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Admissions Blog

The Atari Joystick in an Xbox World

Thursday, Jan 25, 2018

Middle School, strategies, Reflection, Summer

Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde: those four ghosts from Pac Man from whom I fled when they were their traditional hues and after whom I chased when blue. My directives were pretty straightforward: gobble up the yellow dashes without being caught and you’re on to the next level. Many an hour was logged on the Atari 2600, most likely with Men at Work or Hall & Oates playing in the background, as I navigated the rather predictable maze and familiar patterns of the aforementioned ghosts. I even had a friend who could complete the first three levels blindfolded. All that was needed? This simple joystick:



Fast forward a few decades and I’m astonished by the complexity of video games. To take things further, the controllers used with today’s video games have more buttons and functions than a cockpit, consisting of bumpers, triggers, directional pads, and the list goes on. You can even order another controller with your controller and have it in an hour! The controllers have evolved with the complexity of the games, thus the player is better equipped to handle visible and hidden challenges.

Do you know what hasn’t evolved? The neural circuitry of the young adolescent. That’s right; just like we acted on impulse as 13-year olds and misread social situations, today’s adolescents are doing the same. However, their controllers, if you will, are slowly adding special functions, yet are still lacking an Amygdala Override Button or Prefrontal Cortex Enhancer. Essentially, they are making their way through a far more complicated world using an Atari joystick.

I took some time with a group of 8th-grade boys earlier this week to discuss this very topic. After getting a tutorial in the game of Fortnite, I asked if they had ever heard of Pac Man. All of them had, and what I found interesting was that most of them actually like the game, describing it as fun and easy, while most admitted that it does get a little boring. Hearing this was a reminder that our students do appreciate a change of pace in life, not needing the bells and whistles that today provides in abundance. Finding opportunities for children to decompress while moving forward, back, left or right with all challenges in clear sight is a gift to them, for we tend to forget that it is that setting for which they are wired at this point in their lives. On some levels, it’s hard to not envy the experiences and opportunities our students have on a frequent basis, simply by being alive in 2018. However, I’ll be candid and share that I also don’t envy today’s youth. Adolescence is tough enough in a vacuum. Couple that with the inundation of information and the range of access to such information, pervasive overscheduling, less downtime, and a rising tide of expectations, and this stage presents as that much more daunting. As adults, it is crucial for us to keep that at the forefront of our minds; not to lower our standards or expectations, but to remember that while neurophysiology evolves, the pace at which it does may seem glacial at times.

Conversations like the other day’s are poignant reminders that the world in which our students live is a far more complicated one than that which I felt could get no more challenging when I was their age. Considerations for the summer ahead are upon us, and I think it prudent to explore possibilities for children that remove unneeded obstacles, for there is enough going on physiologically that taxes their emotional energy. At Breck, we are more than happy to provide resources or discuss summer options for students that could provide meaningful experiences, yet at a manageable pace that allows them to simply be.

- Sky Fauver is the Middle School director at Breck.