I now have a son old enough to realize the internet is a treasure trove of time-wasting delights. He’s moved on from phone apps that are “free” (Can you buy me this bag of imaginary digital crap that doesn’t actually exist for $4.99 so I can get further in the game?) and is now thoroughly entranced by YouTube. (Parental control settings, how I love thee.)
Here’s the thing: what he’s watching drives me crazy. I have the settings jacked on the devices so there won’t be any boobies or even anyone saying “oh, phooey” so maybe that’s part of why he’s discovered the types of videos that he has. He’s watching. Other people. Play video games.
You know, that thing that was super annoying in the summer of ’86 through ’96?
Your friend: “Hey, come over and play Nintendo with me!”
You: “Sounds fun, be right over.”
Your friend when you get there: “Yeah, so if I stop I’ll lose all my men so just watch me until I finish this level, OK? I won't be long.”
THREE HOURS LATER
You: “I’m going to go home now, OK?”
Your friend: “What? Oh no! I just have to get more power-ups!” Thinks to self: where did my friend go?
The very thing that was the cause of incredible selfishness and boredom for the first video generation has, through the power of YouTube, become something interesting to watch. And he will watch anyone play anything. This is the digital equivalent of watching paint dry and I have no idea why our children will not only tolerate it, but seemingly enjoy it.
At first, it was the genial and sometimes genuinely amusing British tones from Stampy Longhead, Minecrafter extraordinaire who has managed to make a viable income from his videos:
I get that - you can pick up some game tips and sometimes it’s funny. But Stampy is but one pasty-faced basement dweller. There are thousands more and some of them barely offer a grunt as they play through levels of games WE ACTUALLY OWN. As in the boy could be playing.
I tried to ask him what he likes, but typical of a pre-tween boy, his explanation lacks details: “I dunno. It’s good.”
Maybe I should learn from him and call up an old friend on Skype to see if she wants to play Bomber Man while I wait to leave the house for two hours.