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Video games teach value of napping


SOMETIMES THE URGE to fix what is broken needs to be held in check.

A case in point would be the PlayStation video game system hooked up to the television set in our family room. It was broken. Then it was fixed. As of yesterday it was working fine, making me miserable.

This saga began last summer when the prime PlayStation players in our house, our 18- and 13-year-old sons, reported to me that the device wasn't working correctly. When I checked the device out, it seemed to me to be doing what it was designed to do. Namely, it was filling the TV screen with chaos and the family room with noise.

When a CD with sports commentator John Madden's picture on the cover was slapped into the PlayStation, the TV screen lighted up with images of professional football players slamming into each other. When a CD with professional wrestlers on its cover was put in the device, bodies went flying across the screen. And when an auto racing CD was snapped in, cars started colliding with each other.

Then there was the noise. Football players grunting. Wrestling grunting. Car engines grunting, at least that is what it sounded like me. I am not a big fan of the PlayStation or any video game system. As a matter of fact, I hate the things.

Unlike some parents, my opposition to video games has nothing to do with what kind of values these games are teaching kids. On that score, I think video games are pretty realistic. The 13-year-old, for instance, has rigged the pro football game so that his team -- the undefeated Baltimore Ravens -- has all the best players in the league, including Green Bay's Brett Favre at quarterback and Detroit's Barry Sanders at running back.

It seems to me that this game has taught the kid what real owners of professional teams already know. Namely, the goal of the game is to win and a sure way to win is to stack the deck.

My quarrel with the video-game system is that it monopolizes the television in the family room. This is the television set I like to watch. It has a clear picture and it sits a few feet away from my favorite napping chair.

For some reason the PlayStation didn't want to hook up with any other television sets in our home. For instance, I wanted to couple the device to a television set down in the basement, a long way from my chair. But the set in basement is so old that I think it was originally powered by coal. Moreover, unlike modern TV sets that have more "inputs" and "outputs" than you can shake a screwdriver at, the back of this old set is a slab of unpromising plastic.

I suspect that if I hooked up a VCR to the old set, I could then hook up the PlayStation to the VCR. But that would require several hours of work, and the purchase of a new VCR. I am too cheap to do that.

The PlayStation was easily hooked up to the VCR and newer TV set in the family room. So that is where the kids and their buddies have spent endless hours playing video games, and keeping me from my easy chair.

Even though the games continued to make noise, the kids complained that something was wrong. They said that images on the screen were bouncing. I wasn't sympathetic. "How can you tell anything is unstable?" I asked. "Every game you own consists of mayhem."

Unhappy with my response, the kids took matters into their own hands. The older boy, flush with money from his summer job as a lifeguard, shelled out about $100 to buy a new PlayStation, one that produced stable pictures.

The images on the screen might have stopped bouncing, but my wife hit the roof. She thought buying the new video game system was a waste of money. She cut a deal with the kids. The new PlayStation would go back to the store for a refund. The old PlayStation would be shipped off to a service center, which would eliminate the bounce and ship the system back to us.

It turns out that the bouncing screen is a relatively common incompatibility problem that PlayStations have when they are hooked up to some TV sets. My wife found this out by calling a PlayStation hot line (800-345-7669). The problem can be fixed by replacing a few parts in the system.

So after stalling for a couple of months -- I was in no hurry to make playing video games even more attractive -- I shipped the bouncing PlayStation up to a Sony service center in Massachusetts to be fixed at no charge.

For two weeks there was peace in our family room, if not in our family.

Yesterday the game came back and the grunting returned. The bounce is gone and so is any chance of my getting a few winks in the family room.

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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