As you relax, watch the Cowboys (God two teams I despise playing each other, the Boys and the Fish, goddamnit. At least Detroit won), I want to make a special plea for tomorrow, America's biggest shopping day of the year. It's a simple one, really, and one I've noticed over the years: don't buy toys which kids get to watch.
All those remote control toys bought for tweeners (8-12 yo) which get played with for an hour or two and then get sunk into the miasma of a child's bedroom.
"Seen that Jimmy Neutron wheel?"
Kids like to be involved with their toys. They like to control them. Batteries make them spectators. Now, I know junior thinks he wants that fire truck and Missy swears that she wanted the shitting, talking, puking baby, but in reality, they are the one night stands of the toy world. Sure, they look pretty for a night or two, but then, like that guy you met on vacation, you lose their number and forget about that torrid weekend and that flexible tongue. When you bump into them on the street, you have to wonder if they made a sales call at your job.
Older kids like RC toys, but to a 12-13 year old, they're playing speed racer or whatever kids play these day, maybe crash Jeff Gordon's car. And over 13, there are only two words for, at least male children, which matters, Xbox or Playstation 2. All their hopes and desires can be encapscled by those two items. So, maybe blowing away tangos or taking over Miami's drug trade on a sea of dead Haitians aren't your taste, but it will keep them occupied, maybe with stint of Madden football, NBA basketball or WWE Wrestling.
Make no mistake, they will take your money, any stray money and if they are old enough to work, their money, to feed the monster which is console gaming. If they're a little more advanced, they're not smoking dope in the basement, they're setting up the Battlefield 1942 frag party. Any women along are more interested in shooting them on the screen than smoking their pole. Trust me on that. The only thing you have to worry about is running out of Mountain Dew and Doritios. Don't worry about the Cat5 cable and stray computers, if all you is watch TV in the dark, your electric bill will only be 20 perecent above average. Shutting things down at 8 PM Sunday is a good way to prevent the filing of missing person reports.
But for boys, the need for interactivity is met in two ways, either by building or racing things, when not hitting their siblings, or by console gaming. As I found out last Christmas. And while you can whine about violence and negative stereotypes, remember what High School was like and I think console gaming is a pleasing alternative.
What parents may forget is that the need to console game starts early, by the end of first grade. So while they may still want Legos and Hot Wheels, it just isn't Christmas without a couple of video games. And don't get those kid safe games, they suck. Get the games the kids want to play, as long as it meets your moral standards. There's no reason for a 9 year old to play Grand Theft Auto Vice City. His friends parents may have bought it, but that doesn't mean you need it in your home. When he's old enough to work, he's old enough to sneak it into your house.
Of course, the newest games are $50 each, something which makes my head spin. When I was a kid 30 years ago, that was a bike. Now, that's a game. My eight year old nephew not only gets two or three of them, he buys a couple. Now, when I was eight, $50 was as unreal as naked women. But for him, it's what he gets. Oh, and it's not just the Playstation habit. Oh no. There's the Gane Boy Advance habit. The newest version costs $99 and the games $30 each. Between the two systems, my sisters and my nephews spend maybe $1000 a year. And that's not including the "free" PC software they get from their schoolmates.
Now, as they say, it's different for girls. You can buy stuffed animals for women well into their 20's and they "collect" Barbie for longer than one would think. They morph from toy into hobby. Girls may occasionally dabble in console gaming, some may even cross over, but the market, for the most part is for boys and men. I have learned the hard way that women do not always appreciate the purchase of said games. They think it disconcerting that a man would be fascinated with console and PC gaming into his 30's and beyond. Which means you need to do a good job hiding it.
But someone will argue that those old fashioned toys are cute. And they are, but for most kids, they aren't relevant. They want to play their own movies and be their own heroes.
And that's my real point. While people sneer at console gaming, for most kids, it's a liberating experience. I mean, they can abuse it and avoid contact with real humans, but for most kids, it fuels, not limits their imagination. Having my nephew play as Michael Jordan was a liberating experience for him, an empowering one. Because he wasn't just a kid, he was playing with the best players on the planet on their level. Or living out some other adventure he's only seen in movies. In the end, these games help, not hinder imagination. Substituting your judgement on what you liked for what they like is a waste of time and money.
Get them toys they'll use and not only will they be happy, you'll save money. After all, Santa only exists as a drunken, sodomizing, theiveing bum, at least in this year's movies.
posted by Steve @ 4:46:00 PM