The X-Box was released in late 2001, but it was not until a year later that I took mine off the shelf at Best Buy. It was the first console that I owned, my parents having refused to purchase me the Game Boys and Super Nintendos that I lobbied for over the years.
I never understood why they held out. Video games were so awesome. Only communists did not play video games. Kim Jung-Il’s parents probably never bought him a video game. So in the interest of preserving freedom, I took my long-saved money (that I had gotten for Christmas a week earlier) and bought myself an X-Box.
At almost $200, it was the most expensive thing I had ever bought. And it was awesome.
Two years went by and I had to wear my parents down again so they would allow me to get Halo 2. This was, by far, the biggest video game to date. For a 16-year old kid not into cars, drugs, or sex this was the biggest life event to date. Halo 2 was, of course, rated M—the video game equivalent to an R-rated movie.
I had seen one R-rated movie to that point, Air Force One, which is the tamest R-rated movie ever made. (From IMDB’s parental description: “A man walks into a room and shoots a man in the head… not graphic.” Seriously, you have to be trying to make that not graphic.)
My parents drew the line at hockey and skateboarding games though. Shooting aliens would turn me into a cold-blooded killer (“But mom, everybody I know— If everybody you knew jumped of a bridge…”). Finally, somewhere between the PowerPoint presentation and contract that said I would not play it more than an hour at a time (lol, right) I won them over, though they made me pay for it.
(Two weeks later I was playing it with my 12-year old sister for hours on end, nobody cared.)
A few months later I watched the show on MTV when they unveiled the X-Box’s successor, the X-Box 360. I do not remember much, except that The Killers performed and my wondering, “How the hell am I going to pay for this thing?”
Long story short, I never did. I had no money and my trusty old X-Box remained fun. Even if there were periods that I did not play it for six months. But over three nights last week I played Star Wars: Republic Commando from beginning to end and I still enjoyed it quite a bit. A fun game renders its release date meaningless.
It has now almost been ten years since I bought my X-Box. There were lots of challenging games to beat and it took me on adventures that no movie or even book could. But the biggest lesson has probably been from my parents’ monetary involvement, of which there was none. Nobody has made a new X-Box game for five years, but in that first five years I spent around $1500 on X-Box related stuff. That did not come easy for a teenager.
I have now decided to stop playing for a while and see if I miss it. I do not think I will, even if I have had a great time playing. And I have never regretted buying it. Video games are a unique form of entertainment and they are still young. I anticipate much virtual reality in everyone’s future, including mine.
Ultimately though, if your kid wants video games this holiday season let him or her have them. But do not buy it for them. It will teach them financial responsibility, it will teach them to research which games to buy and why, it will teach them you do not have to upgrade to be happy, it will give them a fun challenge, it will (probably) not turn them into an axe murderer, and it will take them to places that even books cannot.
At least, that is what it did for me.
Last night before I decided to give it up, I was killed in the game Mercenaries. The North Koreans shot down my helicopter. I was pissed at them, still kind of am. Maybe they would not be so violent if their parents had let them buy and X-Box.