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Right, So, My Son Thinks Playing Games Is Work

Toby A-Workin'

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There are immeasurable ways parents will screw up in raising their kids. It’s pretty crucial to accept that there will be things you get wrong, ideas that seemed so right at the time that will come back to haunt you, resentments built up despite best intentions. Then there are the things you realise you’re getting horribly wrong exactly as they’re happening. Toby, my 23 month old, thinks playing games is “work”.

Technically that’s true. My job involves a hefty amount of playing games, so when I’m sat at my desk delighting or struggling through a game, I’m very definitely at work. This is the farcical way in which I keep the boy in Rusks and trousers. And it needs to be communicated to Toby, since I work from home. “Daddy can’t play right now, Toby, he’s working.”

It was inevitable, I guess.

Toby now, on seeing a game controller, will pick it up and declare, “Toby a-workin’.” Not “Toby a-workin’!” There’s no exclamation mark. It’s deadly serious. There’s “pah-layay” (playing), which involves cars and diggers, and there’s workin’, which involves sitting in front of a PC monitor and driving a pretend car or digger. (My last two reviews were Giant Machines 2017 and Mafia III, for crying out loud.) There is no way this ends well.

Now on walking into my study, Toby immediately announces that it’s time for him to start working. Which means I have to lift him onto my lap and hand him the (disconnected) 360 controller. He “pess a butns” for me, while I surreptitiously control whatever’s happening on screen. This week that’s been the most terrifying experience of trying to play the increasingly horrible Mafia III without anything inappropriate appearing on screen. This means absolutely no dialogue, avoiding all fights, and basically trying to drive a car around the streets in the most law-abiding way possible. Fortunately he doesn’t know what traffic lights are/how they work yet, so I can get away with running those. But he very much understands zebra crossings (“stripah road, hold dadda HAND”) so I have to slow down or completely stop at every one of those.

After a few minutes I say to Toby, “Thank you for helping daddy with his work!” and Toby gets down, a job well done.

But what happens later? He gets to school, and the teacher says, “Right, everyone it’s time to work,” and there will be this bemused, probably devastated little face, waiting for the video games to come out and instead finding out he’s being told to do his times tables.

And how am I ever going to get him to do any homework?! “Stop playing video games and get on with oh who am I kidding.” (Homework is a cruel and stupid abuse of young people and I’ll never force him to do it anyway, of course.)

The poor boy is in for such a horrible shock. And I’m going to have some impossible explaining to do.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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