This Christmas I am facing a massive dilemma. Do I — or do I not — cave in to pressure from my children and buy an Xbox One?
Released just nine days ago, it is the brand new thing, the whizziest Xbox console ever, able to play every single game on the planet — or at least that is what Leonard, my Xbox-addicted 10-year-old, keeps telling me. The graphics are so much better than before, the games feel more real and hey — his reasoning goes — you can even get educational things on it (not that he yet seems to have come up with one example). The price? A thumping £439.
All his friends are getting one, he claims, and if they are not getting that it is the Sony PlayStation 4, which was released at midnight on Friday and was claimed to be outselling Xbox One on pre-release orders. Leonard goes on and on about it and despite the fact that all parents on the planet claim to loathe all these electronic goods and for years I have protested I will never buy another one, I can feel that I am wavering.
For a start it is not just Leonard who wants it. Raymond, 17, and Jerry, 9, are both pretty keen (my six-year-old daughter is not bothered) so now I am being pestered not just once but thrice over. Few parents can withstand this type of pressure.
Although my friend and fellow mother Katie says “Xboxes stun all creativity” and refuses to kowtow to pressure, I am not totally convinced. In fact, I am even beginning to wonder if Xboxes have been unfairly demonised. I have some friends who will not have them in the house, although they have a Wii, a computer in every room and a PS3 etc.
Yet I find there is something rather impressive when I watch Jerry manoeuvring his football team and learning tactics and skills via Fifa 14, or Leonard creating an avatar and building houses and villages and taking part in quests in World of Keflings on his Xbox 360. What is wrong with achieving great things via an Xbox? Leonard feels super-proud when he has built a castle.
I am rather bowled over by what you can do with it. The games available are so superb, so addictive, so amazing that I would use the Xbox as a teaching tool, a sort of computerised-gaming assistant, if I could.
Take my Raymond, for example. His knowledge of the world and the history of it, particularly his encyclopedic recall of anything to do with the Knights Templar, is not down to school but solely to the hours spent playing Assassin’s Creed.
I know people think boys should be out climbing trees and making mud pies, but this is not how the modern boy functions. “Outdoor fun” is meaningless to them. How can the real outdoors which, right now, is cold, wet, muddy and dark, be more exciting than marching armies across continents while also planning tactics and manoeuvres. Why wouldn’t children enjoy this?
For me it is important as a parent to move with the times. So if I do cave in and split the expensive Xbox One or PS4 as a three-way present, it will be because of this sneaking regard for it and the fact that while they are absorbed by their new toy I can at last get my hands on their old Xbox 360 and, via Halo 3, be a Master Chief in my own interstellar war.
No way, says Clover Stroud
My nephew has a T-shirt with a picture of a child playing on a games console in the middle of a field, captioned “Go and play outside”. It always makes me laugh, capturing every parent’s dilemma and reminding me of the sense of claustrophobia I feel when I see Jimmy, my 13-year-old son, mesmerised by gaming. So when PlayStation branded the Oxo Tower in London to launch the PS4 in a scramble against the Xbox for your Christmas pounds, I knew it was not my heart and mind they were chasing, but Jimmy’s.
The battle between the PS4 and Xbox One is firing playground chatter, which translates around the kitchen table into an insistent plea that a console is the only present worth getting.
I’m having none of it, despite the fact that Jimmy loves the Xbox’s voice controls and the 3D projector of the PS4 makes uploading Minecraft to YouTube so easy. I know all this because I have heard it several times a day for the past few weeks, but I don’t care.
I don’t care, either, that I will be accused of being a luddite, depriving my child of techno skills that the future is made of. Call me old-fashioned but I still think there are better ways for Jimmy to spend the weekend (stepping outside; having a conversation with an adult; to say nothing of reading a book, playing the piano or learning how to cook a chicken) than slack-jawed in front of a screen. I know the argument that says gaming is the future, but while I can still exercise some control over Jimmy, I will choose activities with an infinitely more civilising effect on him, thanks.
I resent, too, that the ultimate result of this multimillion-pound advertising campaign means I will be bullied into spending £349 on the PS4, let alone £439 for the new Xbox, an ugly black brick that will look like a piece of office equipment in the sitting room, tangled around yet more hateful leads, which will almost certainly end up shoved under a bed by about April. Because for all the bells and whistles of glamorous new gadgets, experience has taught me that children get bored with them as they do with any toy. Remember how they pleaded and begged for a Wii? Exactly.
I fundamentally disagree that by limiting some access to technology I’m depriving my son of essential techno skills to help him race ahead. Short of decamping to a log cabin in Snowdonia, it would be impossible for me to deprive him completely of the IT skills that he will need for life, even if I wanted to, since he is taught IT at school and already engages with it many times a day.
We are constantly told that the genius of modern design means it is simple enough for a baby to use. Teenagers are capable of great things and if Jimmy can appreciate the complexities of, for example, Macbeth, which he has been reading, then he is more than capable of grasping technology.
Jimmy uses a computer all the time and it is highly likely he will spend a large proportion of the rest of his life in front of a screen, just as I do. Computers are brilliant, liberating and wonderful, but if there is anything I would like to give him it would be another couple of years of liberation from the wrap-around screen time that defines so many of our working lives.
Right now that feels like the ultimate Christmas present. Go and play outside, Jimmy.