However, the place is so frenetic, so loud, so brightly lit, and so dizzyingly decorated that it’s pretty much a solid opportunity for adults to undergo a portion of their Purgatory here on earth just by taking their kids for a couple of hours.
I had just that chance this weekend, when my husband and I took our six kids and one neighbor boy to Chuck E. Cheese’s to celebrate one son’s completion of kindergarten. I don’t know what we were thinking when we made this a thing. All I can say in my defense is that I had no idea that we’d end up with so many kids, or that they’d all manage to graduate from kindergarten. But it’s now become part of family “big-T” Tradition, and many a reading lesson was completed only because of the promise of Chuck E. Cheese’s.
So while my child army was running from one end of the game room to the other, I stationed myself in a spot by the Whack-A-Mole game and endured. As the sounds of shrieking and beeping and a thousand other noises swirled into a pounding cacophony, it slowly dawned on me – Chuck E. Cheese’s is a thriving breeding ground for the seven deadly sins. It is, in fact, what would be spawned if Vegas bred with a daycare. No matter how innocent and relatively sweet the abstract notion of family entertainment appeared, lurking so close to the surface that the slightest scratch would send it flooding out, were the most common sins that we fall victim to, dressed up Junior Vegas style.
Envy: This one’s easy enough to spot. The look on one child’s face when he realizes his sister has more tokens or prize tickets than he does is naked envy in its purest form. You can almost see the little wheels turning in their heads: “If I knocked my sister down and stole her tokens, would I be able to run fast enough to play some games before I got caught?”
But it’s not just the little ones who fall victim to this sin. Oh no – observe the face of any adult peering out the one-way glass windows to the world outside. As people pass by – happy people who are not currently confined in the fever dream world of Chuck E. Cheese’s – a look of unchecked envy passes over the parent’s face, and you can see the little wheels turning in their heads, “If I ran from this arcade, would I be able to snatch a person off the sidewalk and make them swap places with me long enough to enjoy my freedom before I got caught?”
Covetousness: While envy needs a human target, covetousness can exist in a people-free environment (not that Chuck E. Cheese’s is ever people-free). That pirate game with the guns and the noises and the giant Kraken painted on the side? That will have a line of ten kids deep, and all of them will have just one thought on their minds – “GIVE ME A TURN!”
Strangely, certain games seem to be unable to trigger feelings of covetousness. Such is the case with the creepy fiberglass clown that, for one of your precious tokens, will fire up, start spinning around slowly, and emit horrifying chuckles and garbled words that are unintelligible, but which is most definitely an incantation of some sort.
Pride: Ah, pride. The first sin; the root of that apple business; the foolhardy desire to place oneself above brother, above neighbor, and even above God. If it existed in the Garden, you can be sure to also find it in far less idyllic settings like Chuck E. Cheese’s. The older child who refuses the help of a younger child on skee-ball, even though the older child has all the athletic skill of an elephant in twilight sleep, and the younger child is freakishly good at chucking balls at things. Pride shows up.
Lust: Yes, even in a place as genuinely wholesome as Chuck E. Cheese’s, that pernicious sin creeps in. Now, since we’re dealing with the 12-and-under crowd, the vice doesn’t manifest sexually, but rather in the older, broader sense of the word – an inordinate desire for anything. And Chuck E. Cheese’s has carefully designed a garden of earthly delights for kids to inordinately desire. “I want more tokens!” “I want more prize tickets!” “I want more prizes!” “I want more food!” “I want to stay longer!”
For their part, the adults more or less spend their time lusting for a stiff drink.
Gluttony: Closely tied to lust in this situation, that litany of desire suffers from overindulgence as even the most modest trip to the arcade somehow winds up with too many tokens, too many prize tickets, too many cheap plastic toys, and too much food.
NOTE: The children will never, ever realize that they’re suffering from this sin. Ever. In their minds, they are on the fast track to sanctification via moderation and self-denial.
Wrath: That consuming anger and hatred, which is directed both outwardly and inwardly, flickers on the faces of patrons at Chuck E. Cheese’s. You see it pop up on the face of the young father taking his child there for the first time as his eyes survey his fate for the next couple hours, and horror mixes with absolute rage that he was talked into this fool’s outing. You see it sweep over the kids who have been told it’s time to go. They flop on the floor in an over-stimulated fury while the parents stoically brave flailing arms and legs to bodily carry their little rageaholic to the car. The wall of sound that permeates the place generally swallows up the soundtrack to the temper tantrum, but you can still see it playing out like a little wrathful ballet.
Sloth: I experience temptation to this sin in the hours leading up to the trip as I try to find any reason to cancel it – any reason at all. I also experience it in the hours following the trip, when I’m so exhausted that all I want to do is nap for the rest of the day. And yet, I never experience it while actually there. While at Chuck E. Cheese’s, I’m running in ten different directions after seven different kids, and I’m throwing Hail Maries at heaven as fast as I can mutter them. There is no room for sloth at Chuck E. Cheese’s unless you manage to sneak in a quickie power nap in the bathroom.
Now, should you find yourself in a Chuck E. Cheese’s, watching this list of sins play out in front of you, my advice is this: schedule confession immediately afterwards and bring a bucket of hand sanitizer with you. You’re going to need both.