On this theme, if you have kids older than 5, then you’ve most likely had requests to get Fortnite. It’s the current rage right now and as someone who spent many nights playing 4-on-4 battles of Goldeneye, I understand the allure.
We’ve taken a stand against this kind of gaming in our home for now, but it’s something all parents have to think about. This article does a good job of discussing the pros and cons.
It also touches on aspects of gaming that my parents never had to worry about. It’s no longer just the kids and the console and the game: there’s the entire online aspect. Both playing against strangers, as well as watching strangers play the games via YouTube and other sources. People can build massive followings just playing games and recording their sessions for others to watch … it still feels weird to type that.
I shared a couple of weeks back about gaming in our home. Part of that essay was focused on how much I (and my kids) are enjoying Breath of the Wild. This article from late 2017 does such a nice job of summing up why it’s such an enjoyable game.
The vast majority of open-world games are actually very linear in terms of their core progression, with a series of primary story beats that have to be played through in order. Prior Zelda games were much the same, with a rote approach to acquiring items to solve dungeons to move onto the next. Not so with Breath of the Wild; in fact, most of its story is entirely optional. There’s so much to do in the world, and so much of it is delightful, that it’s easy to forget about saving the world from Ganon and get wrapped up in your own adventure. But you’ll always know how to get back on track, and the holistic design means that what you’ve been doing will rarely feel irrelevant or frivolous.
I’m just passed the first divine beast (maybe a quarter of the way through the game) and I’m in no hurry to finish (I only play a couple of hours each week). It’s the kind of game that encourages exploration and I prefer to savour the experience rather than rush to complete it.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve bonked on my longer runs. This often happens to me in a minor way around 14–15 KMs. But during my long run last week, it happened at 5 KM in. I finished just under 27 KM, but it was a thoroughly unenjoyable run and very slow.
So it got me wondering about my nutrition. And reading. The link above has been helpful for getting a better understanding of how to approach this goal. And I thought I would share a few others:
Now, like most things related to health, we need to be cautious. Take the advice you see in articles like this with a grain of salt. You only have to read a few to realize you can get very contradictory advice from one article to the next. It seems that scientists and athletes alike have very differing opinions on how to approach your diet when training for long distances.
What I’ve found for me is this: what I eat all week affects my one long run each week. Previously I had focused more on a plan for eating the day before and day of my race. But I hadn’t given a lot of thought to how I’m eating 2 months out. And as my overall weekly distance increases (60+ KM last week), I believe I’ve been getting too low on glycogen.
So yay, more carbs are on the way 😀
If any of you have experience in this area and some good resources to share, I’d would love to hear it!
Related to the recent theme of running your own website, Craig Mod interviews Jason Kottke on the latest episode of On Margins*. Craig’s podcast is focused on books, but he interviewed Jason on the premise that his hundreds of thousands of words published on his site over 20 years is several books worth.
A lot of the interview is only tangentially related to the theme I’ve been harping on lately. But there are some golden words spoken towards the end of the interview about running your own site, memberships, and the intimacy of email newsletters.
As false as it may be, the inbox is a place of implied intimacy, where you can have an even stronger voice than you can on the open web. I know for me, writing stuff to my mailing list is probably the most satisfying thing I do online, to be honest. The responses I get are unlike responses you can get anywhere else on the web, I've found. You're not going to get a 3,000 word comment from the heart posting on a news site or something like that.
And Jason follows up:
Right, not anymore. But blogs used to be that way, a little bit. One of the ways I've always thought about blogs is like you're writing an email to anyone who might be interested, rather than a single person. I think that blogs very much used to be like that. It was, we are all writing these open emails to each other and anyone who wanted to respond at length could.
Craig closes the show describing his feeling for a site that he has been following for over a decade (kottke.org):
You go to this familiar place that keeps evolving over time, but everything is connected through the strength of your voice and your ethos and your curiosity. I think that's a very important, amazing thing to have in the world today. Thank you for doing that.
That’s a big part of why we do this kind of thing.
On Gaming & the Breath of the Wild
I’ll be straight up: I’m not much of a gamer. Up until very recently, we did not have a console in our home and it was something I did not miss. But it wasn’t always this way.
