Christmas without Nintendo

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Christmas shopping 1992 was more agonising than most. Right up until closing time on Christmas Eve, I was gazing into Nintendo showcases, wondering how I could bear the disappointment on my sons' faces if I didn't buy them a computer game, and trying to decide whether one innocent-looking Game Boy could really do that much harm.

All my convictions, fed by smug chats with like-minded parents, were nothing in the face of the truth: no matter what I bought the boys, it would be second-best. However much I tried to believe that Christmas means more than presents, I knew that to my children it meant getting a Game Boy.

But I had taken a moral stand. As far as I was concerned, Nintendo brought out the worst in boys. I had seen eight-year-olds work themselves up into a frenzy of suppressed aggression as they jerked the control button and stared into the screen. Afterwards they were climbing the walls.

Of course, parents always disapprove of the things their children covet most, whether it's a Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle or a Sindy in Lurexleggings. But to me, computer games seemed far more sinister, because they would steal vast chunks of the time the children spent doing things I would approve of. I thought they might never pick up a book or draw a picture again.

I broke the bad news to the boys early in December. It was hard for them to see why they couldn't have something that most of their friends had. Elaborate drawings with titles such as 'Game Boy: the most Wicked present in the World' littered the living-room floor to make me feel bad. The five-year-old continued to dispatch lists which read 1. Nintendo, 2. Super Nintendo, 3. Master System, in the hope that Father Christmas didn't share his parents' reservations.

I scoured the shops for alternatives which would be just as thrilling, and ended up overcompensating wildly and spending far too much on Lego and those tacky hand-held games that are a pathetic substitute for a Game Boy.

But I was still dreading Christmas Day. I assumed that my moral stand would ruin its magic for the children. I was wrong. They were really happy with what they got, and did not seem disappointed.

But then came Boxing Day, and a visit to friends who had cracked. Their three boys had the last word in grey and black consoles. The children all piled in and spent the day battling up the levels. The couple had tried to hold out, but gave in after weeks of persistent pressure. I smiled understandingly and felt superior.

I felt even more superior when I spoke to my friend a week later. The computer games were getting her sons so hyped up that they couldn't get to sleep - and when they did, they woke up in the middle of the night, their brains working overtime to try to get the Tetris bricks in the right place. There you are, I thought, point proved: their brains are overloaded, they're hopelessly addicted - where will it all end?

But self-satisfaction was short- lived. Within two months, her boys had gone through the obsession and come out the other side. They were back to playng their violins and reading books. Computer games weren't forgotten, but they were consigned to the status of just another toy. In our house, they still have the appeal of forbidden fruit.

Yet my friends' experience wasn't enough to convince me to change my mind. Fortunately, this year, computer games don't get a mention in the Christmas lists. The craze is Gladiators. Both boys spend their pocket money collecting the stickers, but think the toys are rubbish - it's more satisfying to attack each other with the mop.

Their longing for a computer game is voiced less insistently these days. I'm still not sure I was right to be so adamant. Both boys have struck up passionate friendships with classmates they used to ignore. It didn't take me long to work out what those classmates got for Christmas last year.