Boy Scout Robbie Nicely earned a video game belt loop a few months ago and is working on his academic pin next.
I spent hours and hours as a kid playing the video game Missile Command on my Atari 2600 system, and all I got for my high score was a special patch to put on my coat.
At the time it seemed totally worth it. In retrospect, though, given that I didn't pursue a career protecting cities from ballistic missile attack — the premise behind the popular game, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year — this was probably a waste of time.
At least, that's what I thought until I heard that the Boy Scouts of America introduced awards for Cub Scouts in video gaming earlier this year.
This might seem an easy development to mock. After all, while the Boy Scouts' motto is "be prepared," they probably didn't mean for it to apply to ripping out the spinal cord of your enemy after you've given him a virtual roundhouse kick to the face. (If you're playing Mortal Kombat, though, you really should be prepared for that.)
And while the blister I once got on my thumb from playing a Summer Olympics game might seem to be in the spirit of the Scouts' focus on fitness, it probably falls short of what its leaders had in mind.
Which is why the first reaction to the group's announcement was surprise for Rob Nicely, a Cub Scout parent in Whitehouse and a den leader.
"I'm sitting there going: I thought we were trying to discourage some of those time-absorbing activities," he says.
How could the youth organization, after spending the last 100 years preparing young men to keep themselves "physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight," seemingly endorse a pastime with a poster child titled Grand Theft Auto?
For the answer, look to Rob's 9-year-old son, Robbie. He earned his video game belt loop a couple of months ago and is working on the more rigorous academic pin for one simple reason:
"I like video games a lot," he says.
OK, you might need to look a little further than that.
Kids playing video games is a fact of life these days. Those between the ages of 6 and 11 play an average of nearly 14 hours a month, and the figures go up significantly for teens, according to the Nielsen Company. Instead of dismissing it, the Scouts are trying to harness it.
"You can't ignore it as part of your parenting," Mr. Nicely says. "Just like computing."
That's why the Scouts have computer-related awards in addition to more traditional ones involving archery and astronomy. They've got Facebook and Twitter accounts too, as well as an iPhone application for the group's handbook.
Check the requirements for Robbie's award (available to kids in grades one through five) and you'll see that they involved examining the rating system for video games and making sure his were right for his age. Another was creating a schedule balancing time playing games with homework and chores.
To get the academic pin, Scouts must play a game that involves a subject like math or spelling, organize a family tournament, and teach an adult or friend to play a game — activities that emphasize teaching and togetherness, both character-building skills embraced by the Scouts' mission.
So maybe there's some redemption to be had for video games, after all.
If you're still not convinced, though, take comfort in the fact that while Robbie loves playing Pokemon Platinum Version (not to mention Math Blaster and a Spider-Man game), his absolute favorite Scouting activity is no more high-tech than whittling wood with a pocket knife. Scout's honor.
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