Parenting with 'Angry Birds'

Boy, was I surprised to discover that those angry birds were really just a flock of angry parents.

I grew up in an odd era, in which when you wanted someone to play with, you walked down the block (or biked if it was a couple blocks) over to a friend's house and knocked on their door to ask some scary adult person if Johnny could come out and play. As dangerous as such a practice is in our more progressive age, in which we clearly know that children's playtime needs to be rigidly scheduled in what are detestably called “play dates”, nevertheless, I personally parent my own children in a manner quite similar to my own upbringing. When one of them is bored, I suggest biking over to a friend's house to see if they are available, all on their own.

Strangely, none of my children are dead yet. And they also function independently pretty well in a pinch.

I've had 16 years (my oldest daughter is 16, soon to turn 17, and I also have two more younger girls) to watch the strange phenomenon of helicopter parenting grow and evolve, and I can't say that I especially like it. When my kid gets a C on a paper, I (quite improperly, I know) suggest that she ask the teacher what she can do to do better on the next one, rather than confront the teacher indignantly accusing her or him of being unfair to my child. The helicopter parent is a rather angry and fearful parent, and having observed them for some time “in the wild” (as it were), I can't help but feel that a lot of that anger and fear is not really on behalf of their child. It seems as if they don't like the idea of their kid going outdoors or doing something for longer than about a minute and a half that is unscheduled or that doesn't include parental supervision, not out of concern for their kid but out of concern for themselves. They don't want to feel any fear themselves more than anything else (of their kid possibly getting hurt or of failing), so having the kid on a leash quashes any such possibility of the idea of their “pet” being in any danger ever.

Oddly all of my musings on contemporary parenting came bubbling up most recently when I decided to finally try out Angry Birds. I know that it's a video game that has managed to reach a more than average sized audience of casual players, and I figured that as someone who writes regularly on games, it was high time that I saw what all the fuss was about.

I hadn't known why those birds were angry. And, boy, was I surprised to discover that those angry birds were really just a flock of angry parents.

Now I realize that the “plot” of angry birds is really more of a premise, a mere justification for gameplay a la a game like Space Invaders (Look aliens are invading the earth! Get 'em!) and that it isn't a game that has much to say about anything (beyond, perhaps, that flinging cute, but, nevertheless, angry birds against solid objects is kind of funny). However, I was just struck by that premise and how somewhat unique it is in terms of standard video game narrative premises.

Look, we all know that the classic video game premise is fairly gender specific in its quality: There's a girl. Go save her.

So, the relative gender neutrality of the premise of Angry Birds is somewhat more inclusive than a lot of “boy-centric” fare: All of the “pigs” in the world have stolen our babies. Get 'em.

It is kind of the pig thing, perhaps, that got me thinking about terrified parents and their perception of what the outside world represents in terms of their precious little ones. All the mean teachers, potential pedophiles, and straight up bullies are just pigs waiting to take advantage of their kids, after all. Thus, hurtling yourself blindly and often futilely at them and their glass houses seemed a kind of metaphor to me for the inanity of the helicopter set.

They're just so angry. And afraid.

Now I could be wrong, and my metaphor might fail under close scrutiny. After all, the angry birds seem a rather unselfish lot. That they are all dooming themselves for the sake of getting their eggs back seems fairly noble. Bird after bird gives his or her life for the smallest and most vulnerable of the flock (heck, these kids aren't even viable yet). So, it might seem that, on par, the actions of the angry birds are possibly quite commendable, even a touch militaristic. Don't we send in (and endanger) a whole squad to save one Private Ryan for the sake of sending a message about how valuable one American soldier is? Or a whole platoon for the sake of those downed in a Black Hawk for similar reasons?

Nevertheless, it is the sheer irrationality of the angry birds that unsettles me. Their certitude from level to level, even when an egg is not present, that unseating the pigs and bringing their whole house down on them is so essential to save the eggs seems like a strategy born of rage and fear, rather than concern and love.

However, enough of this, I have more pigs to slay and birds to hurl. After all, those eggs won't be making any dates on their own anytime soon, and I have to figure out how to schedule their whole adolescence for them before they hatch.


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