• Lijing Cobb

Utopian wishes

My kids sat down at the table after school to do homework. Each of them has their laptop open in front of them, and they are playing a math game together. Exaggerated exclamations, mock anger, loud giggles, light banter, easy questions. From where I was sitting holding my own book, I was enjoying the atmosphere tremendously: so relaxing and full of cheery ease.

My kids ask for video games often. My husband and I agree on saying no most of the time, but once or twice a week we let them do it as a reward for their good behavior. When they are on video games they know no hunger or thirst. They scream joyfully and giggle now and then, just like I saw yesterday after school. The other day my son showed me a few pages on his Minecraft book about the things one learns from the world of Minecraft, and most of the observations I read are things I can agree to wholeheartedly.

Away from computers, in real life: my kids are constantly fighting like all siblings do. What do they fight over? Everything and nothing.

So I wonder: what is it that video game designers know that parents don’t? How come the video games seem to bring out the best in the kids, while real life seems to bring out the worst? How come the kids know to work with each other in video games to keep the game going, while in real life they seem to be hellbent on sabotaging each other’s happiness every chance they got?

Is the switch to real life labeled Evil, and the switch to video games labeled Good? What’s going on?

I wonder if it is a matter of control that kids are seeking to have over their lives. Yesterday I went to a new spa with my friend and we had a good bit of pampering. Just to put it in perspective, I had not had a manicure for over 2 years since the outbreak of Covid, and in the same period went to pedicure twice. So in my mind, when I went yesterday after such a long break, I was not being outrageous, but just wanted a bit of change. My girls, however, became embittered immediately upon seeing my nails. “It’s not fair!” They protested, and demanded to be taken to the nail salon to receive the same treatment. “No.” I said with finality, not offering the same reasons I’d offered to them before, you know, that such treatment ruins your nails (mine too, of course), and I’m the person who makes the money so yes, it is fair.

But good for them for standing up for themselves. I have no illusion about the fact that I am holding a lot of power over them and what I did yesterday wasn’t fair at all. I’m being a phony and I should stop doing that. But it gets the point through. Real life isn’t fair.

But video games are. You can be who you want to be there, and when your sense of justice is no longer a concern, you can be the best version of yourself, treating each other fairly and courteously. No chance to be bitter because you know that your success depends on your own skills at utilizing the same set of resources available to all.

In order to enjoy such a relaxed and easy ambience in my home, I must first recreate a completely fair system in my house, just like the video games.

In order for kids to grow up to be “good” citizens of the world, we must first recreate a completely fair system in our society, just like the video games.

Is that possible? Would that take away sufferings? Would we all be happy then?

Can we put video game designers in positions where they design our society just as they design their games? Would that work at all?

My 7yo woke up yesterday a grouch, like she usually is. I guess she must be the definition of “not a morning person.” For no apparent reason at all she became uncontrollably sad, her big eyes brimming with tears, her voice agitated, high pitched, whiny, spitting out words of bitterness. There is a sense of injustice in her, and her little person couldn’t contain and digest that so she must let it out. Her negativity was so overwhelming that it completely overshadowed my desire to level it out with her, so I shut her out and sent her away on her bus without a hug and a kiss. Alas, we are already so enmeshed in this never ending cycle of injustice in our families. Despite my desire to make it a good place for my kids to be, my attempts fail all the time, resulting in pain for these little people (and this bigger person too, equally if not more) who have not yet developed a mature coping mechanism. They unleash their fury on me without any mediation, destroying the fragile core of peace and stability that I try to build like a sand castle every day. Is it time to give up yet? Let them play video games all they want so that they’d be “happy,” and I’d have my peace.

Bitterness feeds on bitterness. Happiness feeds on happiness. A pumpkin seed does not grow up to be a watermelon. If I get lice in my hair I must take the time to kill them all before I may enjoy peace in my hair again. If I sowed the seeds of discontent in my kids I must reap what I sowed and sow no more of what I do not wish to reap.

I’ll try to look at every day as an opportunity to sow a little bit more happiness, and a little less bitterness, so that happiness can prosper, and bitterness might be overwhelmed and die out. I need to weed my garden and rid it of ill will. I need to persist for all our sakes, because real life does not play by the same set of rules video games follow. Our Maker likes to make it a lot more “interesting” than that. I need to trust that our brains and intuitions are much more evolved than that.

So no, video games, you don’t win. In the game of life you are nothing but a hoax, a mirage, a soap bubble.

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