the pulse

Grab a controller, have no hope of self-control

You know how sometimes there are statistics you hear that you never quite believe? Like, it's far safer to fly in a jet than to drive in a car? Anyone out there buy that? Or the one that says our bodies are about 70% water. Probably true; it just doesn't look or feel that way.

Another of those trivial bits that many in Hollywood no doubt have trouble trusting is the oft-heard factoid that, globally, the video game industry rakes in more money annually than does the film business. You think, where are all of these supposed Sonic the Hedgehog junkies, anyway?

Answer: my home.

Once invited into your household, the video game monster quickly devours everything in its path: your time, energy, ability to feel, your very thoughts. It burns gaping holes in your wallet. I have learned this from having a 10-year-old video game junkie for a kid.

Since learning six months ago of the coming of the PlayStation 3 (which finally hit stores on Friday, quickly leaving the stores and moving to eBay for six and seven times above retail), my son Dylan has spoken of little else. It is, to him, rather like the arrival of the Messiah, except far more spiritually gripping.

What kind of a lousy parent would allow his kid to make video games the de facto center of his very existence? That would be me. Dylan has ADHD. He's a great, chipper, uncommonly bright child. But he has issues. And he never took to competitive sports. I tried to push it. He tried to do it. After a while, you quit striving to put the square peg into the round hole and face reality.

My kid reads a lot. I make sure he puts a lot of time into his fifth-grade studies. But Dylan's truth is this: He is never more alive or engaged than when playing a video game, preferably with a friend. It stimulates that part of his brain that registers euphoria in a way that's perhaps not unlike crack. I limit his playing to short stints on weeknights and on weekends, and I generally steer him to the less violent games. But I don't deny him.

Trust me, there are a lot of Dylans out there. I look at people camping out in the parking lot at Best Buy five days before the PS3 goes on sale — in the vain hope of landing one of what may be a mere handful of available systems — and think, "What a bunch of losers." Dylan asks, "Why aren't we there with them?"

Mind you, the PS3 and Nintendo's new Wii (which was released Sunday) are hardly cheap entertainment. The new PlayStation, with its high-def Blu-ray technology, retails for an astounding $600. By the time you buy a few games at $60 apiece, a wireless remote and a couple of other essential add-ons, you've dropped more than $800 on a toy. And that's just the beginning.

Video game obsessives will gladly go into debt, take out second mortgages, sacrifice food and limit their social lives to grunting at passersby to feed their addiction. It isn't quite that bad in my house yet, but it's easy to see how such a solitary, insidious, all-consuming form of brain rot can lead many to confuse game playing with living an actual life.

The video game beast can be harnessed if treated as the dessert to an otherwise healthy meal of human interaction rather than the main course. If not, you've taken a giant step toward raising a complete nerd. Should that occur, it leaves one little choice other than to sue Sony for parental interference. Because that's the American way.
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