Gaming the System

I swore I wouldn’t do it. And then I did.

I’ve long detested hand-held video games especially when played at the table in a restaurant. Video gaming and dining are two experiences I never would have put together. Unless, of course, we’re talking about Pac Man (or Ms. Pac Man) and the game is being played arcade-style on a giant, old school, black box with a joy stick in the back corner of some dimly lit bar and grill. Then it’s perfectly appropriate.

But video games are no longer limited to a fist full of quarters and the 60 seconds it takes for the ghosts to catch up to the frantic, yellow guy. In just about any restaurant at just about any table, I find kids barely out of diapers along with their elder peers plugged into a myriad of electronic gadgets, staring hypnotically at the mini screens. The families may have come together to spend some time over a meal, but the time spent seemed a little lacking to me when half the party passed the evening in a quasi-vegetative state.

Maybe it’s because video games never appealed to me, but that kind of evening never seemed like a great way to spend quality family time. Then, last week, suddenly, everything changed.

I was at ZinBurger when I experienced the miracle. I suggested having dinner there to my husband as I was curious about the burger and wine pairings, and he is curious about any food and beverage pairings. After ordering our burgers, we sipped our wine leisurely while engaging in lively conversation (okay, after 15 years it wasn’t so lively but it wasconversation). About midway through our meal, I realized something. Our kids were there. We had brought them with us to the restaurant, but I had forgotten all about them. They hadn’t made a peep since we ordered. Silently they sat, playing the DS’s they had begged for but never received until this past Christmas when Santa, that sucker for doleful children, bestowed the gifts upon them.

Never before had I let them bring the devices to a restaurant, and although they looked slightly lobotomized that night as the faint blue glow reflected off their expressionless little faces, it was worth it. For the first time in 10 years I could actually enjoy a meal while dining out with my family.

I don’t plan to make a habit of bringing video games to restaurants, but I’ll admit I do see the electronic gadgets in a whole new if dimly lit LCD light.

(Photo: Flickr/kidperez)

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5 COMMENTS

  1. This story should simply read: We’ve given up as parents.

    Videogames have NO PLACE at the table. Period. If your kids (and you) cannot have an enjoyable time talking and being together then that’s a sure sign that something else is wrong, or at least that you’ve stopped trying.

    I judge when it comes to this. Harshly.

    To be clear, I have no problem with video games (I plan on getting the family Portal 2 when school ends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec7MvC2Sv3c ) But at dinner?

    C’mon.

  2. wow. that’s what i call quality family time!

    i suppose it does break up the monotony from the dvd player in the car on the way to and from the restaurant. if you (not you, specifically necessarily, the general you…) want to have dinner alone with your husband, hire a babysitter. if you want to have dinner with your family, take the time to enforce table manners, appropriate public behavior and interpersonal (imagine that!) skills. isn’t that, after all, our job?

    this teaches them how to unplug, disconnect from you and shut you out of their lives completely. if you think kids don’t get the message DS=”shut up kid and leave me alone”, they do. i think you were on to something with your original plan and trust me, not everyone is “doing it”. save the money on more ds games and hire a sitter for you and your husband at night. it’s a lot less insulting to the little people you live with.

  3. Sorry Stacey,

    I have to agree with the other comments. It really bothers me when kids use electronics at a restaurant or at the table.

    Crayons and paper are okay when they are young, but beyond that, it’s rude.

  4. It’s worth nothing that certain portable game platforms – and the DS is one, I believe – permit collaborative play. I don’t see a subset of the diners involved in a game together as all that different from a subset of the diners involved in a conversation.

    For that matter, when we were last at a restaurant with our kids they were playing – at least while awaiting the food – non-electronic non-digital non-21st century “Battleship”. The adults where “helping” from the side. It became a family affair.

    This is bad? Too bad; we’d fun with it.

    …Andrew

  5. It bothers me too when I see kids at the table with a game – but I understand your decision, Stacey, and, while a bright line “NEVER” rule might spare you some time negotiating with your kids in the future, I don’t think allowing it “sometimes” will ruin our kids, turn them into alienated misfits or indicate that you and your kids will never talk over dinner again. As parents, we draw perfect lines in our heads, then we wake up in the real world and adjust. Sometimes you need a quiet meal, a calm hour, an extra hour of sleep while kids watch TV (OK, that’s my house) to regain the patience needed to parent kindly. I think it’s great that you posted about this since you must have known you would draw criticism. Here’s to imperfect parents everywhere!

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