How playing a Star Wars video game helped my parenting skills

Guestpost by Toriah the Mom on Sep 27th

I'm very guilty of a grievous sin: I often speak without thinking first.

We live in an age where we're constantly bombarded with information and forum topics three-minutes-old are deemed "irrelevant." If it's been over an hour since something was posted, joining in on the conversation now just shows how much of a slow-witted noob you really are. Everything is instant-this and instant-that. It gets really tiresome trying to keep up with all of that, or even just filtering out all of the junk so that you can get to the real issue at hand. So, is it any wonder that so many comments and replies are the products of knee-jerk reactions and hasty judgments?

There is no "reload" button on life, no restarting quests if you screw up a step, no taking back what you said if you've said it and realized the outcome was less than desirable. But you do get to do all of that in video games! I admit, I take advantage of the luxury in video games just to satisfy my curiosity on the possible outcomes. Sometimes the answers are really obvious, but there are some situations that require much thought (and system saving) before venturing forth on a decision.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a wonderful lesson in patience and temper. The Jedi claim that giving into one's torrent of emotions and passions, especially the more base emotions like anger, leads to a darker and dangerous life. Reining in one's emotions and commanding discipline over them is the only way to ensure that you're doing the right thing. It's the only way to make a truly educated and informed decision, as it were.

Applied to our lives here on Earth, how often have we said something we immediately regretted because we spoke out of haste or anger or even impatience?

The game itself allows players to more or less be a character in a Star Wars movie, complete with your very own lightsaber. That's cool enough as it is. What sets this game apart is the fact that the events of the game and the way NPCs (non-player characters) react to the player are directly related to how the player acts through critical points of dialogue and decisions. The player's character sheet has a little meter measuring one's alignment to the Light or Dark Side. Depending on how one responds and acts, the meter moves in one direction or the other as the game progresses. And, yes, you can even play a "gray" character — neither Light or Dark — though it is difficult.

At a minimum, players typically have at least three response options — standard "good," "bad," and "eh" neutral responses. But sometimes the responses you get to choose from aren't all that great and you have to decide just how events will go down. There are times when even the goody-two-shoe responses can't mollify someone itching for a fight.

The game makes players stop and think about precisely what they're going to say or do to dictate what happens next.

Regardless, the game makes players stop and think about precisely what they're going to say or do to dictate what happens next. You have to listen carefully to what the other person has said and then choose how you respond. I'll be damned if I didn't start thinking of every conversation like a cutscene out of the game with several options for me to choose from. It's obviously easier to do this via email/IM but I've been forcing myself to do the same in real-time as well.

What tends to happen is my brain automatically puts everything on pause. Then, yes, I actually visualize the different "options" I have as responses. My initial reaction is almost always thrown out or marked as "unacceptable." It's a foolproof way of making sure my knee-jerk reaction doesn't go flying out of my mouth and becomes something I'll regret instantaneously. I'm forced (hah, Jedi pun!) to think about and evaluate my reaction, as well as the action I'm about to take. Especially if something triggers a less than positive response in me, I have to be extra careful about not letting that negative emotion overrule my logic.

For example: Just the other day, I was having a conversation with my husband. He was having a bad day. He said something that made me want to drop the proverbial gloves and fire back with a scathing witticism. My brain said, "PAUSE!!" and I stopped, stepped back, and assessed the situation. I looked at what he said and reminded myself that he was, indeed, having a bad day. It didn't excuse what he did by any means, but my rising to the bait and letting myself become provoked wasn't going to help anything. I recited the first line of the Jedi Code to myself: "There is no emotion, only peace." That action by itself eliminated two of the response options (which included the scathing witticism).

I remembered one of the side quests in the game where a wealthy nobleman tries to bribe the player into working for him, thinking that the lack of action on his complaint was a result of petty materialism. One of the response options was shouting back, "You can't bribe me!" The another was, "I understand you're upset. I'll continue investigating and do the best I can to resolve this." What ultimately happened is that I had to put aside my emotion, my initial reaction, and even my ego to resolve the matter. Getting angry in return doesn't solve the issue. It just makes it worse. In the end, I calmly replied to my husband with a simple statement of understanding and then walked away from my computer to chase my daughter around the house.

Now, you may be wondering, "Okay, that's great. What does this have to do with parenting?" Well, a lot, actually. My daughter is rapidly moving on from babyhood to toddlerhood. This means I'm going to be faced with many tantrums, rebellions, fits, and God knows whatever else. It also means she's going to be seriously evaluating all of the input she receives from me, especially the verbal input. If I let myself become angry at every little thing that goes wrong, what's that going to teach her? If I let my unbridled emotions get the better of me when something or someone provokes me, how am I ever going to help my daughter handle her own emotions?

I can't teach discipline without first being disciplined myself. And it's not as if I'm merely stuffing my emotions into a bag and tossing them away. By analyzing my reactions ("Why am I feeling this way?"), I acknowledge what I'm feeling and effectively dealing with it. Of course, there are times when simple frustration can only be dealt with through a good workout or bashing pixels. And that's perfectly okay, too. The point is to not allow one's emotions to become the controlling factor.

If I only had a penny for every time I heard the Yoda-voice in my head say, "Patience, you must learn, young Padawan," throughout the years. I'd be one wealthy Jedi! At least, I'm beginning to learn to listen to that voice now. In a world of "instants," I have taught myself to be patient for the future to come to me, rather than chasing it down to sate my curiosity and making numerous mistakes along the way in my haste. Giving myself that moment to think about the situation, and assess my role in relation to it, is not a sign of weakness or due to a lacking in wits, as I once thought it to be. It's probably one of the smartest things I've ever done.

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About Toriah the Mom

Daughter of two immigrant Chinese parents in California's beautiful Bay Area, Estee (aka Toriah the Mom) was transplanted to the Midwest when she met her husband via World of Warcraft. She is now the stay-at-home mom of Helena Catherine -- affectionately nicknamed HelCat -- and vows to find more ways to use her favorite video games as educational tools.

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