I grew up when video games weren’t much of a thing. I have a foggy memory of a friend getting an Atari in the late 70s (yeah, I’m that old), but video games in the home weren’t common. I grew up playing most video games in a smoke-filled arcade, digging quarters out of my dad’s back pocket while he chased the high score in 1942 bomber. My sister and I would always go through our allotment of quarters in the first 10–15 minutes, but since dad was good at his favourite game, he’d still be playing his first or second quarter when we ran out. The arcade owner was a friendly guy who’d give us free licorice when we got bored of waiting for dad to finally finish. Those Saturday mornings were good memories.
Finally, around the mid-80’s, the NES became the hot item and my friends and I would pool our allowance and paper route money to rent a console and try to beat Super Mario Bros in a weekend. A little later, it was the Sega Genesis and NHL hockey. I spent a lot of time leading the Canucks to the Stanley Cup in full season mode.
As a young adult, I stopped gaming for a number of years. It seemed I always had more interesting things to do and I was bored of NHL hockey. That was until the first Playstation came out. I’d consider that the pinnacle of my gaming experience. I spent a lot of hours in my early twenties playing Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, Gran Turismo, and a lot of Madden football (I switched favourite sports in the early 90s). And my core group of friends would get together for a lot of nights of GoldenEye (still one of the best group games I’ve experienced).
When I was a child…
I share all this because games were a part of my walk with Christ. It was during this period in my early twenties that my first marriage fell apart. And as we had two children, I suddenly felt the need to evaluate where I was in life and what had led me there. And while marriage involves two people, God showed me the part I played in failing my wife and children. Selfishness was the root issue.
And video games were a core part of where I invested my energies. So I quote the apostle Paul in the heading above because I realized that games and movies and the pursuit of entertainment were how I focused on pleasing myself above all other things.
This is not a judgement: I’m not against video games. As with many things, it’s the dose that causes problems, not the substance itself.
But for me, I decided this was a part of my self-focused childhood that needed to be left behind. As God led me to himself, as he slowly transformed my heart to enjoy the taste of heavenly things, I began to leave behind some of things that used to take my time and energy. And games was one I dropped completely.
That was some 20 years ago. But here I am with a new family, including 4 children between 14 and 8 years old. As they go to school and spend time with other children, gaming is a subject that had become much more prevalent over the past 3–4 years.
Parents in 2018 have a lot of choices to make regarding screens and their children. How much is too much? What should they be able to watch, play, consume? How do we track it? Stay involved? These are very common questions.
My wife and I prayerfully consider these questions constantly (for ourselves as well). Slowly, we let gaming into our home a little at a time. We purchased some games for the Mac App Store. Then a couple for the Apple TV. Finally, we picked up a used Wii last summer. The kids enjoyed them all, but as is the way of these things, there was always something better out there. When your console is two generations behind, you’re the odd kid out (although not quite as weird as the kids who don’t have any at all).
Finally, we got a Nintendo Switch this past spring for one son’s birthday. I’m not ready to let my twelve-year-old play Call of Duty. And likely never will be. But I do believe there are some quality games available that can be a shared experience.
For our family, that is playing Nintendo games. We have a lot of fun playing Mario Kart as a family (we’ll have tournaments occasionally). And my boys and I are all greatly enjoying Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We can’t play it together, but we sure enjoy sharing where we’ve explored during screen time.
Look for the positives
As many of us face these hard decisions, I thought I would share what led me to the decision to where we are today.
First, I wanted to join my children in what they’re doing. I’m not the best when it comes to dropping everything and saying yes when my children ask me to play. I’m getting better, but that’s likely because play has morphed into playing basketball more than make-believe. At any rate, if my kids were going to seeking out games, I’d rather be involved and aware of what they’re doing instead of them trying to fulfill that desire at any one of their friend’s house.
And we’ve found just that with Nintendo. If a case can be made that video games can be “good for us”, then I think Nintendo is making those kinds of games. There’s a focus in their games that goes beyond mere violence. Most of us are familiar with the various options of the Mario universe and I can say I don’t feel bad about my kids playing them. Or playing them myself.
But I’d like to take a moment to sing the praises of Breath of the Wild. For some reason, I never tried any of the Zelda games over the years. But the latest version for the Switch is one of the best games I’ve ever played.
The content is clean and friendly for all the ages in our home (yes, you fight monsters — but it feels very cartoonish and non-threatening). The landscapes are lush and graphically stunning. The mechanics of the gameplay just feels good. But what has impressed me the most is that there’s so much to this game: it’s a large world that encourages exploration.
