17 March 2009

When the Fit Hits the Shan

Video games and systems are the devil.

They're not from the devil, they are the devil. They know how to torture you, and bring you gifts that only your soul knows about or wants, and then you are addicted. First taste is free say the street vendors of things that shall not be mentioned, but this devil, well he charges you $59.00 for the first game, and every game thereafter. And, it only gets worse, which brings us to our cast of players.

The setting: fair Los Angeles.

The scene: two star-crossed gamers sit cross-legged in yonder bedroom and are soon to learneth that money does not grow on trees.

My boys had some allowance saved up, and I matched their funds and we purchased a video game. After church I was making lunch, and they were off in Neverland loading their new game into the XBox 360. "Dad, the cable's not working!" Walking back to their room, I found them pulling and pushing cables in the back of the tv and into the game console. "What'd you guys do? Did you break it? You know I always tell you to be careful when you put the system away; you guys always are too rough with it!" Being a sensitive, caring father, I then shook my head back and forth with a disgusted "hmmph." I pulled on some cables and rebooted the system, trying not to smack the system on its side like we used to do with our old Nintendo system.

I looked closely at the cable, and lo, said cable was indeed bent/broken and would have to be replaced. "Dad, now we have to get a new cable, and you're not going to let us get a new cable because we don't have the money!" A game controller was tossed with disgust by one brother and then the damaged cable set was dropped harshly by the other. "This sucks!" Two words that are rarely permitted in our house without suffering dire consequences; my dander was getting up, "Watch it!"

"I can't watch it, the cable's broken!" Sarcasm towards an adult, not to mention their dad! Now my nostrils are starting to flare; heart rate skyrocketing. The breathless anticipation of two little guys had run headlong into the reality of disappointment. But, I kept my patience and powder dry.

Then the boys had a terrific idea, "Wait! Let's try that other cable set to see if it works!" Huzzah! Perhaps the day is saved ... could this ersatz cable set be jury-rigged to do for the day? I watched as they scrambled about, back and forth from room to room looking for old cable sets, and then yes, they plugged things in, fiddled about, and then they got sound coming through the speakers (always a good sign), and then video image ... but only in black-n-white. ugh.

"Here, let me reboot this for you guys" said I. I grabbed the system and set it down under their desk for safety. I pushed a button. We watched the screen, then there it was. The sound that all gamers know is the end of days, the ruination of one's fun ... permanently. It's a whirring, grinding, heart-breaking sound.

"Dad!! You put it in upside down!!!! Dad!!!!"

The kids reached for the eject button as fast as human hands have ever moved. I could barely see their little arms and hands moving, they were a blur of determination to save their newest and best friend in the whole world. A tiny disk with levels to beat, nefarious characters to slay, new skills to learn, and accomplishments to accomplish in front of a virtual world of heroes and heroines to join forces with and/or rescue.

When you hear this grinding sound, you have fried your game. No coming back. I could still hear the words echoing in my mind from the 19 yr-old behind the counter with his soul patch under his lower lip, "Sir, do you want $3.00 game insurance for this game in case you bump your system while the disk is spinning?"

Of course not, I said. "That's just a revenue scam by greedy corporate types." That was telling him.

Two boys held-up the disk and looked at it (damaged disk that it now was), and then at me. "You ruined the game!!" "Dad, you broke it! Now what?!" The older one literally ran out of the house and down the steps crying. The younger one grabbed my leg, tears flowing freely already, and then he ran to my room and jumped on my bed, face down, to its furthest corner, bawling.

New XBox cable set: $39.00
Replacing XBox game: $59.00
Watching two sons meltdown: Priceless

I wasn't in any mood to take the blame (I said I was a good dad, remember?), nor did I want to open my mouth to speak afraid of what actually might come out. So, I slowly picked up my dish towel from their desk and walked back into the kitchen to finish making lunch. I put some jazz on and tried to breathe, running through what just happened in my mind. I literally didn't say a thing. I made lunch and waited. About five minutes passed and then footsteps coming up the stairs. The oldest was back in the house; good start. A couple of minutes later the youngest was back at my leg, deep sobs, face planted firmly in my side. The older one snuck in too, and he was in the big comfy chair in the kitchen.

"I told you guys that you can't be rough with your game system. It's not that rugged."

"I know dad, but you broke our game, and now we'll never get to play that game ... for like a month!" The little one still sniffling and wiping tears on my shirt, looking up at me with big eyes. The older one sad/mad/defeated from the corner: "I was really looking forward to this game more than any other game ever!" Each fix only satisfies until the next fix. It's a deadly spiral of game after game, new system after the next new game system, until finally grad school, marriage, or parenthood pries the game remote from your hands, and somewhere the devil cries "Noooo!"

After a few apologies by the three of us (yes, I finally took my portion of the blame), I told the guys that I had a gift-card with room on it to buy a new replacement game. "You're the best dad, ever!!" "Thank you, daddy! I love you!!" Jumping and cries of delight, exultation and raised triumphant arms. So maybe this deus ex machina move of mine wasn't exactly teaching them about scarce resources and the value of a buck, but I did frag their $59.00 game.

Whew ... peaks and valleys. Valleys and peaks. I'm trying to keep the guys on a level plane, but when you're 8 and 11, things are up and down, with an occasional fit thrown in for good measure, and an extra $90 from dad's wallet. It's watching your kids learn how to work through disappointments that's priceless.


Ashen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake Gautereaux-Hagen said...

Oh, the joys of video games and little kids. How I have been there before...

I forever thank my father for purchasing me a SEGA and a Super Nintendo within a month of each other. Endless fun for years!

JGregg said...

Dads are suckers like that!

Kayla Jane said...

For the lucky few, even marriage and children don't stop a man from enjoying a shoot-'em-up every once in a while. Besides, we NEEDED a blue-ray player anyways. :) And that's the story of our PS3.

Kayla Jane Gautereaux-Trees