In which I argue for “Ninja Gaiden,” “Little Giants” and the right to be a kid (sort of)
EDITOR’S NOTE: A friend of mine shared a link on Facebook this morning to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “How to Raise Boys That Read (As Much as Girls Do): Not with Gross-Out Books and Video Game Bribes.” The author, Dallas-based publisher Thomas Spence, argues that the “secret to raising boys who read … is pretty simple — keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.”
In sharing the link, my friend wrote, “[D]estroy video games. It’s that simple. I gotta say, I’m on board with that plan.” I decided to comment on his share. I didn’t click the “Comment” button until about an hour later. Here’s what I wrote — feedback, as always, is welcome.
Yeah … here’s the thing:
At all points from ages, oh, let’s say 4 through 28, I had a game console of some sort at home. NES, Game Boy, Super Nintendo, Genesis, Saturn (yep, I’m the kid who had a Sega Saturn), PS2 — I played them all regularly/obsessively; for a stretch there, I played games on the computer, too. I also watched way, way too much lowbrow TV, whether youth-focused (e.g., “The Ren and Stimpy Show”) or adult-aimed (e.g., “Married with Children”). I consumed exactly the type of nutritionally bankrupt pop culture that the author describes, and I did so in huge bites.
And yeah, I read a lot when I was a kid, too, and yeah, sometimes the stories were about Robin Hood and King Arthur. But more often than not, they were about Spider-Man, the Silver Surfer and Batman, none of whom I’d expect to make the guest list at Mr. Spence’s next book club meeting. To this day, I’m willing to bet that 90 percent of the arcane words in my vocabulary come from reading Stan Lee’s weird-ass responses to fans on the letters page in the back of Marvel issues.
I don’t think my parents would’ve rushed out to buy me Sir Fartsalot books, but they did play to my interests. They knew I liked sports, so they introduced me to Matt Christopher. They knew I liked video games, so they introduced me to Scholastic Books’ “Worlds of Power” novelizations of Nintendo games. They knew I liked inspirational stories of greatness, so they bought me the novelization of “Little Giants.” And I read all of them.
What they didn’t do was shove Robert Louis Stevenson down my throat and take away any spoonfuls of sugar (comics, cartoons, video games, etc.) that’d help the bitter medicine of schoolwork go down. And wouldn’t you know it? I wound up going to college with the express desire of getting a degree in reading and writing, I’ve managed to spend my post-college life making a career of doing those things, and these days, I actually read more frequently than I play video games. (Though I *have* been itching to get into this year’s “Madden” something fierce.)
I’m not saying that we should be stoked about parenting and pedagogic approaches that advise giving up all hope that our kids might read something good. I’m just saying that I don’t think “it’s that simple.” (I also think anyone unwilling to acknowledge that fart jokes are chuckle-inducing at worst and pure comic napalm at best is missing out on some good opportunities to laugh.)
All the same, interesting read, [NAME REDACTED], and some food for thought on a Tuesday morning. Thanks.