Thursday, July 20, 2006

Video games killing the national parks?

An interesting NPR article.

While I have no doubt that people are playing more video games than in decades past (if for no other reason than because of the greater availability and appeal), I don't necessarily see a "cause and effect" relationship between video games and national park vacations.

After all, it is the PARENTS who dictate where the family will go on vacation. True, some younger parents may have their lives dictated far too much by video games and other technology and not have the love of nature that others do. The new Disney/Pixar flick Cars had a great example of that when Lightning was up on the ridge overlooking a canyon and was amazed at the fact that nobody on the freeway nearby even seemed to know what they were missing.

I think part of the blame falls on society as a whole. We have become an adrenaline-addicted society with a short attention span. The mere concept of spending HOURS in a car DRIVING to a national park (and even more hours going THROUGH it) terrifies many people...not only due to their children's potential short attention spans, but due to theirs as well. They fear that there won't be enough "cheap thrills" to keep everybody entertained.

I believe that mentality comes from many it video games, movies, magazines...or maybe even the "workaholic lifestyle" of far too many of us...the idea that if this is the ONLY real vacation I'm getting, I'm going to make sure it's the most exciting, most memorable ever. Thus, the slow paced, serenely awesome National Park trips take a back seat to trips to Disneyland (which is a great family vacation, if I do say so myself *grin*) or other theme parks, or more exotic places in foreign countries.

Before being married, I had been to Yellowstone a dozen or so times. I had also been to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion's National Park, the Redwood National Forest, and some other national forest up in the Northwest that I forget the name of. We weren't a huge outdoorsy type family...never did any real hunting or fishing trips other than with scouts...our campouts were usually in the backyard...and most of our nature experiences were in a park up at the base of the mountain that had fire pits near the creek for us to have an evening hot dog roast. But, we did take vacation time very seriously. Some years we had rip roaring super adventurous theme park vacations in California or Florida. Other times, we had low key, "soak in the beauty and majesty" vacations in national parks.

About a year ago, we went to Yellowstone with my 3 kids. At the time they were aged 1, 2, and 5. The one year old got very little out of it and made the trip difficult at times. However, the two year old and five year old LOVED it. We spent a few days just casually driving through the park, looking for animals, hiking around to look at various hotspots. We played hide and seek in the forest and drank from a natural spring. Looking back through the photo albums, my oldest remembers the trip fondly and my middle child tries hard to remember and enjoy the idea of the trip. We will definitely be going back.

I am saddened by the indications that more and more children spend their days/weeks/months playing inside on video games rather than having outdoor adventures, playing in trees, digging in sandboxes, or just using their imagination. I've mentioned this before...that I have multiple video game systems in my house (each of the major players in the current "game console war" plus some older systems). However, my kids are outside for at least a few hours each day and often have to be begged back inside because it's too hot or stormy or whatever. More often than not, my kids would prefer to play outside instead of playing video games or watching movies. This sadly seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

I truly think a balance can be found wherein kids can enjoy the entertainment that modern technology has to offer while at the same time, building their imagination and appreciation for "low tech" options that were enjoyed decades and centuries ago. The trouble is...that in order for that balance to be reached, parents actually have to WORK. Yes, being a parent is a job. Far too many people these days seem to see parenting just as a "rite of passage"...something that happens with the passing of time and shouldn't really be thought of as changing anything or requiring any effort on their part. I'm constantly amazed at the 'parents' who just go on with their life as they did before having kids...just assuming that the child will raise itself and all will be well...relying on TV and video games to raise the child.

I think I've rattled enough...I usually do when I get on this subject. It's just sad...

The "attack on video games" does indeed have merit...but truly, I believe that the problem isn't necessarily with video games (even though there is some trash out there), but rather, the problem lies with the "parents" who aren't actually being parents for their children and instead just seek other places to place the blame.

No comments: