Swords, sorcerers and Dad

Now that the fall television season has arrived, I'd like to tell you about my favorite program.

It's an action-packed adventure show full of martial arts and magic and mystery. It usually stars superheroes or warriors or cartoon characters (sometimes we hit the trifecta: Superhero cartoon warriors!) who are seeking a treasure or trying to save the world from imminent destruction. Our heroes travel through fabulous settings -- everything from sandstone castles to futuristic space cities to Infernal Fire Swamps of Despair -- while they overcome evildoers and cast spells and achieve great things.

I'm sure you'd enjoy this program, too, but you won't find it on any cable channel. The show's only available in homes equipped with video games and the teen-agers necessary to play them.

I don't play video games myself, and know so little about them that I'm probably the world's least qualified person to write about gaming. But that's never stopped me before.

Despite my ignorance, video games have become a big part of my life, and I occasionally find myself shouting something like, "No! You should've used the Great Mallet of Confusion! Now you've got to start over."

Here's how it happened: My wife and I finally caved and bought our two sons a Playstation 2, which is a flat black box that attaches to a television via cables. Not to get too technical here, but game cartridges are inserted into this box and the games take place on the TV screen while the players fondle handheld controllers that make the on-screen characters do stuff.

When we bought this satanic device, we figured the kids could hook it up to the Old TV in the bedroom and spend hours in there, polluting their minds with kung fu fighting and witchcraft while we adults loitered in the living room, watching "Reno 911" on the Good TV.

Alas, we erred. The Playstation 2 cables would not connect to the Old TV. They would only connect to the Good TV. Which means two things: 1) we now have cartridges and controllers and snaking cables all over the living room, and 2) anytime I want to watch the Good TV, I must extricate the remote control from the claws of a glassy-eyed teen who only wants to play more games.

If I want my traditional place on the sofa, with the reading lamp and the handy snack table, then I'm exposed to a certain amount of video gaming.

Parenting experts probably would laud this situation because it's Quality Family Time Together and at least I'm regulating my kids' video gaming. Those experts would be wrong. Just the opposite happens. Instead of exercising some control over the gaming, I become captivated.

No matter how hard I'm trying to read or nap or otherwise act like an adult, I find myself staring at the cavorting ninjas on the TV. Before long, because I'm a dad, I'm offering advice.

"There's your problem right there," I'll say. "You should've climbed that staircase to the Hall of the Dead, then taken out Graydork the Terrible with your Sword of Swarthiness."

My teens roll their eyes at my kibbitzing. Because that's their job, and because they know I have no idea what I'm talking about. Then they start a new game while I watch over their shoulders.
It's great interactive TV. And no commercials!

We're wasting time together. As a family.

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