I’m not sure there’s a place parents love to hate more than Chuck E. Cheese.
The main complaints: concern over an excessive amount of bacteria spread between a concentrated amount of little people in one place, and exorbitant prices for pizza which is at best mediocre.
The topper of course is inadvertently spending $45 on a piece of Laffy Taffy, a Chuck E. Cheese sticker and a plastic spinning top.
Tokens turn into tickets that can be used as currency at the glass counters, displaying carefully arranged rows of complete junk.
Because of our recent move, and life still proving to be in transition, I found myself with my son and a few of his friends this week in the germ ridden, and expensive dining establishment to celebrate his ninth birthday.
It was the easy way out—the only thing I could think to do on a moment’s notice, requiring no planning or preparation.
I sat in a booth, doling out germ-infested tokens, and observed.
To my surprise, I did see some legitimate lessons unfolding as the boys darted between the chug-chug-chug of the Terminator’s simulated machine gun game, the bam-bam-bam of Whac-a-Mole, and the mechanical version of the namesake rat doing a cabaret-style show as the velvet curtains parted every ten minutes.
Yes, right there among the whizzing skee balls, and influenza climbing tubes, real life skills were being sharpened.
Cost benefit analysis: The boys had figured out that some games quickly gobble their tokens, while other games last longer. Some games, riskier and dependent on luck, potentially spit out more tickets, but ended with only a push of a button. Other games, such as shooting hoops, yielded very few tickets, but had great play value. It was interesting to see the different choices the boys made with their limited number of tokens.
Negotiation: At the prize counter, the kids realized that only when pulling together their resources could they afford the knock-off Nerf guns with the little plastic can targets. Negotiations came to a crisis point when one potential investor refused to be talked into the deal. The kids had to come up with a new plan.
Prioritizing: This pretty much came down to eating pizza while it’s still warm, or playing first and having cold pizza later. As I nursed the burnt roof of my mouth with a cold drink, I was reminded that everyone has different priorities.
Self-Advocating: Inevitably, there are injustices that occur at Chuck E. Cheese. It is fascinating to watch how kids handle them. A game takes a token, yet the game won’t work. Another game says a jackpot has been won, yet no tickets come out. A stationary car ride promises a photograph of its driver, but the picture never falls through the slot. The kids must figure out who to talk to and how to get what they want. Asking politely and waiting patiently proved more successful than complaining and demanding.
At the end of the two hours of casino-like, crazed behavior, it was time to match up our invisible stamps with the lady holding the magic light at the entrance who would make sure I wasn’t taking a kid that didn’t belong to me. We stepped into the wide world with newly sharpened skills like analyzing, negotiating, prioritizing and self-advocating. Those will definitely come in handy.