It reminds me a little of the Final Fantasy games of my younger years. Large worlds, goals to accomplish, weapons to find, spells to learn. But Breath of the Wild is much more enjoyable because I’m not just pointing characters around and making text-based decisions. Instead, I climb trees and mountains, swim in the rivers, and fight the bad guys by hand. And that’s not all: you spend your time hunting and foraging, then cooking meals and elixirs. You have to think about supplies and starting fires and having appropriate clothing.
All in all, I believe this game is more wholesome than a lot of options and it has a touch of realism to it. There have been a number of conversations where my wife has had to take a few moments to realize the topic was a video game.
Back to the larger topic, I do have some concerns about games in general.
One is the false sense of accomplishment that games give you. Zelda does this very well. You have your main quests, but also a lengthy list of side quests you can tackle. It’s very goal oriented and each time you sit down to play, there is a sense of satisfaction at completing a portion of the game when you’re finished.
I want my children to understand that this is a false illusion. You have accomplished nothing beyond entertaining yourself. In a culture where entertaining oneself is a primary form of idolatry, I want to be very careful with the example I set and how we communicate about it to our children. Entertainment is serving yourself. Which is fine and good, but in a proportionate amount compared to how we spend our time overall.
The second concern is the sheer amount of time. I was surprised the first couple of times I played Zelda (again, it has been some 15 years since I last experienced this type of game) by how time flew by. I’d say to myself, “I’ll just finish this shrine trial” and then be shocked that 45 minutes has gone by. We’ve only had this game for 5 weeks, but I’ve probably played around 10–15 hours of it so far.
We all have to decide how much is too much. But it is something to be evaluating regularly.
As with everything, we try our best to find balance as parents. Both for ourselves and for our children. For now, we’re really enjoying playing and talking about this game. Tomorrow? We’ll see.
I recently shared a list of personal blogs that I enjoy. But I neglected to add Alan Jacobs to the list. Perhaps it’s because he maintains several blogs, some regularly, others less so.
But his primary personal blog is one I subscribe to, and it’s almost like a digital commonplace book. I first mentioned Alan in this space because of Habits of Mind in an Age of Distraction. Since then, I’ve enjoyed his site and several other longer essays on other sites. The one at the top included, which is a profile of Jacobs by David J. Michael. If you’re not familiar with Jacobs’ work, this is a good place to start.
I appreciate Alan Jacobs for his writing on theological matters, but also because he’s a man of faith willing to take on the subject of technology. Indeed, he embraced the internet from early on, as mentioned in this piece:
Jacobs began thinking more seriously about technology in the late 1990s, when he taught himself to code. At that time the internet was emerging as a vibrant place for intellectual conversation, and he became an early and active participant
But even more so, Jacobs, a veracious writer on many topics, saw changes in himself brought on by changes in technology. And he’s not been afraid to tackle that subject either:
By the end of that decade, Jacobs noticed he was losing his ability to focus on books for extended periods of time. Worried that it might never return, he made strenuous efforts to reclaim his attention and made adjustments to his online habits. He also started to work out ideas around concentration, reading and technology on a new technology blog called Text Patterns. He collected these ideas in Reading in the Age of Distraction, which argued for the value of “whim” in reading and made recommendations for preserving the pleasure of reading amid the noise of the internet.
Another related piece by Alan himself is Tending the Digital Commons: A Small Ethics toward the Future. Cal Newport has referred to this article a few times in recent months and for a good reason. In it, Jacobs outlines a few issues with the current state of the internet and the “walled gardens” of Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the like. And (this is where I finally get around to relating this to last week’s issue) he makes a case for running one’s own website:
For the last few years we’ve been hearing a good many people (most of them computer programmers) say that every child should learn to code. As I write these words, I learn that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has echoed that counsel. Learning to code is a nice thing, I suppose, but should be far, far down on our list of priorities for the young. Coding is a problem-solving skill, and few of the problems that beset young people today, or are likely to in the future, can be solved by writing scripts or programs for computers to execute. I suggest a less ambitious enterprise with broader applications, and I’ll begin by listing the primary elements of that enterprise. I think every young person who regularly uses a computer should learn the following…
He goes on to list several skills that all relate to running your own site. Buying a domain name, choosing a good web host, and writing some HTML & CSS. It’s a long piece, but he sums it up well.
I am, in short, endorsing here the goals of the Domain of One’s Own movement.
I haven’t even mentioned the books that he has written, two of which are very high on my to-read list. If you’re looking for a new site to subscribe to, I suggest Alan Jacobs is a worthy addition!