echo the Dolphin (not sure what he really did except flip in the air), Street Fighter (discovering Ryu’s special move by complete accident was one of the most exciting moments of our childhoods - I guarantee my friends will confirm), Streets of Rage (we’d argue over who’d get to be Blaze in her red boob-tube and shiny red, wet-look mini skirt). Launching those flying kicks and hammering your opponent with your fists until they were dead. Pulverising them into a little red puddle and then celebrating. What’s not to love about those happy childhood memories? And also, just an aside to my Mum and Dad, what on Earth were you thinking?
But anyway, Tag with Ryan doesn’t seem to involve pulverising anyone. Although Ryan knocks about with a panda who looks like he’s asking for it a bit. My only complaint is, when Girl plays, she has to do it on my phone, which of course I’m usually glued to. What if someone messages me? Or what if someone posts what they’re eating on their Instagram stories and I miss it?? And whilst it’s quite nice that Tag with Ryan keeps her occupied, after a while you get this feeling that she ought to stop.
Boy is 3 so he just sits next to her and watches her play which is an especially sad sight. “Let him have a go please,” I remind her. She rolls her eyes and chucks the phone towards him which he gathers up excitedly. And then his turn ends quickly, tearfully and 100 per cent of the time because he hasn’t got fast enough thumbs.
When I ask for my phone back, she doesn’t look up. “Yeah, yeah let me just get to the end of this level.” I always end up asking about four times before just playing the strength card and taking it out of her weak little hand. It usually has that sort of matte, chocolatey, smudged feeling that screens tend to have when 7-year-olds are nearby.
So, I’m wondering, am I a parent who has to think about “screen-time” now? I’m pretty relaxed about the TV. They watch TV a bit, but not enough for it to cause family tension, worried looks between the adults, slammed doors or a need for any sort of intervention. But I can see how video games might get out of hand.
I wonder if Ryan’s parents worried about him spending too much time on YouTube. They probably did for a while, before they built the swimming pool and just decided to let him get on with it.
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