Thursday, July 11, 2013

Use Parental Judgment

I have spent my life surrounded by nerds. I don’t say this as if it’s a bad thing. In fact, I prefer nerds. They are honest about who they are and unafraid to be true to themselves. That they are maligned by the popular crowd is not lost on them. It registers and I believe it does inflict some pain, but not enough pain to compel them to seek fashion advice, join a gym, or start watching mindless television. And we all know that the nerds win in the end which is what matters most.

When I was younger my brothers played a game called Dungeons and Dragons. They played it for hours on end. My friends and I found it odd, but we didn’t ask questions because the mainstream Christian establishment had labeled it the devil’s game and to our teenage minds that made it kind of cool.

When my oldest son discovered D&D, he dove right in becoming a DM (Dungeon Master) and engaging many of his peers in the adventures and quests he created. The kids that fill my living room for these adventures are today’s nerds. But they are much cooler than the nerds of my day. Every one of them is smart, creative, and true to themselves. It’s refreshing. As I pass through the room, I hear them working together to sort out a dilemma, conquer a foe, or plan a new strategy. These games go on for four, five, even eight hours in a sitting and the campaign might continue for weeks. In a world where kids’ attention spans seemed to have shriveled to the length of the average YouTube video, it amazes me that this clan of kids can focus so intensely at such length.

Some of the newer D&D is played online, but the true devotees consider the online version to miss much of the point. That point being it’s much more fun to fight a Goblin in person. So they gather in groups nearly every weekend to create characters who fight their way through imaginary worlds using only their minds and wits, tracking their abilities and ‘hit points,’ referring to their players handbook and stats sheets, and laughing at some of the more absurd situations they find themselves in. Is it a cow or a shape shifter? (I made up that shape shifter reference, I think I’m mixing mediums here, but I don’t speak fluent D&D.)

Recently, my ten-year-old, in true little brother fashion, decided he wanted to be a DM too. He’s watched his brother and friends have hours of fun with the game and he wanted in. Ten-year-olds can’t keep up with the adventures of 16-year-olds, nor should they. So he studied the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Players Handbooks, and he worked quietly for hours creating his own world and his own adventures. All he needed was a few adventurers.

Here in lies the problem. Most of the ten-year-olds we know would have great difficulty following a game that requires intense periods of channeling your imagination. Many of these kids are smart and enjoy games. They proudly whip my son’s tail on video games at their houses. But most weren’t interested in a game that required such prolonged, mental efforts exerted without running up and down a field.

We ran into another road block. The parent of one potential player did not want her child playing D&D or any of those kinds of games. I respect this parent greatly and informed my son that her child was not to be included in his invitations. He looked at me curiously. I didn’t have a real answer other than some people worry that there is too much violence and magic in D&D. He still didn’t understand, but he accepted it.

Not long after, another parent told me about how she caught her young son playing Call of Duty and was horrified, it made me wonder about all the video games kids play these days. I won’t pretend to know anything about them, but I do know they are violent. Call of Duty is the extreme, but when my kids tell me about playing games at other people’s houses it usually involves blowing things up and killing the bad guys. Many of the movies kids watch involve killing bad guys. I have to wonder how much worse D&D could be that it is condemned, while the media glorifies violence and blood and battle in so many forms. In D&D the violence is only as bad as you imagine it. There are no images burnt irreparably into your memory and dreams.

I have another friend who wrote me a letter explaining that I needed to stop allowing my kids to play D&D. She elaborated on how it would encourage my children to follow darkness. Truly, she said this. She said it would give Satan an entryway into their lives. I tossed the letter, but I listened to my kids playing D&D. I’ve heard them mention dark and evil creatures on occasion, but more often than not, these are the creatures they are battling. I think my friend would be proud that my kids are battling the forces of darkness.

Even if that were not the case, my son is my guide. He is one of the most imaginative people I know, but he is also a person with a very gentle soul. He is not aggressive. I remember him as a little kid being confused by how angry some of the other players on his team got when things didn’t go their way. He was playing for the fun of the sport, and lost interest when the competition spilled over in to anger. A horse trainer told me once that the horse I have been attempting to train for the last few years “doesn’t have any meanness in him”. Well, neither does my son. And I know that is rare because we can all be mean. I certainly don’t see my child as a saint. I’ve witnessed the cruelty he can display on occasion with his sister, but those moments are fleeting and guilt always follows.

As with so many things we are quick to condemn the things we don’t understand based on someone else’s judgment. If the only experience you have with D&D is what has been handed down by conservative Christian churches, it saves you the real work of having to understand it yourself. Maybe I do the same thing with video games. I don’t own a game system and have never played one of these games. I’ve seen the arcade version of Call of Duty and been horrified by it, but I’ve never seen the in-home version or any of the other games that kids play. I don’t want these games in my house not because I am worried about the violence (which I am), but because I don’t want my kids sitting on their buts for hours with a joy stick in their hand. I’d rather they engage their minds in a game, or go outside and imagine the adventure. I don’t want another screen in my house sucking away at their creativity and initiative.

As I write this, I realize how judgmental I sound. Maybe as judgmental as the parent who doesn’t want their child to play D&D or the friend who fears for my child’s soul. We must all use judgment, that doesn’t make us “judgmental” and what one person judges not appropriate for their family, doesn’t make it not appropriate for all families.

Maybe that’s the lesson here. Raising kids is complicated, messy, and certainly not an endeavor that lends itself to clear black and white decisions. Bottomline - we must all use our own judgment. We know our kids, and within the limited scope of our own understanding and experience, we do the best we can. We don’t need to judge each other, just support each other’s judgment.

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