My sister and I got our first gaming console for Christmas in 1991. Our Godparents gave us the coveted Super Nintendo. We never had to make due with a moldy old regular Nintendo like our cousins; ours was SUPER. We fantasized about spending our next summer vacation playing Mario Kart all day with our friends and watching our dad play The Legend of Zelda all night. There was only one problem with that. Our family was a vacation family, and we never took short vacations. My dad was a tried and true road tripper, Clark Griswold style. Instead of hours defeating level after level of Donkey Kong Country, we were going to spend hours in the car staring at miles and miles of dry cornfields in Kansas.
I was miserable at the thought of my beloved Super Nintendo gathering dust all summer until one day a schoolmate told us about the new awesome thing his parents had given him for his birthday. It was a totable, portable all around adorkable Game Boy. I knew I had to have one. Somehow, my parents actually agreed to get us one. It had a see-through case, and came with Tetris. I could write a long series of Gaming Addicts Anonymous articles about my former addiction to Tetris, but to keep things sort, I’ll just mention that it all started right here with the Game Boy.
That Game Boy traveled the country with me, from Chicago to Tucson and back. I remember the horror of dropping it in a puddle at a truck stop in Texarkana and many arguments with my sister over who’s turn it was to play Vegas Stakes or Wario World. It was a good time, and my first introduction to the handheld portable technology I’m so addicted to through my iPhone and Nintendo DS today.
But here’s where this article takes a turn from a sweet memoir of childhood geekery to a scathing commentary on the modern use of handheld gaming devices. When my parents gave us the Game Boy, it came with a set of rules.
Rule #1. Not until homework is done.
Rule #2. It stays home except on long car rides.
Rule #3. Never ever at the dinner table.
My sister and I followed these rules religiously, lest we lose our Game Boy privileges for a miserable week or month. Because of that, every time I sit down in a restaurant and have my conversation interrupted by the “pew pew KABOOM!” sounds of a child playing on his PSP with the sound turned up to max level, I get severely annoyed.
Parents of today, lend me your ears! I understand that handheld devices of all types are ubiquitous in a way they weren’t two decades ago. I understand that every kid has one and that the games now are much more enthralling than the 8-bit puzzle games of yesteryear. However, I do not understand why you are allowing your child to play on their 3DS throughout a three course sit-down meal. I wasn’t even allowed to read books at the dinner table at home, let alone bust out a loud round of Mortal Kombat in the middle of finishing my mac and cheese. Dinnertime is family time and conversation time. For the love of everything sacred in this world, please teach your children the ability to sit still, be quiet and participate in conversation. I know it’s even hard for most adults now to sit through a meal or movie without compulsively checking their smart phone, but I promise that your kids can do it. Teach them that they can go an hour without touching their iPod so that they don’t grow up into the type of teenagers who feel compelled to text and drive and send themselves and others to an early motor-y death.
If you really want to have a family friendly food and gaming experience, I suggest Dave and Busters or Gameworks. Not only do you get to eat a nice dinner together, but EVERYONE there is playing video games. It’s a win-win for everyone, including the people at the table next to you.