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1. MISTER ROGERS
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (Season 13, Episode 9)
I haven't talked much about Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in my shows or columns, I realize. Not for lack of wanting to, but from lack of inability to talk or think about the late, great children's television host without dissolving into a teary puddle of goo. So we'll see how this goes.
Fred Rogers was American television's last and greatest secular saint. It's popular among vile cynics today to paint him as simply the progenitor of self-defeating "self-esteem" culture, what with his mantra of telling generations of children that they were special "Just the way they are," but he and his message were so much more than that. This was a man who spoke to children like they were his equals: He taught instead of lecturing. He led by example instead of scolding. And even though he was, away from the cameras, a man of God (an ordained minister, to be precise) he never preached. In an era when the intelligentsia was looking at television as the mind-killer, this was a man who looked at the emerging technology and thought it could be used to achieve a specific good -- the education and enrichment of children -- at a level never before possible. He believed that television and technology could be good for you and that the airwaves were a vital public resource, and he fought the United States Congress for it.
And so it's only a little surprising that, as part of a six-episode "arc" on the subject of games and play in his 13th Season, Mister Rogers made video games one of the small wonders of life he wanted to share and chat about with kids. And yes, that's Keith F***in' David in there, too.
Taking a curious look at the workings of a Donkey Kong cabinet is, justly, a blip on the timeline for Fred Rogers: the man who taught generations not to be afraid, to be curious, to seek knowledge and to love themselves. But for the history of gaming it deserves to be remembered as a milestone. To be included among the things Neighborhood thought was worth talking to kids about placed gaming in a (still rare) position alongside more venerated pastimes and acceptable mediums -- to fall under Rogers' quiet observational approval was as close as any part of pop-culture got in that era to a blessing from on high. At the very moment games were becoming the new scapegoat for childhood time-wasting, (especially from TV shows, which viewed them as competition) Mister Rogers said differently.
Because Fred Rogers was a hero.