Angry Mama Bird
Who are the evil geniuses that came up with Angry Birds and what have they done with my son?
As a “four-and-a-half” boy, C has racked up a few obsessions by now: fire trucks, Star Wars, volcanoes, the stock market. But nothing has arrested him and held him captive like this video game, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
It’s not that I am against his playing video games. I think they have become a part of our culture, like television, books, movies, and music, and C enjoys all of those. What I want is to teach him moderation: to watch TV, but know when to shut it off and do other things. To put down that damn dog-eared copy of War and Peace and play with trains for a little while, please kid!
So why is this so much harder with Angry Birds than with his other occupations? He reacts to the game in a unique, and maddening, way. It makes him elated and angry in quick turns. If I didn’t stop him, I think he would play it forever. He clearly thinks about it all the time. He will come out of the gate at school, and say, “Mommy, can I tell you something?” And then launches into a barrage of Angry-Birds commentary – stuff about pigs, and the function of different colored birds. The other day, we went to the playground with his friends, and he engaged his friend, let’s call him “Nuh,” as C did before he could say his full name, in an extended conversation about how he’s stuck on level 20 of Angry Birds: Space, and he can’t figure out how to shoot the birds over the moon and bounce off something, or whatever, and I thought Nuh was just going to smile, nod, and move on, like he did when C launched into a monologue about his alarm clock that turns green when it’s time to get up in the morning.
But to my surprise, Nuh nodded knowingly and said that he had done the whole game with his dad, and here’s how you get through the level, yada yada yada. Which C repeated back to me later, but, he’s still on level 20. It’s his Everest. And he won’t rest until he’s sticks a flag in the top of Mount Angry Birds.
Maybe that’s how I deal with this obsession, I thought, after hearing this conversation. Instead of letting him play Angry Birds on his own for X minutes a day (I set a timer – and he explodes with frustration when it’s time to hand back the device – but hand it back he must, in the name of this confounded “moderation.”), maybe I play it with him. So it’s something we do together. Just like last week, it was a beautiful spring afternoon, his little brother was napping, and I said, “C, why don’t you come sit outside with me for a spell, yonder? Let’s sit together and talk, you and me?” Isn’t that nice? Mother/son conversation, about hopes and fears, why is the sky blue and all that, like a Charlie Brown special or some equally wholesome piece of Americana? And then: a half-hour lecture on Angry Birds. But, to his credit, when it was over, he did say, “Thank you so much for listening to me talk about Angry Birds.”
So I thought maybe I would try to help him with this blasted level 20. I went on YouTube to find some sort of instructional video. This worked the week before when he had a new Lego set we built together that came with a “flick-fire” missile, which neither of us could operate, so we searched for “Lego flick-fire missile” and we were connected with a young boy in the Netherlands (Hello, Legodude4444!), who showed us how to use it. It was amazing – through the power of technology, a kid thousands of miles away was teaching us something. We’ve gone back to the oeuvre of Legodude4444 since, and found his voice has changed since he started recording his weekly updates on Star Wars Lego sets. Bless!
Anyway. I found a “walkthrough” of level 20, and it was recorded by grown-ups who used about ten F-words in about five seconds, so that was a bust. And anyway, Angry Birds, I have to admit, is another thing, like a television show, that I use to get through my day – to find five uninterrupted minutes (See how I worked that in? Writing!) to do something – anything – other than the immediate, demanding work of caring for children. To chew some food, for example. To work, to write, to cook, to clean the floor. To play my own Angry Birds game on another device (no, not really). But is it my own Faustian bargain? Do I let my child do something I suspect may – not harm him, exactly – but frustrate him in a perplexing, unproductive way, so that I can steal some time for myself?
But maybe I’m the one who is frustrated, not him. I am not a video game player myself, so I have trouble viewing them as just another toy, which maybe is what they are. Maybe playing Angry Birds is no different than playing with trains, or blocks – he gets upset sometimes with those things as well. “I don’t think Angry Birds is so bad,” my husband, a major gamer, said. “The slingshot motion in the game teaches him about physics.” (Repressing desire to scoff)
I guess, but I can think of video games, made for children, that are also fun and much more educational. Like Monkey Preschool. Like the Toca Boca games (on their website, they even describe their games as “digital toys.” There’s also Happy Action Theatre for the Kinect, which gets him up and running around, and we can all play together as a family. He likes to play those games too, and I never have a problem with them. He treats them more like his other toys. He plays for a while, has fun, then puts them away and moves on to other things. No stress.
If you are looking now for the lesson I’ve learned from all of this, you won’t find it. I am still not sure how to deal with Angry Birds (like I am still not sure how to deal with a lot of things – it’s the nature of parenting). Do I treat it like any other toy, as a “digital toy”? Do I continue to let him have his X minutes a day and just manage the frustration that will come up sometimes? Do I ban it entirely (I’ll have to steel myself for that one)? I don’t know. Most likely, he will play his heart out, and eventually move on to something else. But in the meantime, if anyone has any F-word-free tips on how to get through level 20 of Angry Birds: Space, could you leave them in the comments? I’ll read them later – right now, the timer’s gone off. Ding.