What? Oh, I do apologise. Ben isn’t on the Xbox. He’s playing online and talking on Skype. Well no wonder our internet’s slow. Obviously my fault for checking the football scores.
Do you have an angelic six year old? One who whispers, ‘Love you, Mummy?’ Who snuggles up with a bedtime story and is fast asleep at eight o’clock? Fall to your knees. Give thanks. And go and buy some earplugs.
Not long now and he’ll be fourteen. Not long now and he’ll have discovered the joys of online gaming with his mates. Prepare yourself.
“I’m going online,” Ben said yesterday. “I’m going to shout a lot.” Fair enough. Can’t say we haven’t been warned. Besides, we’ve had it with Tom. It was inevitable that Ben would travel the same road.
But there’s a subtle difference. The aim of Tom and his classmates was simple. Mass slaughter. Cry havoc, year 9, and let slip the dogs of war. They played Halo and how lovely it was to drift off to sleep listening to the gentle voice of our eldest son. “Behind you, Simmo! Behind you! Kill them! Kill them all!”
The current year 9 are a different crop. I use the word advisedly. The game is Minecraft and from what I can gather successful farming is essential. Tom reached for the plasma rifle: Ben is more concerned with harvesting his carrots.
In fact, I approve. Tentatively. The game involves working together and solving problems. Not handing over the stun grenades.
Of course there’s the necessary dash of magic and like all good games you can pimp your avatar rather nicely. Ross – one of Ben’s pals – is currently modelling a pair of ‘enchanted diamond leggings’ which must look jolly fetching. Sadly it may not be for much longer. They’re trying to tempt another ‘clan’ to attack them: Ross and his diamond leggings have been lashed to a stake and used as the sacrificial lamb.
Ben, meanwhile is tidying his room. Yes, you read it right. No, not in real life. On Minecraft. Everyone has a room and, apparently, the state of your room is important. Someone’s been into Ben’s room and he’s not happy. Tom wouldn’t have even noticed.
So the game has some redeeming qualities… What it doesn’t have, is silence.
“Let’s do it,” Ben yells at the top of his voice. “Send Ross out. If they kill him, we’ll know it’s not safe.”
“Ben, stop shouting.”
“I’m not shouting.”
“You are. And don’t worry if your mic breaks. They’ll still hear you.”
“In Pittsburgh,” my wife mutters.
The only time he’s quiet is when he dashes to the kitchen for re-fuelling.
And quiet is what Jane needs. She was on holiday at half-term – so obviously she immediately succumbed to a savage bug with attendant sinus complications. I was despatched to sleep in Tom’s bedroom at the top of the house. Cold up there? Twinned with Vladivostok. I’m just negotiating my return to the marital bed when Ben returns.
“Awesome,” he says. “I’ve killed someone. I can stick their head on my wall.” As a parent how can I not be delighted?
But Ben can’t bask in his glory for long. The other clan have taken the bait. Ross and his diamond leggings are no more. Year 9 are under attack – and maybe they’ve spent too much time on farming. “Cover me, guys,” Ben yells. “I’m going to throw carrots at them…”