Some of my best friends are gamers. I guess that’s how I’ll backhandedly describe the fact that I am, most definitely, not.
There used to be a game that the boys played with a friendly cartoon tiger running along a crumbling Great Wall. I played that. I could do three or four runs before it was beyond my skills. That was the last game they ever caught me playing.
I was pretty good at Pajama Sam and Putt Putt Saves the Zoo on the PC. That said, their pre-school selves were better players than me. I set the low bar.
I wasn’t anxious to buy a gaming system. Others in the house were much more anxious. We made a deal. If they could save up half the cost of the PlayStation, I’d make up the difference. Baby Bear got $1 each week and The Big Guy $3. They were required to request their allowance each week. The cash was lost to the nethers if the transaction wasn’t made by the end of the weekend. No back pay. Saved me having to remember and from doling out extra bank.
The Big Guy was quite lackadaisical about money. Not Baby Bear. He was on a mission. You could mark your calendar by his Friday night request. He made sure to get The Big Guy’s dough, too. His rigor soon fulfilled their side of the bargain, an annoying three weeks before Christmas. So they bought themselves the gift.
They are still bitter about the games I would not let them play. No killing games. That Star Wars game with the light sabers that My Sib bought them? Nope. Not even if they killed Jar Jar Binks. No killing games. I gave it away.
There were plenty of running and jumping and driving games. There was Mario & Luigi, Crash Bandicoot and that cute purple dragon. I even flew the dragon on occasion when they handed me the controller, just to be friendly.
The Toy Story game was a big puzzle that let them explore outside of a defined path. Well, until they got to the side of Andy’s room where there wasn’t any drawing left. Rendering. Rendering. Rendering.
My parental standard graduated to cartoon level mayhem, as long as the weapon wasn’t a gun. And no games rated “M.” The boys were disgusted with me. They were definitely out of sync with their peers. I was okay with that. They had Madden, and FIFA and some crazy basketball game.
My rules were harder for The Big Guy. I held him back a bit because Bear would play it, too. I know. Not fair. It’s always harder on the oldest.
I found a killing game cartridge when I was putting away underwear. Leaving aside why someone hides contraband behind their boxers–the most obvious place to hide stuff–I knew it was time to adjust. My response was to keep an eye on the gameplay. I would sit with them as they would play. I would ask them questions. And they would hand me the controller.
I would inevitably shoot my own feet, maim my teammates, and not be able to move. Seriously, the boys would shout, BOX, BOX, A, X or whatever. It didn’t matter. I have absolutely no controller-brain coordination. I would try. I would fail. We would laugh.
Over time, I watched the games change. First it was watching them play football in the rain–maybe the year Brett Farve was on the cover of Madden. The shadows of the players, the jerseys worn by the crowds, the options for play became more sophisticated.
Then there were the killing games. They became more realistic, too. It was stunning, and awful. But another thing happened. Some of the killing games had characters who had to make challenging decisions. The first-person missions became more morally complex.
I grew to like some of the characters. Some of them a lot. I cared about their success. In some games, there were real storylines. Characters had different personalities. You could do more than upgrade your weapon or change your armor. You could even reveal a different story if you played as a different cast member. I would check in to see not just how the game progressed, but what happened, what decisions were made and what were the consequences.
I went from the parent who railed against the violence and stupidity of GTA, to a binge-watching regular, like watching The Sopranos through a kaleidoscope where I get to spin the colored glass and view a new, crooked, yet beautiful, version. A good game is art–there is plot, conflict and denouement. A world is created. There are heroes, villains and anti-heroes. The gamer makes decisions that impact not only the gameplay, but the outcome of the tale.
As the boys play, I watch the games like a movie. They sometimes ask me which weapon to use or if they should buy more health or more cunning. I share my uninformed opinion, sometimes after asking questions about the options. I sometimes share my opinion about their decisions–like to not be mean. They usually acquiesce or explain why they need to be mean at that moment. They know that I’ll refuse to take the unfathomable controller into my clumsy hands, so they don’t pass that on. I sit with them to be with them, to watch the show and just to be friendly.