Monday, December 26, 2005

Two Cheers for Being Obsessed

Here's a pretty cool column by Sebastian Mallaby in WaPo about role-playing computer games. Turns out his eleven-year-old son is learning sophisticated economic and political lessons from games like Age of Empires and RuneScape. So I guess I don't need to worry about the zombie-like look grandson Jakob develops whenever his Game Boy is turned on.

I take this as evidence for my personal theory that virtually anything can become educational if pursued in a spirit of eclectic curiosity. When I was 13 and 14 I was pretty much obsessed with mythopoeic fantasy--Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, E.R. Eddison (The Worm Ouroboros), etc. etc. With gentle guidance from a couple of smart teachers this led me into all sorts of interesting related topics, from Norse mythology to languages to poetry to Christianity. I suspect a clever teacher or parent could do the same thing with any typical kid obsession--dinosaurs or hip-hop music or horseback riding or number puzzles (like the ones my eleven-year-old grandniece Sabrina likes to do). Which is why I firmly believe it's healthy for a kid to become obsessed with something--anything--during late childhood or early adolescence. When treated with respect, obsession can be a door into a wider world, and I think it's a much better psychological indicator than an attitude of indifference or boredom about everything.

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