Screen Time and Me
by Soda Says
2 months ago
Last week on our way for Sunday pizza my son and his friend on the back seat started discussing how the Peppa Pig: Holiday was the best game ever. “You could choose your pizza toppings; you could take bags off the conveyer belt at the airport; you could scoop different flavour ice-creams and place them on a cone,” they laughed, we all laughed.
2010 was a different world. It was before their voices had broken and before I’d moved beyond the dominant Gen X belief that games were for degenerates.
It was the year of becoming Xennial; caught between the digital-first world of my work in technology and the life lived pre-iphone.
The Gen X me was an advocate of games that weren’t really games: Peppa Pig, chess and Mathletics to be coupled with the precocious reading of The Hobbit . Real games leaked in through every gap though and when I wasn’t looking there was Angry Bird, Crossy Road and Need for Speed. I felt smug and in control when I channelled them towards Monument Valley and celebrated that they reached level 10 age 9 - at least 3 years before Kevin Spacey on House of Cards.
With Need for Speed we all entered web 2.0. My Deepmind colleagues made great teachers and when they bought their kids the first Raspberry Pi so did I; when they enrolled their kids into coding classes so did I; and when coding club turned out to be an hour of coding and playing motorbike racing games I went with the flow and let them unlock the world of real games.
As they got older I realised that learning to ‘phone’ and ‘game’ responsibly were pretty basic web 2.0 skills that they should master sooner rather than later and using game time as an effective bribe for homework and violin practice was no bad thing. Also I learnt more about the politics of Overwatch – the diverse cast of characters and the actors who did the voice-overs - I understood the strategic pace of Fortnite and the concept of Minecraft seeds blew made my brain hurt in a good way.
When I get home from work to find my latch-key kids chatting via their headsets with their school friends virtually I feel happy that they’re socialising. And now, each time they get detention at school, they get a game ban and when they were younger, I let them pay it off with the punishment of coding Minecraft instead.
Now these boys can hack through any parental lock; as they can their Spanish test and online homework (they get 100% in tests with surprising frequency). They have a spectrum of creative pranks that involve phone passwords and Instagram IDs. To suggest that they are self-moderating would be an overstatement but as well as social media and games, there is occasional revision, there is a pet cat, an electric guitar. Fizzy drinks, crisps and custard creams also keep their addictions pretty analogue.
I’m definitely not a fan of Halo and other age-restricted games that can slip under the radar and night-time phone usage is also a strict no. I’m proud that my kids can code better than the teachers at school and I’m proud that technology is part of the fabric of their life and it makes me smile to think that these boys – who are taller than me now - have Peppa Pig as their first gaming memory.
Mo White is the CEO of Hyper Island where she consults with brands such as Glossier, ShopStyle and M&S on their editorial and digital strategy. Mo has worked in technology with the leading ecommerce brands across the world and with Google’s AI group DeepMind.