Videogames and Parenting

974 Relax and Succeed - And those who were seenI’ve wrote about this before but it keeps coming up. One of the most common complaints I hear from parents is that their children–particularly the boys–play video games too much, and yet when I ask the parents which games their children play I have yet to have a single parent that knows. That’s a remarkable demonstration of how a busy life lowers our awareness.

If it’s worth complaining about it’s worth knowing at least something about it, but instead every game is thrown into one pile as though they are all equal when some are mindless addictions and others require great thought. There’s strategy games, puzzle games, war-based games, society-based games, team games, solo games, and each will have its own moral angle and points system, so how can all of those be seen as one thing?

Not knowing anything about the games is like saying a kid reading a textbook is the same as a kid reading People Magazine. (Note I didn’t use comics because in my experience the smartest adults I know were often comic readers.) There are millions of games. There is a reason that their fans love them.

974 Relax and Succeed - Play is the highest form of researchAs I’ve noted before, it should come as little surprise that the very first location that took off in Second Life was a dance bar called Wheelies and it created a meeting place for users in wheelchairs. In a virtual world someone in a wheelchair is just as mobile and capable as someone out of it so you can see why they would value it. A lonely kid can value team games, a leader can like them too. An independent person can love first-person shooters that allows them to team up when they choose, or they may prefer a game that requires great patience and planning.

Video games today can encourage good behaviour. They get you to love characters before they die in real storylines, creating more empathy. Whereas they used to give you awful choices like raping prostitutes, those same game designers now have daughters of their own and now the same game makes you calmly do yoga or you can’t continue to the next level. I watched this have a real impact on a friend of mine who learned to moderate his quick temper thanks to it.

If parents added up how many hours they look at the screens on their TV’s, their computers and their phones they would realise they are screen-watching a huge amount of the day so it’s no surprise kids are comfortable sitting and looking at screen just as the children of joggers are often joggers and just as the children of big eaters are often big eaters. That’s the real parenting, not what you say; it’s what you do.

974 Relax and Succeed - Children don't need more thingsTry to get your kid to teach you some games. If you’re lucky you might even like the same type. But at least at the start they’ll get to beat you a lot and that’s good for a kid as long as they don’t try to turn it into a habit and thereby become a poor loser. Each parent has to make decisions about their situation and their kid, but it’s important to note that many children of divorce talk about how valuable it was to be able to bury their head in a game while they watched their parent’s marriage descend into bickering.

Nothing is good or bad only thinking makes it so. If everyone from military leaders to 747 pilots to astronauts can advance themselves using virtual training then there’s no reason to think that your child isn’t also developing themselves. Certainly they could just be hiding from life, but if you don’t even know the games they’re playing then you can’t hope to guess if that’s where they’re at.

Slow down. Pay attention. Trust yourself. From there the love for your child will tell you all you need to know. Kids are future adults. Whether we like it or not they will be shaped by the forces around them. Rather than try to push against them, start working with them. You might find you have more allies than you’ve realised.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

Winners and Losers

698 Relax and Succeed - What you get by achieving

Sports and games are good examples of how comfortable human beings can actually be with the idea of suffering. We volunteer to play or watch both with the full knowledge that both contexts require a winner and therefore at least one loser as well.

Even if we’re confident, we happily enter the game or field of play at least subliminally aware that we could be volunteering to suffer. In fact, that potential price is what gives the victories their highs. First we volunteer for genuinely challenging competition, and then we play to achieve a weird sort of relief from a risk we ironically chose to take.

I live near a school and during a recent break from some yard work I made a cup of tea and watched part of a junior high Phys Ed baseball game. That game is still going on, but watching it inspired me to write this, so now I’m seeing it out my office window.

It’s important that it’s Phys Ed class too, because the teacher appeared to be quite casual about who was on what team. When that’s the case the kids are not going to have any sort of strong sense of team affiliation. It’ll just be classmates playing baseball. And that’s much different than a team that’s trying to win.

Playing the piano is not the same as playing the piano to win an international competition, or a scholarship or anything where you can win or lose. You can’t lose at playing, but you can lose status, marks, money, scholarships etc.

In a team sport this alters things considerably. People get competitive and they do things they otherwise wouldn’t. But in the Phys Ed. game the kids were all pretty encouraging of one another. They didn’t care who was on what team. They cared about whether or not their friends did well. So you would see cheers from the opposing teams on a good hit. It was very bubbly and happy and supportive.

