COLUMN: "Video killed the merit badge"

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, May 9, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Video killed the merit badge
By Aaron J. Brown

By now you may have heard that the Boy Scouts of America plan to offer a merit badge for playing video games. This is the precise kind of story that national media outlets repeat and amplify, as Grandpa Simpson would say, to “angry up the blood” of older readers and viewers. Video games? That’s not right. That’s not merit. Video games are brain rot worse than the TV cartoons. That’s what we’re supposed to think when we hear the news. Everyone who thinks the opposite is currently playing video games and programming the software that will one day replace us, you specifically. Me, I’m willing to roll with the changes.

I have to disclose my biases here. I’m a failed Boy Scout, a rogue scout who couldn’t tie knots and who dropped out at the lowly rank of Tenderfoot. I understand the value of the Boy Scouts, and the Girl Scouts and all the vaguely scout-like organizations that keep kids busy so they don’t wreck the house. I get it, OK. Totally. But I’m no Eagle Scout.

That said it’s important to note that the Boy Scout video game badge is not awarded for mastering “Call of Duty XII: When the Metal Ones Come for You” or “Grand Theft Auto Infinity, Now With Bonus Car Jacking.” Instead the badge is awarded for understanding the balance between video games and chores, the need to put video game content in context and something else that was totally lame. Almost sheepishly, Boy Scout administrators added that they were losing potential members to video games and that this was a possible solution. A-ha! Now we’re talking about the Boy Scouts I remember.

Let me take you back. When I was a kid a bunch of my friends joined the Boy Scouts. I didn’t. Later I kind of wished I had because my friends seemed to be having fun and the uniforms seemed to buy street cred with the teachers, something that carries a lot of weight with nerds. I was a nerd. It was around this time that a Boy Scout recruiter spoke to our class. In addition to all the traditional benefits of scouting, the camping, fellowship and sloganeering, anyone who signed up that day would receive a “Rock Lord” toy. (Rock Lords were spinoffs from Go-Bots; same deal but with rocks instead of robots). And while it’s true that I might have joined anyway on account of peer pressure or the unshakable desire to build a lean-to in the woods, I carry with me the cold truth that the Rock Lord pushed me over the top.

All the current teeth-gnashing over the video game merit badge means is that the price of pushing marginally interested children into scouting has increased dramatically since the 1980s. Instead of a mass-produced piece of foreign plastic based on a storyline involving sentient rocks (which the Boy Scouts probably acquired for pennies apiece, if they paid anything at all), membership drives today demand alteration of the organization’s core structure. The next step will be shiny pins to designate Facebook friends and the consolidation of the 12 points of the Scout Law into something that can be re-tweeted.

My time in Boy Scouts was, in some respects, a period of abject failure. I never learned to swim, remain confounded by tents to this day, and – as previously mentioned – can’t tie off much more than a shoe or a stiff drink. But my memories ring true today. I remember hanging off the tailgate of a moving truck at a scout jamboree with an unlicensed driver at the wheel. There was an entire year of Weeblos when my friend’s dad, the temporary scout master, let us play board games and watch hockey games through their giant old school satellite dish instead of doing anything related to scouting. These are great memories, mostly because none of it was or should have been sanctioned by the authorities. Maybe it should stay that way.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at and in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Sorry I do not understand what you are trying to say here. You probably should have researched this a little more because your article has important errors. Please note it is a video gaming belt loop for Cub Scouts, not a Boy Scout Merit Badge.

    There is a big difference.

  2. A fair point. I was operating off of a very short news item that was broadcast on ABC’s Tech Bites.

    In essence, however, this was a personal column in memoir style about my experiences in scouting. I think the sentiment remains the same whether it’s Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts, but nevertheless your correction is noted and appreciated.

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