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Why Are Kids Obsessed With Beyblades?

Contemporary collectible games seem to reinforce a culture that celebrates consumption for the sake of consumption, and ownership for the sake of ownership.

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Collecting things has always been a big part of childhood. I began hoarding comic books and baseball cards early in my youth and stopped, well, never. For me, both were sparks for aspiration. Reading and collecting comics was a gateway to writing and drawing them for myself; flipping through my baseball cards made me imagine myself as a big-league shortstop, an unlikely career outcome for a pudgy, uncoordinated, myopic kid like me, even in the era of PEDs. But it drove me to batting cages and games of catch and an immersion in statistical analysis that’s proven useful later in life.

Contemporary collectible games primarily seem to inspire kids to spend more money on collectible games — reinforcing a culture that celebrates consumption for the sake of consumption, and ownership for the sake of ownership. And that’s not the only value that gives me pause as a parent.

Driving home after the big Beyblade brawl, I tried to get at the heart of my discomfort.

“So, how was it?” I asked him as he bounced in his booster seat. Hudson proceeded to reel off a string of highly technical explanations about how his Galaxy Pegasus destroyed his friend’s Burn Fireblaze, and the relative merits of the Diablo Nemesis and the Fang Leone.

“Okay, wait,” I said. “These things — “

“Beys,” corrected Hudson.

“Beys. They’re intelligent, right?”

He considered. “They have spirits in them. Bit Beasts. They’re like pets. But I guess they’re smarter than pets.”

“And you make them fight each other? Is that right?”

“That’s what they’re for.”

I suggested that he think about what it meant to own and control intelligent, living creatures; to make them fight and destroy each other. “Would you do that if you had a dog?”

“No!”

“What if it were Boyblade, not Beyblade?”

That made him laugh.

“I’m saying, what if someone took you and made you fight someone else?”

That made him...think.

“Daddy...these are toys. It wouldn’t be right to do that to people.”

So, okay. Childhood innocence isn’t dead. And I suppose I’d rather have my kids playing with toy tops than toy guns; despite — or maybe because of — my adamant anti-handgun views, my kids still have a tendency to convert any vaguely L-shaped object into a faux firearm, in one case actually biting their breakfast toast into the shape of a pistol and engaging in a pretend-firefight across the morning table.

But at some point, there’ll have to be a talk, won’t there? Because while childhood games often translate uncomfortable truths into entertainment, the reality behind them intrudes all too quickly and harshly.

In the game of Risk, nations invade at will and armies are obliterated with the roll of a die; a scan of the headlines is all it takes to see the true cost of military combat. The develop-at-all-costs real-estate speculation of Monopoly has no consequences when it’s being indulged in by thimbles, shoes and top hats. But over the past decade, that same rampant buy, build and flip behavior nearly destroyed civilization. And this isn’t even touching on the more literal depictions of violence, misogyny and ethnic stereotype that infest the world of videogames.

Not that the answer is banning or restricting games that offer up questionable or complicated content. That’s our job as moms and dads, after all: to translate and explain things that might hurt or confuse or mislead our kids, into terms and ideas that they can understand. And maybe in that sense, Beyblade and other such games offer an opportunity — the cliche, but nevertheless valuable “teachable moment” that marks an opportunity for parents and educators to spring into action.

 
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