They say that our scars are our stories. If this is true, then Jude, my 12-year-old son, now has this story to tell: “I was playing Fortnite, and I tried this new exploit I saw in a YouTube video, and it worked! I was so excited, I jumped off my bed and busted my lip on the corner of a shelf and had to go to the emergency room and get stitches.” That’s right, we had a video game injury in my house today.
Something about my son getting hurt playing video games made me stop and think. It wasn’t just what he was doing when he got hurt, but I was bothered by what he wasn’t doing. He didn’t get hurt jumping his bike off a homemade ramp, or falling out of a treehouse he was building, or even the ridiculous rock fights that characterized my youth. He got hurt in his bedroom all by himself, playing Fortnite…
Boyhood has changed.
It’s the confluence of two things I’ve observed increasingly in the past few years. First, there seems to be real societal pressure to tame boys – to keep them from playing rough, to rein in their impulse to explore, their need to test themselves against the heights of a tall tree, or even to rise to the challenge of a mouthy friend. We don’t let them wrestle or climb or ride off on their bikes. We neuter any hint of wildness. We tell them to get down, to settle down, sit down and sit still.
Secondly, because of technology like video games, tablets, and smartphones, our kids are perfectly fine with sitting down and sitting still inside where it is safe and secure. Boys fire up a game console, put on their headset, turn on their flatscreen and tune out the whole wild world. They don’t even know what they’re missing.
Now the only world that boys explore is digital. Imagination is no longer required – just good Wi-Fi. The challenges of boyhood today mainly involve leveling up. Boys engage their rivals in hand to controller combat. And because the risks aren’t real, neither are the rewards. There may be fewer trips to the emergency room but there are less adventures and far fewer stories to tell.
Scars represent life lived. My son will have a Fortnite scar going forward. I suppose there are worse ways to get a scar, but there are also so many better ways.