Some of my earliest memories are of gaming, be it at a Tandy computer adventuring through the undergrowth of planet Xenon, checking my inventory via a text parser while lost in The Great Underground Empire, or even making by way through traffic as an suicidal amphibian. Playing video games has always been a touchstone of who I am, so I suppose it’s come to little surprise to those around me that I have ended up working in the industry I do today, least of all my dad.
My father, while not an avid gamer – save for a period lasting from 1989 through 1991, which we all playfully refer to as the ‘Tetris Years’ – has always supported my hobby, while ensuring that as a hobby it did not overshadow my other, ‘real world’ responsibilities. I was always keenly aware that any princesses in need of saving would have to wait patiently in their dragon guarded towers until I took out the trash or finished my homework.
However, growing up there were those occasions in my youth that helped further my love of video games, not just as as solitary pastime spent in front of a glowing screen, but also as something that both my father and I could play together. While admittedly these represented a minor subset of the complete library of games played growing up, some of my fondest memories are of those times spent going head to head with my dad in Air-Sea Battle, or scouring the globe for Carman San Diego as he pored over an encyclopedia. My father even sat and helped me quell the racial and political tensions building between the Kindar and the Erdling, though truth be told neither of us had the slightest clue what was going on in Below the Root.
Now a father myself, I too have found myself staring down a similar, though perhaps more complicated path, knowing full well that as my son Joseph grows up, and sees the flood of games and consoles that come through our home, a line will have to be drawn as expectations are set. I think I’m up to the task, but even as my son turns just four years old on this Father’s Day, I can see my will may not as rigid as previously thought.
And maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t have to be. Within limits, gaming can be a tool for building stronger relationships between family members, just as it was some twenty odd years ago with my father and I. It just takes a bit of discipline, and just like any tool, the key is in using it responsibly. Joseph is perhaps an extreme example – I don’t know of many children who had a Game Boy gifted to them at their birth by Nintendo as a congratulations for coming into the world – but with the growing popularity of educational video game consoles and games from companies such as V.Smile and LeapFrog, any new or upcoming parent is advised to keep gaming on their parental radar.
Now, I know what you are thinking. There is a world of difference between these games and platforms that are tailor made for youngsters, and the more visceral experiences offered by conventional video games. And you’re right. However, save for a few extreme examples of overtly violent or vulgar games that are plainly labelled as being for adults only (remember the parent is the gateway for all games that are played in the home), every console or handheld on the market offers a bevy of engaging titles that can be not only fun, but also useful in bringing you and your offspring closer together.
Of course there are the obvious examples, mainly games based on popular children television properties or those tied to the day and date release of a popular movie, but the reality is so much bigger than I think most parents give credit. For example, from the time my son was barely able to support the weight of his own head, he’s had more toy cars than he could possibly count. My brother, an avid car enthusiast, made sure of this, and now my son is completely drawn to fascination when presented with anything with four wheels. Because of this, last year I introduced him to the world of EA and Criterion’s crash-centric racing series Burnout, and that, as they say, was that.
Using EA’s explosive racer as a jumping off point, Joseph and I now set aside short amounts of time several days a week, usually right before nap time or just after dinner, to play a racing game, and I have found my son’s tastes to be mildly eclectic, encompassing simulation style racers like Atari’s Test Drive Unlimited, to his current favorite, Motorstorm for the PlayStation 3, a game he affectionately refers to as “the buggy game.”
The sheer variety of experiences available for purchase on retail shelves these days is staggering, and while as with everything else in life moderation is key, video games are certainly not the societal ills that some paint them to be. As another personal example, the Guitar Hero franchise has become a household favorite in our home, with my wife and I passing the controller back and forth, most times with our son sitting on our lap bobbing his head to the music.
I cannot tell you how surreal it is to see Joseph rocking out to the likes of Warrant or Flock of Seagulls, but to him it’s just “the guitar game,” and I hope that like with me and my dad, he will look back and hold onto these years through photographs and dream-like recollections as something truly special.