In which I deny my son an Xbox


On Twitter, @JoshDaws asked me to explain my reasons for not buying my son an Xbox and I figured it was too involved to do it in a few 140-character messages, so I’m putting it here.

Everyone is a consumer. Everyone consumes culture of some kind, whether it’s radio, TV, games, books, movies, theater, whatever. For some people, it’s Honey Boo Boo. For others, it’s sitting on an overturned bucket in a warehouse while they watch a play about women in Afghanistan. For others, it’s that one Merle Haggard album they just can’t get enough of. And for still others, it’s a whole weekend shooting zombies on the Xbox.

Now, I don’t have a problem with any of this, right? God forbid, considering some of the movies I’ve wasted portions of my life on. Consume what you want. Enjoy it. With my son, he’s latched onto things that I thought were dumb enough to kill brain cells (like Garfield books) and other things that were mostly a waste of time. But he enjoys them and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.

However! When he came to me to say he wanted to buy an Xbox–with his own money–I told him he couldn’t. (FYI: he’s 11.) He was pretty upset (and is still trying to wear us down) but I was adamant. It’s not that I dislike video games. He has some right now and has played them ever since he was small; Minecraft is his current obsession. Yes, it can be difficult for him to stop when we ask him to, but that’s true of any kid doing any activity that they love. We also have a Wii (which was supposed to be used for the Wii Fit, but nevermind) although he doesn’t much like the games we have.

It’s not that the games are violent. There are plenty of sweet, non-violent puzzle/platform/whatever games. Besides, we’ve watched every episode of Burn Notice and he’s played Call of Duty (and #2) on the iMac.

The question is: how much of his life is spent consuming, and how much is spent creating?

See, when he was small, he would spend hours making things. As a toddler he would make endless lines of tiny blocks all through the apartment. As he got older, he made comic books, then baked goods, then finally short animated Lego movies.

And they were all terrible. The comics, actually, had some effective layout and design, but the food he made was a random mix of whatever he could grab and it tasted like poison. “For you, Mom!” (and she would always taste it.)

The Lego shorts were always busy but there was never a plot that made sense, half the snaps would be out of focus.

They were good for his age–actually, they were excellent for his age. Look at the “novel” of his I published last year on the blog; I couldn’t write with that much verve at his age.

But he lost all that when he went to school. The biggest lesson he took from public school is that “fun”, “projects”, and “learning” are all separate categories. He still likes to make things, but only in Minecraft and it’s been a long time since he set aside several hours to create something. At best, he’s been putting in an hour or two a couple times a week with Garageband to make electronic music.

I don’t much care what he wants to do with his time, as long as he spends a good portion of it making things. Any asshole can spend every weekend of his life shooting baddies in a video game (and I’ve been that asshole, sometimes). I want him to have more than that. It’s not enough just to consume products made by some corporation, even if they’re cool products. He has to turn that around, too.

To that end, we’ve suspended regular homeschooling so he can work with me on a “book trailer” for THE WAY INTO CHAOS. We’re shooting it in our living room with Lego figures. It’s completely inappropriate for the tone of the novel, if you know what I mean, and would be terrible marketing if I were remotely impressed by the marketability of trailers anyway.

Still, it’s a project. He’s throwing himself into it with his old enthusiasm, and I love him for it. I just wish we could return to the days when this was a habit.

Anyway, that’s why I won’t let him buy an Xbox. He has games already, and Netflix, and DVDs from the library, and books, too. That’s a lot of opportunities to consume. I don’t think he needs enough to fill his whole life.