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Please Can You Play Lego Batman?

I’m two months un-pregnant and I’ve decided it’s time to get things back a little closer to normal. This includes but is not limited to eating healthful foods, showering regularly, wearing real clothes from time to time, and not letting the Wii raise my children for me.

These goals are lofty and I sometimes fall short, but the hardest of all has been weaning Magoo off the virtual world where he lives with a Wii-mote in his hand, fighting bad guys and knocking their Lego pieces to bits. He loves Lego Batman more than he loves food, more than he loves his red socks, more even, I suspect, than he loves his parents. Lego Batman is always there for him. Lego Batman is his best friend.

It’s nice to have a friend. It’s nice to have a hobby. It’s nicer to have a friend in real life and nicer to have a hobby that has not become an obsessive-compulsive need. The first thing he says when he wakes up is, “Mom, can I play Lego Batman?” I always tell him, “No,” trying to put off his half-hour of play time until somewhere in the afternoon when I really really NEED him to be playing Lego Batman.

When he gets home from preschool, it’s the same thing. I ask, “How was preschool?” and he answers, “Can I play Lego Batman?” sometimes with a quiver in his voice, knowing the answer will probably be, “Not yet.” I encourage him to eat his noon meal but he insists that he doesn’t need lunch. All he needs is his little virtual plastic nocturnal crime-fighting friend. I tell him to eat lunch. Sometimes he complies.

When the kitchen timer goes off, I’ve trained him to finish up his level and then reply, “Okay Mom. I’m done.” This sounds ideal, right? The problem lies in the way that he says it. It’s with a part whine, part yelp, part heart-wrenching sob that he places his controller in the TV cabinet and looks at me with the eyes of a puppy dog who has just watched ferocious wolves devour his mother. Tears come to his eyes and he continues to mumble, “Okay Mom. I’m done. Okay, gulp, sob, MOM.”

Last week I could not take it anymore. I told him that any game that made him that sad was not worth playing. I banned the Wii for a week and he took it surprisingly well. It is easier on him emotionally to go a full week without video games than to be told he has to wait 3 hours before he can play. There is less psychic carnage if I simply tell him he can’t play at all than if I tell him his time is up after half an hour.

It’s weird. I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with video games. Nearly every adult I know played them growing up and we, for the most part, turned out fine. I don’t think the cartoon violence is the issue. If he’s not playing Lego Batman, he’s telling me in dramatic gory detail how the germs and the antibodies are fighting it out inside his body as the H1N1 vaccine does its work, or using a stick he found outside as a gun. He’s always enjoyed turning things into weapons, long before he’d ever seen one in real life or on TV.

I have a problem with any activity, short of obsessive volunteerism, that he feels so compelled to do that it makes it impossible for him to carry on the life of a normal balanced 4-year-old.

That week without the game was so good that, although I’m experimenting with re-introducing Wii play slowly, at the first sign of hysterical withdrawal symptoms I’m tempted to make the ban permanent. And I wouldn’t just have to ban Magoo. The Wii would need to be black-listed by every member of the family because it has the same effect on him whether he’s the one actually playing or he’s just a spectator. When he’s not playing Lego Batman, he’s begging me to play it.

“Please Mom. Please play Lego Batman right now. Please. Just one level.”

Then he sits beside me, getting his fix vicariously. We both waste time and he’s just as heart-broken when my level is over and I go back to doing the laundry. It sort of blows my mind. Do any of you have this problem?