I am a gamer. I am proud of it. My family knows of my gaming habits and over the past year has grown to support me. My wife is an angel, and my video gaming habits are as natural to her as the air we breathe… as long as what needs to get done at home gets done, that is. But when I told my folks about eXplorminate, I was expecting to be told that I need to grow up and stop being a child.
Boy, was I wrong. My dad took an immediate interest, and that’s cool. He and I have always had a lot in common, like reading the same books, so looking back it only seems natural. My mom, who is the critical one when it comes to hobbies and wasting time, started asking me all of these poignant questions. I wasn’t sure what that was all about. Turns out, she is completely okay with it. Why? Why is she okay with it now, when I am an adult and a parent myself? Why wasn’t she okay with it when I was growing up?
Oh yeah, I have kids of my own, and my oldest talks to his grandmother about the time we spend together as the two of us game. He gets so excited and passionate about our activities. Is that it? Is that why she approves all of a sudden? Maybe. But first, let me set the stage a little.
All of this came up as a result of two different conversations over this past Summer. It initially started with a thread in our Steam forum that was started by one of our first members, Icemania. In it, he asks our collective opinion about what games he should play with his 8 year old son. How awesome of a dad is he? So, we discussed many games and settled on Age of Wonders 3 by Triumph Studios. Why you ask? Simple! It’s a great game. Why not Endless Legend or Civilization V? They too are great games. Because they are games more focused on empire management and the subject matter might not be engaging to every child and their immediate interests. They also take a long time. Age of Wonders 3 is a faster game that’s easier to pick up. Simple as that.
The second conversation happened on August 19th this year. I was chatting with Sikbok (Steam handle), a developer at Triumph Studios, and my main resource for AoW3 answers. Thankfully, he is very patient and funny. During this conversation, I was sharing my opinion of one aspect of the game and at the end of that exchange, we started to just talk about real life stuff, something that happens pretty often. During this chat, I was telling him about how I play AoW3 with my son, and he was fascinated. That led to more back and forth, and this eXposition was born. Now, back to the story.
When I was growing up in my parents house, I loved reading, listening to music, and playing video and tabletop games. My best friend would come over during the weekends and various breaks from school, and we would play video games like SimCity, Warlords, Bard’s Tale and Defender of the Crown. At one point, I pretended my Amiga (or was it a PC clone? I don’t remember any more…) developed a personality, like from Wargames (the movie) and my best friend believed me for a time. Well, maybe not, but he did humour me.
Anyway, we used to play Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Blood Bowl in the living room or in the back yard. We had other friends that played too, so we would hold epic multi-day game session in this one guy’s house. His parents thought it was great when we showed up and hung out together. They dedicated a whole massive living room to our gaming. They had snacks and food. It was an awesome experience. I always thought it was weird, but I think I understand now. As teenagers, we could have been up to so many shenanigans. Trouble was all around, but we didn’t look for fights. This was long before the internet, but creative kids could find plenty of ways to disappoint their parents while getting in serious trouble. We didn’t.
Towards the end of my time in high school, and right around the time I went to university, Civilization came out, and I disappeared. I am sure my mom was NOT happy about that. Reading a book at a family gathering while listening to music was bad enough, but outright disappearing? Not going to family events or hanging out with the family? OH NO, the sky is falling! The end of the world has come. I learned my lesson. I had to game in secret. At least with board games, it looked like we were playing chess, but computer gaming… It was a dark family secret, and no one must know our shame. Their oldest child was a nerd AND a gamer. The mom-quisition was on the case.
Meanwhile, computer gaming was really catching on, but the media was not. Outside of the game magazines for console/PC/Amiga gaming scene, there was no one to bring video game culture to the masses. The arcades were getting their second wind with titles like Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct and Street Fighter, but for the time being it was Rap, Heavy Metal, and Grunge that were “ruining” our youth. Kids were committing horrible crimes under the influence of the EVIEEEEEEL music. VIolent movies too, but the MUSIC was the worst. I continued to quietly game. My secret hidden in plain sight. My brother knew, he was a console gamer and 13.5 years my junior but it was fine for him to play. He was just a kid. My cousins too. But we were all part of the same tribe really. We should have called ourselves the Gamers in Shame club.
Thankfully, Nintendo kept putting out good products. Sega was going strong in the 90’s, then the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox system came to market and the gaming scene blew up. All of a sudden, the greater world took notice. Video games had gone mainstream, and they were EVIEEEEELLLL. Kids were committing “fatalities” and “street fighting.” The sky is falling, the streets are on fire, chaos is everywhere. It’s all because kids play videogames? SAY WHAT? Say it isn’t so. Kids stopped watching the world through television, and started to partake in it through videogames. OH NOOOOOOO!!!!! But it didn’t end there.
A new threat was on the horizon. The most vile evil this planet has faced since the dawn of time itself has come. THE INTERNET. Kids and adults were now interacting with one another. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria! No longer did we game alone at home or at the video arcade. No, we gamed with each other and communicated. Our private domain invaded by complete strangers. Hold up…
I am going to pause here for a second. This is not an article about the bad things that can happen when kids and adults interact in an unsupervised environment. Sure, I will mention it, but I will not dwell there long. Someone else can write that eXposition. Just wanted this out there.