698 Relax and Succeed - Success consists of going from failure

The close camaraderie and unison that is derived from that game is a part of life that is too-often undervalued. Because we can’t buy relaxation or free time, we can just rent places to do it or buy things to encourage it.

Relaxation is a verb, so like eating lunch or becoming Enlightened it’s not something that someone else can do for us. We have to relax to achieve it and the kind of play those kids were engaged in is a great way to do that with others. We just can’t have a personal objective. Or as a Buddhist would put it: have no attachments.

This is not to say the world of competition and that sweet sense of victory does not have its place in this world. It’s incredibly valuable. It drives much of our personal and societal success. It includes people’s dreams of having their own restaurant, but it’s also the Olympics and the Oscars. It’s us trying to get a scholarship or even beating a sibling in a race for the good seat in the car. Competition can bring joy in the right context.

Business, contests, family rules; those are really just systems and humans live inside them. So it’s best to understand them and use them to our advantage so we can enjoy a life with a lot of winning in it. But that will not seem like much of a life unless we also learn to play. Because winning happens outside of us and play is something we feel inside of us. And that’s the difference between pleasure for our ego versus nourishment for our souls.

When kids aren’t on a team they have no motivation to yell for another kid to run faster, or to hope one trips and falls. They have no reason to express disappointment if they strike out. They have no reason to taunt each other.

Done right these things can be fun and they’re an excellent metaphor for life. But as with our work and our dating and our conversations, we should maintain an awareness of our State of Mind; are we trying to win or are we trying to enjoy our lives?

People who focus too much on winning end up being things like workaholics. And people who do that with love become serial daters. And the people who do that in conversation become tiresome. Winning creates losers and sometimes that’s what we want from life. But at the same time, simple noncompetitive play also has value. Let’s not forget play.

698 Relax and Succeed - Anything I can not transformLet’s move through our days with a mind toward monitoring our objectives. We should ask ourselves directly, are these actions intended to bring me happiness or bring me victory? Because there’s very few fights between couples that truly matter in the larger scheme of things so winning is quite hollow.

With happiness we start to feel it the moment we drop the need to win. It is the desire for those outside objectives—those ego-pursuits—that will lead us to surrender our happiness in the present moment. We must do our best to stay as conscious as we can. We can play and win, but we can’t let the need to win lead us to only compete —for without any play, we’ll have already lost before you’ve even started the game.

Now let’s have ourselves a wonderful day.

peace. s

A Room Full of Toys

What’s the advantage of a should-have-been-dead accident when you’re five years old? It teaches you very clearly that any human being can die on any day. Any of us can watch the news and see that half the world struggles with even surviving basic hunger. And even if you’re lucky enough to be born or move to the 1st World, you’re still human. Cars, diseases, work-place accidents—people die every single day. But that’s not depressing. It’s exactly the opposite. If you’re really paying attention, that’s actually invigorating.

649 Relax and Succeed - How are you investingIf you watch people closely you will see that the majority of you are remarkably timid about your own lives. Even though you’ll be a capable adult, you’ll still be afraid to be the first person to put your hand up to ask a question at work or in school. You’ll routinely see people standing a long distance away from the line up here sign as though being front and centre and next-in-line is somehow too big a stage for their insecure selves. People will speak so softly and timidly that you routinely can’t even hear them, which only forces them to repeat themselves over and over, which frustrates the listener and only further adds to the speaker’s fears.

You’re not a vampire. You are not immortal. And as Bram Stoker pointed out, the agony of being a vampire is the absence of mortality. Because if you cannot die you cannot truly live. Because unless life is precious it’s much like kids with swimming pools—they only swim when someone who values a pool is visiting. Whether it’s diamonds, gold, Ferrari’s, Faberge Eggs, or time, anything that’s limited in supply will have its value increased. But you’re not investing your time in joy. You’re not going on that big trip or starting that new business or quitting that lousy job because you’re afraid. You spend all of your time calculating the downsides and too little thinking about what you might accomplish and how you might grow. You’re too worried about what others think to really dive into life and live it large.

649 Relax and Succeed - It is not how much we haveYou know people who do live deeply. Everyone knows at least one. Someone who’s bold and excited by their life. Someone who says yes a lot. These people are quick to volunteer. You can actually hear them sing the anthem at sports events. They’ll karaoke, they’ll wear outrageous Halloween costumes. They’ll have had a kid and still wear their bikini to the beach even though they have a C-section scar. But these people aren’t any better than you. They just understand one simple idea.

