Doug Wolter: Switch on fun, switch off imagination?

As I watched my 9-year-old grandson play with his new Nintendo Switch on Christmas morning, I thought about how different it is for kids today than it was when I was his age.

Doug Wolter photo
Doug Wolter

As I watched my 9-year-old grandson play with his new Nintendo Switch on Christmas morning, I thought about how different it is for kids today than it was when I was his age.

That was a very long time ago, of course. When I was a 9-year-old on Christmas Day, the year was 1965. That March, Martin Luther King led an historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. It was the year the Minnesota Twins played in their first World Series. “Doctor Zhivago” appeared in theaters. The Beatles released their album, “Help!” And the big news in toys was the super ball and skateboards.

Of course I had a super ball. It was fun to watch it bounce, and boy, did it bounce. You couldn’t play stickball with it, however, so it's versatility was limited. And it tended to crack. If you played with it too much, it eventually split in two.

I don’t really understand the Switch, but I know that kids love it.

My grandson wanted to play his Switch all Christmas Day, though his mother said she wasn’t about to let him get mesmerized by that thing all day long. When I was my grandson’s age, the arguments I had with my mother was about how long I could play with the neighborhood kids before I had to be home for supper. These days (at least as far as I can tell), it’s about video games. In many households, I’m sure, separating kids from their video games is like separating yeast from bread.


Video games weren’t a thing in my day. Now, half a century later, experts say too much video gaming can harm youngsters. Addiction can lead to problems like obesity, social disconnection and poor academic performance. And yet, it doesn’t have to. There is something called esports nowadays, and it’s hard to say esports people are socially disconnected when they congregate into teams and play tournaments with lots and lots of other people who love video gaming, too.

I suppose it all comes down to balance. Obsessiveness leads to trouble with practically anything, I guess.

As I researched the perils of video gaming for this column, ironically, I didn’t see any warning about loss of creativity along with the health and mental issues presented. As I watched my grandson’s fingers dance around the gaming device on Christmas Day with that satisfied smile on his lips, I wondered if too much of it might sap his creative juices.

Frankly, I feel relieved that video gaming was nonexistent when I was young. I didn’t miss it, because it wasn’t yet conceived.

Growing up in tiny Allendorf, Iowa, I spent summers playing baseball with my other Allendorf friends, and in the fall we played football. In winter we found a basketball hoop to shoot into, and we brushed away the snow as best we could so we could dribble. There was stickball, of course, in those summers, and we made our own marvelous rules and kept ourselves busy till it became so cold we had to wear coats.

We devised elaborate games of marbles, carving out paths for them to follow as we flicked them through tubes and over sandy hills. We used the gravel road in front of my house to manufacture a golf course. We used whatever we could find for a putter. And when my neighbor Steve got his hands on a couple of real golf balls, we felt like Jack Nicklaus.

Being an only child and possessing natural creative tendencies, I made my own board games and shared them with my friends. Many of those games were about my favorite sports: baseball, basketball and football. For basketball, I flicked big buttons into a plastic medicine cup with the bottom cut out. I used marbles for my baseball games, and depending on where the marble was hit on a large sheet of plywood, it was a single, a double or an out. I made strategy football games using dice and read-out cards.

I’d like to share some time with my grandson to re-make one of those games, and I’d like to play it with him to introduce him to the wonderment of human resourcefulness. I worry, however, that such a game could never compete with the amazing world of the Switch, where so little is left to the imagination.


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