Real Money From Virtual Reality

It's not going to be easy for me, but I have to change my attitude about video games. For years, I've railed against them, thinking that they were a waste of time for kids. I felt they were addictive, antisocial, and an unhealthy escape from the real world. In other words, I was a fuddy-duddy about them. I couldn't imagine what positive effect playing violent games for hours and hours could possibly have. But I've seen the light. There are now professional video game leagues which annually pay out more than $1 million in prize money.

The pro video game circuit operates much like professional tennis, without the participant actually having to get sweaty. There are qualifying rounds, spectators, and prizes of thousands of dollars. So if your kids are at their computers for hours, obsessively playing mindless games, they might actually be preparing for a career. (I know I shouldn't call them "mindless," but it's a hard habit to break.)

The fact that I never would have guessed that playing video games could lead to a career started me thinking that maybe there are other adolescent activities that I don't particularly care for that might someday earn kids big tournament bucks.

"Slamming The Bedroom Door" might make a popular sport. The winner would be judged on how loud his or her slam is — with bonus points if the slam comes for no apparent reason.

In another sport, the youngster mumbles something that would be inaudible to the most sensitive canine, and then when the parent can't understand it, the kid wheels around, saying, "Are You Deaf?"

Thousands of parents could be their kids' partners on the Eye Rolling circuit. The kid rolls his or her eyes in an exaggerated fashion right after the parent says something offensive — like "Hello."

Maybe there's a way of turning Sleeping All Day or Ignoring The Ringing Phone Because It's Not My Line into cash. Or ... I have to stop this. Some of my earlier negative feelings about video games must be lingering within me because I sense I'm being a bit sarcastic.

But it's hard for me. Intellectually, I know we should encourage our kids' interests and passions even if we don't understand them. I should bite my tongue when I'm tempted to say that exercising in the fresh air is more valuable to kids than exercising those fingers on the keyboard or mouse. What if Einstein's dad had said, "Forget it, Al. That doesn't make any sense to me?" Did little Larry Olivier's mom say, "Stop play-acting, and study something practical?" Did Dr. Phil's folks advise him, "You'll be better off if you just mind your own business?"

Champion Jonathan Wendell, age 22, made more than $50,000 playing video games last year. I guess that means I have to accept that this is a legitimate pursuit.

Or do I? Just because a few people are starting to make money doing this doesn't mean it's the best activity for kids, does it? People make money doing all kinds of things that we wouldn't necessarily want our children to choose as careers.

So, I've seen the light once again. I don't have to change my old attitude about video games after all. It's OK for me to refrain from embracing obsessive video game playing. There's no reason for me to feel guilty because I believe it's better for a kid to toss a real ball around with another kid than it is for him to be in his room by himself, tossing a virtual grenade at a cyber city.

In other words, it's okay for me to be a fuddy-duddy about this. That's a relief, because I generally feel more comfortable when I engage in fuddy-duddyism. However, I'm also practical. If they're giving out tens of thousands of dollars in prize money, maybe playing these games wouldn't make such a bad summer job for kids. As long as they'd still have time to toss a ball around.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver