It's not easy juggling computer games and housework

Being Attila the Mum

I used to think firing trebuchets guaranteed a quick victory. But I was wrong.

Fact is, to utterly demolish your enemy’s ramparts, you will also need a couple of two-handed swordsmen to protect your trebuchet on the ground, a cavalier to gallop ahead, and two peasants to repair the trebuchet when it is hit by enemy fire. They call me Attila the Mum. But I sometimes switch identities to El Mum when on a Spanish campaign, or Sir Mum.

Yes, I confess. I play computer games. And my favourite game is a strategy game called Age of Empires. To play, you must control one of 13 civilisations by building a powerful empire that can dominate other civilisations before they conquer you.

A lot of other grown-ups I know think computer games are a big waste of time. But, hey, I used to love the old arcade games like Pacman and Space Invaders.

Kids these days are so lucky with the new generation of computer games. The rudimentary bitmaps and blips in Space Invaders were hot stuff in the non-computer literate world of my childhood. Far cry from the swordplay of tiny warriors in detailed battledress on the Empires screen, or the footballers with accurately styled hair in the FIFA series.

My past fascination with video arcade games helps me appreciate how bewitching and addicting computer games are to our kids.

So it’s only fair that I should have a go on the PC too!

Kids, I know why you can sit there for hours right-clicking with that mouse. At the same time, parents, I know why you get upset after screaming DINNERTIME for the 20th time while the nine-year-old zombie sitting oblivious at the computer presses the “PLAY” button because he’s only got seven more teams to play before winning the World Cup.

Sometimes, I feel trapped between the two worlds. Being a Mum is my job, so I HAVE to make dinner and then force my child to go downstairs and eat even though what I REALLY want to do is take over the controls, change his strategy and win the game! And I HAVE to tuck everyone up in bed and then discuss politics with Dad downstairs when all I really want to do is sit in front of the computer for four hours zapping aliens. I desperately try to follow my own advice to the kids. I try not to overdo it on the PC. But I don’t always succeed.

I love creating an empire, building up its resources and developing its technologies so that we climb out of the feudal age to the castle age and on to the imperial age. My son, Nicholas, enjoys it when the empires go into battle. He especially loves it when he types in a cheat code that suddenly puts a machine-gun firing sports car into the middle of a medieval battlefield. The sports car is invincible, so he simply massacres the enemy and goes to the next level.

My other son, Jack, loves creating scenarios - designing empires, choosing the terrain, the architecture and the costumes.I get involved in endless strategy discussions with my children and their friends. How can a feudal civilisation like the Aztecs stand a chance against imperialists like the Spanish? How do you improve your civilisation’s technology enough to get your ships to shoot cannonballs instead of arrows?

Critics of computer games say the computer is a lonely outpost that breeds anti-social behaviour and isolation. But our computer is a beehive of debate and socialisation, with three or four heads bent closely together, and three or four hands reaching for the mouse at the same time. Sometimes, the neighbourhood kids come knocking to discuss the best way to take horses from the Spanish conquistadores so that the Aztec archers and spearmen could stand a chance against their guns.

My husband at first didn’t understand the obsession. I guess he might have thought that it was a bit childish. Well, I never have time to explain. Stopping to talk could mean the murder of my king or the destruction of my castle.

A version of this article was published in The Junior Gower, a pilot newsletter for University College School Junior Branch. Summer 2001.

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