October 18, 2008: Dentist Day

34 Days to Baby Day! (35 Weeks and One Day Pregnant)

10 Work Days Left for Dominica; House closing scheduled in 3 days.

It is Saturday.  The alarm went off at eight.  I was pretty tired but there is work to be done.

I logged into the office and discovered that I had received 15,600 email messages since having left the office last night.  Argh.  There has to be a better way to handle non-essential mail communications.  I never, ever receive external spam but there is so much internal junk mail that it barely makes a difference.

I did some reading on announced game releases for the Wii Virtual Console and noticed that one of my all time favourite games, Earthbound (a.k.a. Mother 2) from the Super Nintendo, has been announced.  This is one of the rare SNES games that I actually played all of the way through.  I completed in about one week of constant play.

When Earthbound first released, I bought it at Walmart in Geneseo, I played it for a few hours and then called Josh to let him know that he had to play it too.  He bought it the next day and we ended up playing a lot of the game over the phone with each other.  We both finished it in no time.  We had a ton of fun talking about the game as we played it and constantly trying to get ahead of each other in the story line.  Playing an RPG like that with someone to discuss the story with the entire way through is really cool.

There are many, old SNES RPG games that I look forward to having an opportunity to play now on the Wii Virtual Console both North American games and Japanese games that never got released to the U.S.  Games like Secret of Evermore, Chrono Trigger (which I own and completed on the SNES but would like to play again,) Breath of Fire 1 & 2 and Seiken Densetsu 3.  I’ve heard that the Mario RPG was really good and that did release for the Virtual Console recently although I am never a fan of the Mario crossover games so I will be avoiding it but Dominica might be interested.  She likes Paper Mario and other Mario-themed non-platform games.

I learned today that Square Enix is planning to release an updated version of Chrono Trigger for the Nintendo DS next month.  The new release will feature some new game area and some cut scenes from the later Sony Platstation remake.  I am looking forward to a chance to play Chrono Trigger again and hope that Squre Enix decides to make the sequel, Chrono Cross, available for the DS as well.

Dominica got up at nine this morning which was far earlier than I would have expected.  She got up and started the laundry right away and then, as soon as that was kicked off, she started assembling packing boxes so that I could begin the process of packing up everything that we have in the house.  That is our big job for this weekend.  Not our favourite thing to do.  We are so glad that we have almost nothing in this tiny apartment.

While she was making boxes I was also working on keeping Handbrake jobs running.  I have a lot that I want to get completed before we move.  I am on track for that but need to stay at it in order to be completed in time.  There is still a bit to be done.

At eleven thirty we hopped into the car and drove over to Kearny to go to the dentist.  Dominica has been to the dentist quite a bit recently – at least three or four times since we have moved to Newark and probably much more.  I, however, have not been to the dentist for six or seven years so Dominica was adamant about getting me to go now before we no longer have dental insurance.

The appointment ended up taking well over three hours!  What a long day.  The dentist was very impressed with the incredible condition of my teeth. I did get a chance to do some reading while I was stuck waiting at the dentist’s office, and I read about eighty pages in “Programming Ruby“, also known as the Pickaxe Book.

After the dentist we had to run to Walmart to pick up a packing tape dispenser.  One of the worst things about Newark is that it takes literally thirty to forty minutes just to run into the store, grap a simple item and get back out again.  That place is a mad house.  Living in this area means that even the simplest, most trivial task is stressful, expensive and time consuming.

We were starving by the time that all of this was over so we drove to the IHOP by UMDNJ and had dinner (or breakfast, who can tell.)  It was after four in the afternoon by the time that we were able to have our first meal of the day.

We got home around five thirty and I set about doing some more work for the office.  It wasn’t long before Dominica decided that she was really tired and went to bed to take a long, serious nap.  Oreo, of course, joined her and the two slept the evening away.  This worked out well because it gave me an opportunity to focus on my RIT homework which is due tomorrow.  I managed to get all of my work done for class so that all that I have to do tomorrow is to continue to participate in the class discussions.

I also managed to do some packing as well as some dishes.  The kitchen is really a mess.  It is impossible to keep up with it at all.

