I work in software, and I’ve travelled all across the world for my job. I’ve been to Budapset, Warsaw, New York, California, Detroit, even Cincinnati … Once I was invited to Buc, France near Versailles to give a training. This one was different. A software architect from a sister company was going to meet me to train his team to learn a new software language.
I felt like I was in way over my head and dreadfully out of my element.
This gentleman was more experienced than me, taller than me, wore cooler jackets … the whole bit. He was also incredibly stoic. I didn’t know if my goofy, off-the-cuff approach would work this time around. Would he think I was not taking things seriously enough? Would he request I be shipped off back to NOLA?
After the first day went unexpectedly well under my sweating palms, we decided to venture out late to dinner. In this part of Versailles, not much was open at 2300 (11PM, y’all.) We walked down to a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint where we relaxed and discussed the day’s triumphs. He pointed out that he loved my off-the-cuff approach, and that it was making people warm up more quickly. I found my opening. I asked my question.
“Hey … you play video games?”
We proceeded to talk for three hours about the games we’ve played and what they meant to us. His take on Final Fantasy VI still blows my hair back.
That night I made a lifelong friend. I made a friend the way I had when I was a kid, with video games as the backdrop. I still, to this day, reach out to him whenever I have a question or when a new game comes out that I think he would dig.
Video games are not a complete waste of time.
They encourage us to persist, overcome difficult challenges, frustration, and failure. They allow us to set lofty goals and teach us how much work it takes to reach them.
Video games can also be a huge distraction.
They can tempt us to neglect our priorities, obligations, and even our health.
My seven-year-old daughter learned the perils and promise of video games as she dove head-first into a game I introduced her to called Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch.
For the uninitiated, this game is basically a chore simulator. You tend to a town, talk to neighbors, improve your house, build furniture, chop trees, and water flowers. You can play with friends who can come visit your town, and they can marvel at your artful bunny arch placement.
I introduced her to this game, mostly because it required a fair bit of reading. She was having a hard time finding a love of reading, and I thought this might help make it more enjoyable for her.
After she played the game for a couple of weeks she started to tell me things even I didn’t know. I could see that she was pulled into the world and that she saw her in-game neighbors as real enough to keep talking to every day. The game became important to her. We suddenly had this weird, little, silly thing in common.
We had our own secret language.
It wasn’t all roses and sunbeams, however. She had trouble putting the game down to do things like eat dinner or do her schoolwork. She fought over the game with her brother, who, at three, wasn’t quite as patient as she was. He was pretty damn cute, though, so he usually got his turn.
Beyond our shared connection to the world of Animal Crossing, my daughter made actual real-world friends playing this game. She played every day with a new friend, and she learned things I never thought she would pick up by playing a video game. She learned not to tell people how much money you have. She learned that people get jealous if you keep talking about some new, cool thing you got. She learned that it can take a long time to get what you want and that it’s not always just your parents preventing you from getting it.
She learned all of this playing a video game.
In the world we live in where we are less in direct contact and are forced to connect more over technology, learning life skills virtually has become more normal. I’m happy that the way I grew up prepared me for this time. I’m happy that my kids are already seeing how learning and growth can happen even through a screen, tucked into the back of the couch, casually building friendships that will last a lifetime.
Derek Seibert was born and raised in the deep, suburban swampland of River Ridge, Louisiana. By day, he helps big companies make software. By night, he devotes his time to basketball, and, most importantly, spending quality time with his family. He’s a key member of one of the premier retro video game bands in southern Louisiana. You know them as Start Select. He also co-hosts a rousing software podcast called Retro Time with his good buddy Jeremy Miller. Subscribe at https://retrotimepodcast.com for guaranteed hijinks.