Every once in a while, when my kids spend a couple hours parked in front of the computer, I get the guilts. This is often assuaged by hearing about a parent who lets their kid spend four hours a day plugged into Gears of War. Hey, I may suck as a father, but at least I’m not as bad as that guy.
But the little bit o’ guilt still tickles the back of my conscience, and I want to squash that sucker flat. Because you know what? It isn’t so bad for children to be plugged in a few hours a week. Parents are conditioned to think that this time is some yawning vortex of sucking evil that is slowly leeching our children of their very souls! Rather, we should all gather round and play state capitol bingo or work on our compost heaps or compose haiku in honor of Basho’s birthday.
Bull. My kids have only been enriched by the time they spend on the computer. That’s because we manage time (it’s limited and my kids rarely use the computer on school nights) and content (largely benign or at least nongraphic) and because computers open a rich and amazingly diverse interactive environment. Sure, a lot of what my kids play is educational, and that comes with its own benefits. SpongeBob is a far better (and surprisingly more patient) typing instructor than I would be, and Ms. Frizzle knows infinitely more about bugs than I ever, ever want to know.
But even titles like Battle for Middle-earth II or Stronghold: Legends or Medieval II deliver endless riches. My son has become quite the expert on tactics, fortifications, and balanced force deployments, not to mention well marinated in the beloved world of Tolkien and the intricacies of Crusader politics. We can have intelligent discussions about the proper use of light and heavy infantry and the relative merits of trebuchets, ballista, catapults, and other arcane items of medieval warfare.
And damn it, that's the kind of thing that makes a boy a boy and a man a man. My boy will almost certainly never need to know the capital of Oregon, but knowing how to properly deploy a trebuchet just might come in handy some day.
Tom McDonald has been covering games for countless magazines and newspapers for 11 years. He lives in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.