Today, Dominica and I read a really good article in Family Circle magazine in which they interviewed two researchers from Harvard who were looking into the social ramifications of video games on children today.  They had some numbers that were, of course, completely obvious to people who actually play video games but that people who don’t always seem to be surprised by.  The first, of course, is that as violence in video games has increased the rate of violent crimes from children has decreased.  While there is some loose evidence to show that violence in movies may contribute to violent behaviour the same has not been estabished with video games and would contradict the established data.

The article also discussed what video game “triggers” should be watched for that may indicate children with social issues.  The most important one is that children who play excessive amount of video games is fine.  There is no direct corellation between extreme video game usage and social issues.  What should be watched for are children who are neglecting other areas.  If video games are a substitute for homework, social interaction, etc. then the issue might be avoidance but interest in and use of video games on their own is not known to be a sign of a problem.

The two warning signs for which parents should be on the look out are either: girls who play more than fifteen hours per week of extremely violent games and boys who play little to no video games at all.  Either of these two warning signs may indicate that a child is likely to be experiencing some level of social issue.  Of course, a girl enjoying GTA4 or a boy who just loves to read does not necessarily mean that there is a problem, but it is a simply an indicator used to determine that a subject may need more careful observation.  Boys who do not play any games, for example, are often missing key social interaction elements which are important to development.

In the article, there was one set of parents discussing how they use video games as a “treat” for good behaviour but, quite obviously, did not see video games as a legitimate form of entertainment and limited the use of all video games to just one hour for each weekend day and none at all during the week.  This might seem great but there are several underlying problems here that I would like to address.

The first is that it seems very unlikely that the time away from video games is used for anything other than television.  This is not necessarily so but in most households this is the norm.  The message being sent to the children (and to me the reader) here is that the parents would prefer the children to be mindless zombies watching passively provided “entertainment” that requires no thinking or interaction over engaging, interactive content from a video game that involves thinking, planning and involvement.

The second problem that I have has to do with the time limits set on the game play.  The parents in the article didn’t allow game play of over one hour and almost always limited a single game to just thirty minutes.  This is crazy.  Anyone who has ever worked in an intensive intellectual profession such as engineering, IT, writing, science, etc., etc. knows that to get “in the zone” or really deeply into the problem that it requires 20 – 30 minutes just for your brain to engage in this manner.  This applies to students doing homework as well or writing a serious paper.  The first hour is often lost as the worker or student simply strives to get their brain deeply into the problem at hand.

By limited video game play to time frames too short to allow the brain to engage deeply one necessarily limits the value of gameplay to shallow thinking, reflex oriented games.  At best puzzle games can be played but, more likely, mindless, reflex driven first person shooters, heavily on violence and short on literary value, become the norm.  The value that other children glean from the mental intensity of many video games is sacrificed to make them of little greater value than just watching television.

The shorter time frames imposed by such time limits also rule out the use, at all, of truly engaging and mind strengthening games such as Age of Empires or chess because these games often last hours requiring every ounce of mental capacity be expended.  Children who are never allowed to let their brain engage in this way will see video games as a time killing enterprise or an attempt to be able to “seem normal” but will not take advantage of the mental training that other children receive.  Most often, though, they will never even attempt hard and challenging games because they will never be allowed to complete a serious game.  The very value that normal parents would want their children to get from gaming is exactly what is being denied.

Beyond forbidding a lack of game depth and challenge, such extreme game play limits also turn classic literary games such as Final Fantasy VII (the game that taught gamers how to cry) or Dragon Quest VIII (possibly my favourite game of all time) into two to four years challenges.  This means that the necessarily investment into a game of any seriousness may be so great that the children would never seek to attempt it since the investment in a single game is so high.  They might lost six months just determining that the game is too hard, too easy or not interesting.

Such extreme limits cause children to see the gaming time as very different from the valuable experiences of which gamers usually speak.  It is almost exactly like taking away all strategy and literary games and only allowing children to have four quarters at the neighbourhood arcade.  The only games that can be played are mindles, violent drivel.

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