The prisoner of Zelda
Or, how to survive video games

 

"When I take the controls, my character instantly bursts into flames or falls off a cliff, causing my children to tear the controls out of my grasp in contempt."

By: Robert W. Bly August 02, 2001
"I'm a prisoner of Zelda," I said aloud the other day, mostly to myself, while sitting in our family room.
It's a statement a successful dominatrix named Zelda might hear with bliss, but my mistress is far crueler: Zelda is a video game my kids are addicted to.

How does this affect me? You can ask only if you are not the parent of a video-game-addicted child. Parents like me, who have made the mistake of allowing a video game system into their home know all too well the terrors this addictive activity can release.

To begin with, there's what I call "TV Monopoly." I don't mean the video game Monopoly, although there is one. I mean that our sons - Alex, 11, and Stephen, 8 - play Nintendo and PlayStation so much we never get our turn at the tube. I need Sex in the City once a week to live vicariously through made-up TV characters, and my wife Amy sucks up Friends in the same needy way. But now, since Alex, Stephen, and their video games began monopolizing our TV sets, Amy and I have only each other to entertain ourselves nights - and frankly, it's driving both of us crazy.

Mostly when they're playing video games the kids ignore us, but the minute they get stuck on a level of Zelda or one of their favorite games, they suddenly yearn for our counsel. I, like the majority of adults age 40 and over, am a video-game moron: When I take the controls, my character instantly bursts into flames or falls off a cliff, causing my children to tear the controls out of my grasp in contempt. "Dad stinks at video games," Alex tells Stephen, who nods in agreement as he stares at the monitor.

The first video game, Pong, was relatively peaceful. Invented by Nolan Bushnell, it involved bouncing a ball back and forth in a tennis-like match. Bushnell founded Atari, as well as a chain of kids' pizza restaurants featuring video games and shows.

Video games today are so violent that the industry actually rates them by how much blood is displayed on the screen. Some games even let you turn off the blood, a feature our kids use to persuade us to rent them ones we deem inappropriate because of the violent content.

Psychologists have long argued whether TV violence causes violence in real-life, and that argument has now been extended to video fracases. Well, I can tell you point-blank that video game violence does promote aggressive behavior; I have seen both my kids and others get abusive with one another, verbally and physically, in a dispute over a game move.

In the movie Terminator II, Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to prevent super computers from taking over the world by going back in time and killing the inventor of the super-computer chip. I thought doing that to Bushnell et. al., but that would merely support the kind of video game violence I object to in the first place.

Maybe I can track down Bushnell in the present, though. We could share a pizza and talk about the future. At least he'd be talking to me, which is more than my kids do when they're playing Zelda.

ŠThe Parent Paper 2001