Okay, I’m back. Anyways, The Internet created equality, and kids were no longer the victims. They could take out their frustration on the ill-prepared adults. Their little nimble fingers and fast reflexes made them virtual gods in RTS and fighting games. Then they conquered FPS and MOBAs. Kids are quick to learn and quicker to act. We adults are somewhat slower, and as we age, the difference only becomes more apparent. But again, that’s not what this is about. This is just a tiny piece of the puzzle.
So, the media is now aware, and they are standing in judgement. Grand Theft Auto is the new devil. Games like Postal are the new boogie man. Kids are acting out left and right because they are recreating what they see in videogames. School shootings, general crime, drug habits! It’s all the fault of video games, or so claims the mass media. Not the parents of these children, or their constant exposure to ever increasing sex and violence that the news cycle seems to dwell on. Not the war coverage or constant pushing of boundaries of daytime television. No, it’s videogames, and study after study came out showing this.
Meanwhile, Nintendo, has quietly been educating the adults with the Wii and later, Wii-U. A system that is really something to behold. I applaud their efforts and thank them every day. I think that the Wii has done more positive things for gaming than any other video game platform in existence. Everyone played the Wii. The youngest and oldest could now play tennis against one another or safely hit each other in the virtual boxing arena. They could bowl and hang out online using their innocuous Mii friends with their grandparents. That’s right, kids playing videogames with OOOOLLLLLDDDDDD people. My mom asked me about that and if she and my dad would like this.
I was floored. She might as well have hit me with a one-two combo, because I was reeling. Did she just ask me if I think it’s a good idea for her and my dad to play Wii games? She wondered if my grandmother (who at the time was 80+ years old) would benefit from a Wii. Seriously?!?!?! Cool I thought. Wait, no, this must be a dream. It’s the Twilight Zone. Yeah, that’s it.
So, fast-forwarding to now. Many years have passed. I live thousands of miles away from my parents, and we talk daily on the phone or through Skype. She asks me about work, family, the local weather, and the videogames I’m playing. Wow. But why? Why is she interested all of a sudden?
I think it has to do with my son. Let’s call him Z’man. He’s an amazing kid, if you ask me. Sure, I’m his dad and all, but he really is. He’s rather tall for his age, and by that I mean that he is a tad over 4 feet tall and he’s not even five and a half yet. He’s smart, articulate, multilingual, funny and very sociable. He gets along with everyone. He finds ways to enjoy the company of his 1.5 year old sister and has as much fun with his 7 year old friends. He talks to his grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins… everyone. He doesn’t fight, or bully kids younger or smaller than him, even though he is so much taller and bigger than they are. But why?
Communication. He has amazing communication skills, and that’s where I think video games come into play. When he was two and a half, my wife got a Google Nexus as a birthday present from her best friend. Within a day, he confiscated it from her, called it Koala and it’s been his daily companion ever since. He learned how to talk, count and read from it. How to work electronic devices, and how to play games. Of course we monitored his activities, and restricted what he has access to, especially his access to the internet. But yes, the tablet has taught him a lot. But not all.
We often sat with Z’man and read to him from the stories that we uploaded to it and board books that we constantly bought. If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about here. We showed him how to navigate them, and he absorbed it all like a sponge. His screen time is limited. We don’t let him play with it all day, but when he is a good boy and helps out, he gets to spend time with his Koala. Meanwhile his T.V. time is strictly controlled.
In the last year, he has shown interest in my computer gaming, so when I play, I permit him to “hang” with me. I am teaching him 4X and strategy games. I’m also teaching him how to play Bejeweled and driving games. He often has deep discussions and heated arguments with my wife about the right move in Plants vs. Zombies. All in all, we game together. Sure, we go outside to the park and the beach. We like to visit aquariums and zoos, We even started to go to the movies. But when we are at home, we are either talking, listening to music or playing video games.
So, why is my mom so accepting of my gaming all of a sudden? I’ll tell you. Because it creates a bond between my son and me. It creates teaching opportunities for me to explain how things work. It brings up subjects that are normally very difficult to approach in other forms of media, and it creates instances to educate him. Everyday lessons within a safe environment. Adult situations that he can handle in a language that he understands in an environment where he can feel comfortable.
It also creates an opportunity for my mom to spend time with him from thousands of miles away. Because of his screen time, it’s not weird to talk to grandma and grandpa on Skype as if that’s a normal thing. He is used to it. He wants to talk to them so he can tell them about his day and what he saw and did. But when she asks him about video games, his eyes light up and he can’t get the words out fast enough. I am sure she is happy that he can spend time with his dad. I certainly am.
As for me, I get to talk to my mom about my favorite things in the world and not get derided for the first time in my life. It’s really something if you ask me. Sure, I can’t get into the details of my gaming because her eyes glaze over, but I don’t have to hide it any more. I don’t have to be ashamed of one of my most favorite hobbies. It’s really quite liberating. The shame that society or tradition tries to put on is only an illusion. Passion speaks for itself, and people will come to respect passion – even if it takes them a little while.
Maybe I should try to show my dad how to play some strategy and 4X games. I’m sure he’ll like them. If nothing else, it will create an opportunity for us to talk some more about the books and music we like. So, who says video games are bad? Certainly not me. As long as homework is done, and Z’man cleaned his room, and did everything his mom has asked of him, he will always be welcome at my side when I game…Up until bedtime of course.