Imagine that everyone you know is represented by four other people. Now imagine life is a room filled with 500 fantastic toys in it. These toys are metaphors. Some are objects like clothes or houses, but some are also capabilities like job skills or personality strengths. And now imagine that your lifetime is represented by the fact that you only get eight hours to play in that room and then you’ll will be locked out forever. So one lifetime equals five kids, 500 toys and eight toy-room hours.

Inside the room twenty of the 500 toys are broken. So you when you enter you have the option to have a ton of fun playing with 480 toys for eight full hours! But you know what most of you do? Out of 480 other choices, you will notice that people are judging the toys and then collecting the ones that they deem the most valuable. So soon virtually no kids are playing because every kid is too busy grabbing toys and placing them in boxes with their names on them. If you’re aware of it you’ll notice that they spend a lot of time keeping an eye on their boxes so that no one else steals the toys they’ve already collected. This is why adults surrender fun time to meet with security companies.

As they’re busy collecting the kids will periodically stop to compare their boxes. The kids with the best toys will be described as successful but if you were watching closely they will have spent the most time 649 Relax and Succeed  - Are you trading the hours of your lifecollecting and protecting their toys rather than playing with them. And they’ll be further convinced that ownership is better than experience because most of the other kids will gather around the closed boxes and they’ll sacrifice experiences with their own toys in order to worship or want what’s inside the better collector’s box.

Of course the kids also stumble upon some of the twenty broken toys. They want to own as many toys as possible so that they win the contest, but before they can show the broken toys (traits, abilities etc.) to anyone they feel they need to repair the damage. So as with “personal faults” the problem with this is that if people believe that they will be judged for having a broken toy then they will invest far too much time attempting to hide and repair it before anyone notices. Do you realize what this means for your lifetime? So for your short eight hours of time to play you will spend most of it hoarding, hiding and fixing your toys, but you’ll spend surprisingly little time in actually playing with them. And then there’s people like a small percentage of us.

We come in the room and we start playing right away. We grab a toy and we play with it. It naturally leads us to another toy and we play with that. If someone takes it we’ll just grab a different one and keep playing. We don’t see the room as a competition. It’s an open opportunity to play. So while others are busy hoarding, hiding and repairing their toys, we just play. And if we 649 Relax and Succeed - The happiest of peopledo run into a damaged toy we just set it aside and move on to the next toy. Indeed, by the end of the eight hours we’re the only kids who have the potential to have a box filled with the broken toys.

The other kids will obviously have a few broken toys in their box too, but they’ll invest a lot of time hiding those, and even more time in collecting the good toys to distract you. But me? I had that bad accident when I was young, so I remember that I’m just going to get kicked out of the room anyway, so I don’t really care what broken toys are in my toy box. I don’t really care what the other kids think of my toys or what my tally of toys was compared to theirs. We all leave the room. Ownership is essentially meaningless. Like the Pharaoh’s wealth it’ll just be entombed in a room anyway. I’d rather be exhausted from all of the playing I did than be exhausted from building a big vault.

Stop wasting your valuable life trying to get the most coveted toys in your box. There are no windows into the room so whoever built the room is definitely not studying you to judge whether you won or lost, or whether you were deserving or not. The room is merely an opportunity for you to exercise your ability to choose this toy or that. There’s no right toys to get. No one gets to keep anything. In the end when the buzzer sounds and the door opens back up and we leave the room, that’s when most kids realize they never really did play much. Don’t be those kids. Don’t squander your life trying to fix your 649 Relax and Succeed - You don't have to live foreverproblems or hoard all the toys. Play instead. Because in the end the kid that won the game was the one that did the most playing. Yes, they had to accept that their box had some broken toys in it. But what does that matter in the face of having had so much more fun?

Stop being so timid. Stop worrying about being judged for the toys you have or don’t have. Just play with them. You only have eight hours. You’ll be amazed at how fast it goes by. So if you want the time you have to feel long, then the best thing you can do is play a lot. Because in the end life is a verb. So the real winner isn’t the person with the fewest broken toys, or the person who has the most or best toys, the real winner is the person who spent the most time playing. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to play. 😉

peace. s