My most vivid experience as a Boy Scout/Cub Scout is a weekend somewhere in Brazoria County, Texas sometime in the late ’80s. It was one of the most awful weekends of my childhood, and it was made all the worse by a scorchingly hot sun and bouts of heavy rain and killer mosquitoes and treks through alligator infested swamps. In Southeast Texas, these conditions are about as common as hydrogen elsewhere in the universe, but combine them with bratty punk kids and an inept scoutmaster and I believe you’ll have a more realistic understanding of hell than what we encountered in Dante’s Inferno last year.
All my research for my merit badges was stolen by one kid and passed off as his own; another kid stole my new harmonica, ripped it into three or more pieces with a screwdriver, and tossed it into the muddy Brazos River; and I found a rattlesnake inside my tent bag when I was preparing to leave. I had to hold my own in fist fights, I had to deal with the poison ivy rashes I inevitably got, and I had to check the latrines for black widows every time I used them. Each night, while the rain hammered on my tent, I would pull out the flashlight and look with anger at the cheerful smiles of the boys in my handbook as they marched through paradisal Montana forests. Every night of the trip, I cursed that I was born in such a natural nightmare.
As you can imagine, my aging heart was filled with envy when I learned that, twenty or more years later (God, am I that old?), the Cub Scouts would now be awarding belt loops and pins for achievements dealing with video games. Finally, children in Southeast Texas would no longer need to be subjected to conditions that cause evangelists to create charity programs when they’re found in other countries. Yet Outraged Citizens all across America posted their concerns (while they played Farmville in another window) that somehow this was one of the reasons why America’s children are obese, why children aren’t as drawn to the outdoors, and why North Korea wants to nuke us. Or something like that.
In order to get the achievement *cough* belt loop, Cub Scouts must:
- Explain why it is important to have a rating system for video games. Check your video games to be sure they are right for your age.
- With an adult, create a schedule for you to do things that includes your chores, homework, and video gaming. Do your best to follow this schedule.
- Learn to play a new video game that is approved by your parent, guardian, or teacher.
Scary stuff, right? Truth be told, I think organizations like the Cub Scouts have been needing something like this for some time. As dedicated readers already know, a week or so ago I wrote a book on the reasons why the Supreme Court should rule against California’s law imposing fines on those who would sell video games to minors. I won’t recap all that I said here, but this move by the Boy Scouts is a good way to get the parents involved when it comes to dealing with Mature video games instead of thinking every problem can be solved with a fine. It also addresses a medium that has become a staple of modern society, and the interactivity of video games ensures that it will never quite become a mindless zombie maker like television. On a personal level, I also find that it demonstrates that the Boy Scouts are still relevant, and measures such as this show that they’re not just stuck on an outworn ideal of the “good old days.”
All in all, I believe the belt loop requirements cover all the issues surrounding Mature-rated games. Most importantly, they teach the importance of working video games into your life and not letting them become your life.
Provided the belt loop is earned (and the lessons actually heeded), I really see no issue with the pin. To get the pin, a Cub Scout must:
- With your parents, create a plan to buy a video game that is right for your age group.
- Compare two game systems (for example, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii, and so on). Explain some of the differences between the two. List good reasons to purchase or use a game system.
- Play a video game with family members in a family tournament.
- Teach an adult or a friend how to play a video game.
- List at least five tips that would help someone who was learning how to play your favorite video game.
- Play an appropriate video game with a friend for one hour.
- Play a video game that will help you practice your math, spelling, or another skill that helps you in your schoolwork.
- Choose a game you might like to purchase. Compare the price for this game at three different stores. Decide which store has the best deal. In your decision, be sure to consider things like the store return policy and manufacturer’s warranty.
- With an adult’s supervision, install a gaming system.
At first, these seem like criteria that can be followed by the most slovenly couch potato, but most are worth mentioning. Number 1 makes purchasing a game a family decision, ensuring that choices made in the home are for items that everyone can enjoy. Number 3 actively gets siblings and parents to participate in video games, creating a common experience for those in the household. Number 4 ensures that the older generation (who’s getting really old at this point) understands video games and doesn’t come off sounding unqualified to speak about them as President Obama did this weekend. Number 6 allows kids to focus on fun age-appropriate games and Number 7, while unlikely, ensures that kids are using their hobby to learn. Number 8 teaches some much needed financial responsibility. Number 9 brings installing video games systems almost to the level of creating a car for the pinewood derby and ensures that kids know just as much about the hardware as they do the software. Number 2 has the potential to spawn FanBoy Scouts, but if all the rest of the criteria are followed, then I think the young scout would be on the right path.
Video games are no longer the cult novelty that they were when I was growing up. In many cases, they rival the movie industry in income, quality, and relevance. Taking a photo of the Clark and Lake El station in downtown Chicago yesterday, I was struck by how dominant the posters for Red Dead Redemption were. If they’re not already art, Mr. Ebert, they’re well on their way to being accepted as such. These achievements acknowledge that most of today’s kids live in urban or suburban areas, and that jaunts with your hatchet into the wood can’t always been a daily occurrence for most kids. They instead address an everyday experience and reality, and they teach responsibility when it comes to our hobbies. By adding belt loops and pins such as these, the Boy Scouts are staying true to their goal to create all-around honorable individuals and not just nature buffs who can track well and correctly identify trees.