Online Gaming, Pokemon Cards & Life Lessons
Conversations with children can be surprisingly insightful and educational.
I love my breakfast-table conversations with my boys, on early weekend mornings. It’s a safe space for my kids to share their quirky gaming stories, talk about their friends and interests or ask those difficult, thought-provoking life questions.
I make sure every now and then, to weave lessons of empathy, justice and equality for my children to ponder. I let them think about the bigger picture – taking the microcosm of the very circumstance they were talking about and relating it to the real world: like the time when my children were talking about trading Pokémon cards in school. I explained to them to be mindful of bullying – that no child should be forced to trade their cards unwillingly, that they traded fairly among each other, and that there was no teasing of kids who had less cards.
One Saturday morning, my 11-year-old excitedly rambled on about a new online game he was playing. He mentioned how he was trading items (yes – my boys have exceptional entrepreneurial skills) in the game for less and selling them for more, “Mum, I bought a shield for one life and traded it away for 2 lives,” he enthused.
I listened intently and then asked, “Why would gamers trade it for more when like you, they could have bought it for less?”. He said that they were desperate, and added that gamers like them would “jack-up” the market value of items because in desperation, they would offer anything they have in order to get a prized item.
Wow, I thought, a frightening, yet very real mirror of our macroeconomy. What a wonderful opportunity to introduce my little man to the free market economy, and elements of capitalism, socialism and the crucial missing piece: empathy.
I nonchalantly pose the question to him, “What happens to gamers who were equally, if not more desperate for the item, but did not have anything to offer in return? Now, think about it, the prized item is becoming more elusive because the market price has increased due to demand, but the (disparity) gap between those who are needy and those who can afford it, has widened.”
An adult might have taken time to reflect on this and elements of class struggle, privilege, and supply and demand might have clouded their response. My pre-teen answered almost instantaneously, with no selfish qualms about hierarchy or social status: “We just donate items!”
He shared how one time he needed an item in the game and asked around if anyone had one to spare. One gamer just gave it to him, asking nothing in return. He remembered feeling bad for taking something without giving anything back, and tried to offer to the kind gamer whatever he had. To his surprise, the benevolent donor did not want to take anything in return. My son said that he has seen these kind gestures happen a few times and has himself donated items to those in need.
I was blown away and my mind drifted to a vison of a utopian world where *this* was a reality, but something was wrong with the picture. What mechanisms can be put in place to ensure that justice prevails, instead of having to rely on random acts of kindness?
As if he was reading my thoughts, Yahya (ok, I did not identify him from the start but my hero-son has a name and we need to unapologetically celebrate the enlightened among us!) said, “We have cameras in the game to ensure everyone plays fair and that no one cheats.” He said that sometimes there are gamers who try to cheat people by asking them to trade up-front and promising them the items later, and then they disappear! Woah…..now, I am not for Big-Brother state surveillance but this makes so much sense!
While as a mum, it was kind of overwhelming to think that my son was exposed to the nether intricacies of our world; I could not have been more proud of how he was mature enough to dismantle what he saw and infused his sense of justice into the narrative.
As I got to the last few sips of my morning espresso, I engaged him further to think about those very transactions in the virtual world and compare them to what was happening around us. I diluted my explanation of capitalism* for him to understand it as the inherent injustice of simple demand and supply, and juxtaposed it with my somewhat-skewed interpretation of socialism as blanket equality -where in Cuba everyone (a road sweeper or a doctor) gets paid around CAD$20 a month.
[Side note: I made sure to let him know that everyone plays an important role in society be it the road sweeper or doctor, but he said innocently, “Why not just do the easier job then?” Aha!….another lesson on perspective – people have different interests and different levels of altruism – but that was another conversation to be had].
I then explained to him the middle-way of the ideal Islamic economic model, where unfair trading is disallowed, interest-based transactions are forbidden; where the well-being of orphans and the less fortunate are taken care of, and there are institutionalized checks in place such as mandatory zakat, and the encouragement of alms-giving. There was room for those who wanted to aspire for wealth in this world, while ensuring that those differently-abled people still had comfort and sustenance.
Yahya nodded in agreement and gave me a big hug; may Allah bless his sweet soul. It was yet another thought-provoking morning. Who would have thought that online gaming could solicit such an in-depth reflection?
I thank Allah for blessing me with these precocious little darlings and I look forward to more enlightened discussions with them.
*Economists: Please spare this mum your academic overtures of capitalism and socialism. I was breaking it down in mum-speak for a child.
Wati Rahmat is a budding social activist and busy mum / life-teacher / revolutionary guru to 3 effervescent boys aged 6, 11, and 14. She is the Director of External Affairs with AMPAC (Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council) and is a volunteer columnist for Diversity Magazine in Edmonton. Originally from Singapore, she has lived in Kuala Lumpur, Montreal and now uses Edmonton as the base for her mass empathy-conversion cult.