Sarah Simpson Column: On the merits of Donkey Kong

Yep, I wanted my nearly six-year-old, to play video games.

Staying at home all the time is making us do things we probably never thought we’d do. Baked goods aside, I actually asked my sister to mail me a part for my old, broken Nintendo Wii so that I could get my eldest child into video games. Yep, I wanted my nearly six-year-old, to play video games. (Relax, nobody said anything about guns or Fortnite.)

The main reason for my sudden interest in reviving video games in my household is that I wanted him to stop nagging me to play with him. The days are long and I don’t want to play every minute. When I was a kid my mom didn’t play with me whenever I wanted; now I know why.

It was a selfish move to set up the Wii. That’s the truth and I don’t mind admitting it. I was tired of stepping on Lego every day while cleaning it up and I wanted a new diversion that would afford me some time to get some work done or go for a walk or sit around and do nothing because that seems to be impossible these days. Never did I think my plan would backfire so spectacularly, but also, never did I think it would be the wild success that it’s been. The whole thing’s been a giant contradiction.

We actually got the Wii up and running so that my son could play an archery game. He was just getting into the sport before the shutdown began and given the Wii offers virtual archery, it meant we wouldn’t have to dodge arrows in the backyard so we thought it would be a good alternative until he could visit the Cowichan Bowmen archery facility again.

We haven’t played archery yet. Along with the spare part, my sister (because I don’t think she loves me anymore) sent us Donkey Kong Country.

I am both horrified and impressed with how quickly my child has learned to manoeuvre his monkey. In a very short time he’s gone from holding his controller backwards to being able to press a button with his left thumb while simultaneously holding down the 1 button and tapping the 2 button with the same thumb on his right hand. Fine motor skills: check.

My son has now memorized his favourite levels and can tell me where every bonus banana and puzzle piece is located. Memory and recall skills: double check. What’s more, he can do the math to tell me how many combined lives we have, to count how many levels we’ve beaten, and also how many more levels we will need to beat until we meet the next boss. Math skills: check.

Reading? You bet. He can now sight-read words like “donkey” and “kong”, which may not be too useful, but also words like “start” and “continue” and “next” and of course the one we see the most: “game over”. We sound out the names of each world and each level and talk about what the words mean and what they lead us to expect from the level and then how we’ll try to tackle it together.

I’m pretty sure it’s not the proper school curriculum, but it’s working.

Being a two-player cooperative game as opposed to a competitive game, he is (we are) learning to communicate — to give and receive direction and criticism without hurting feelings.

That’s important, in my books anyway, for a Kindergartener to be learning when he’s not able to attend school.

My son is also starting to understand more about the idea of perfection — that it’s not obtainable, or often even really all that desirable. He’s not yet six and I’m not a big gamer so we lose all the time. That’s why he can read “game over” so well. We have to restart all the time and sometimes that’s painful. But, together we’ve figured out there’s always a new trick with the controller, a new banana hiding spot, a new way to overcome an obstacle, that we learned while we were busy losing that will help us the next time we play. We’ve learned about patience. We’ve learned that we play our best when we remain calm and focused.

Now, if only I could get him to remain so calm and focused that he doesn’t notice me wandering away to do something else…



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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