Funny how you sit down every morning intending to get that post written that’s been buzzing around in your head, and every day there’s a new distraction that keeps you from writing it. It’s almost like they expect me to work for my paycheck…
In all seriousness (please don’t fire me!), it’s a combination of two factors which has kept me away from gaming for yet another week. One, being very busy at work, and two, keeping myself extraordinarily busy with personal work while at home – both ending in good, solid results. But not exactly conducive to pursuing hobbies.
The week hasn’t been a total wash for the games, though, as I was able to get a few hours in for LotRO‘s Spring Festival last night, and have spent a good deal of time playing LEGO games on the Wii with my older son. Mostly Star Wars and Indiana Jones – two titles I am more than thrilled that he enjoys, and in which I’m more than happy to invest some quality time. Especially if I can share it with the kids. Even my wife gets in on the action from time to time, but mostly as a helper to figure out the puzzles and occasionally lend a hand when I cannot. Extraordinary! It’s almost as if the system were designed to bring families together…
I have to say that I am in complete and utter awe at my son’s ability to learn and adapt. For a five year old to be playing a platforming game rated ‘E10’ – and beating his parents! – may not be that unusual these days, but it sure is impressive to me. I don’t remember the process I went through towards becoming ‘A Gamer’, or what it was like to attain the skills common to our hobby or learn the conventions we all take for granted. But I do remember that it was a long, lonely journey of many hours with the Commodore 64/Nintendo/Playstation/PC. Eventually my sister was old enough to join me, but we didn’t have anyone to introduce us to video games or help me through the initial learning curve. Only parents who were open-minded enough, and willing enough, to let us play. And, because I knew that eventually he’d want to play video games, I did worry a little about how to help him learn. Turns out that was a completely useless concern.
It’s almost as if my son has no learning curve whatsoever; or, one so shallow that you’d need insanely precise scientific apparatus to accurately measure it. Generally, he only has to see something once to get the hang of it, and can already remember the process for clearing most levels. There are a few parts with which he needs help, but those are becoming increasingly few and further apart. I know I am biased, and that this particular event must be utterly alien to the older generations, but it makes me proud to watch him play. Most times, I have more fun watching him than I do actually playing. Most, but not all! Sometimes the Old Man wants to get in there and swing a lightsaber or whip!
I have noticed a key difference, however, in the ways and reasons the two of us play. And I don’t think I’m alone in this; I think many gamer parents would probably say the same types of things. My son plays for the sheer enjoyment of getting from the Start to the End – go from Point A to Point B, solve the puzzles and getting to the next cutscene or area. That’s it. I play to “complete”, or “beat”, the game – see all the areas and finish all of the achievements. Not that either way is more right or more wrong, just that we each find Fun in different aspects of the game. And, to be honest, I think I enjoy his way more. If only I could get past the instincts 2+ decades of gaming have accrued.
He plays for the pure fun of playing. For the doing, not the finishing. His only reason for pushing through a level is to see what comes next; he’s never finished a game and realized that that’s it. That he can either go back and play it again, or move onto something else. These things are infinite to him, so he doesn’t feel the need to squeeze every last ounce out of them. At some point we, both gamers and developers, crossed a line where the ideas of value and retention – and for developers, profit – became real considerations. The Age of Achievements and Leaderboards and Cash Shop Cosmetics was born. In a way, it makes me a little sad for the Gamer I’ve become; that I’m (clightly) manic about being thorough, and plumbing the breadth and depth of every game I take on. Those can be wonderful things – breadth and depth – but they tend to engender a kind of desperate need to check off every item on someone else’s list.
So I revel in the Gamer that he is right now, and I truly enjoy playing beside him. It occasionally let’s me sink back into the kind of fun I once had. Not that I don’t have fun now, but it’s of a different kind. His is more simple and, in some ways, more vibrant.
I think it would be a good study to take video of my wife and I watching him play (at the very least, it would be mildly amusing). We quietly cringe as he works his way through a level, vocally offering encouragement to disguise our “stress”. Though it’s for two very different reasons. My wife is like my son; get to the end as quickly and efficiently as possible, but she would probably be able to do it a bit faster than he can (for now!). Not for a time-based achievement, but more a “It’s the Destination, not the Journey” thing. It’s why she won’t watch me play, ever.
I cringe because he doesn’t care about points or achievements; he’ll grab silver and gold dots (worth 10 and 100 points each, respectively) if they are in his path, but will quite obviously pass up blues and purples (1000 and 10,000, respectively) that are only a few steps away. He doesn’t care to fulfill the “True Adventurer” or “True Jedi” or “Mad Gamerzzz” achievement for the level, or to find all the treasure chests/power cores/self-validating-booster-thingies.
This drives me up a wall, and more than once I’ve found myself going back through an area to collect dots after he’s handed me the Wii-mote to help him with something small like making a hard jump. He complains, a bit, but I know it’s whats best for him. Or me.