Indoctrination

I recall with surprising accuracy when I became a gamer. It was the turn of the decade, the one before the one before the last one, the heady days of 1980 when the Space Shuttle was sparkling new and largely reliable, Ronald Reagan was just some governor from California who was primarily known for appearing in cinema occasionally with primates, and Al Michaels had become famous for talking about divine intervention as related to amateur hockey. I realize these are days that some of you know only from TV Land and old Bob Seger songs, and that fact makes me feel positively antediluvian. Look it up, it means really old. But, it was a formative year, for it was the year that I was exposed to both Space Invaders and Pong.

Now, as I stumble through my fourth decade on this spinning marble in space, it is my great privilege to pass this obsession on to my own son.

It is something of a shock to me that my years of gaming can be measured reasonably in terms of percentage of a century. I shudder to think how many productive hours and how much money I have sacrificed to my passion. Instead of dwelling on that point, I pretend that the question doesn't even exist, in much the same way that I occasionally like to pretend the mortgage doesn't exist when a desired game finds its way onto store shelves. And now, already, my own son has begun his own epic sacrifice to the pastime, so that someday he too can struggle in the decision between food and maintaining his subscription to World of Warcraft.

I say this with some confidence, because he has begun regularly approaching me of his own volition and demanding that we play the ball game. The ball game is, We Heart Katamari, and his fascination with this game, its colors, its music, and its seemingly insatiable dedication to bundling disparate objects into a ball and flinging them to the heavens to become unlikely celestial bodies, is limitless. There is no end to the number of things he can watch being collected by the merciless, yet apparently benign, Katamari as it meanders over thumbtacks, kabobs, videotapes, cats, bags of trash, track and field runners, shanties, and strange clownlike creatures that juggle fireflies. And when at last the Katamari is sated, and the King of the Cosmos tosses the conglomeration into the night's sky where it becomes a new, strange, occasionally furry part of the heavens, he bounds around the room as though I sustained him only on a diet of sugar and adrenalin.

I suppose there is a point to be made about how casually my child will bound about the room in such fashion, if only for accuracy's sake. Truth is, my son is capable of expressing a kind of excitement I haven't been able to muster since the soul crushing onset of puberty sacrificed my innocence to its demon hell-gods, which, as we've established, was a good number years ago when perhaps the oceans were still molten, most life was defined as various kinds of sludge, and methane ruled the atmosphere. But, I digress.

My boy can be sent into fits of unabashed elation, possibly defined as conniptional (not an actual word), at the very suggestion that a trip to Target to buy milk is in the works. Never has a human so thoroughly relished the concept of going upstairs to get a bath, and circuit breakers around our neighborhood trip in rapid succession should anyone mention sugar based pastries as an edible possibility near my son. He is a stellar furnace of energy, able to speak for thirty minutes at a time without apparently taking a breath, a feat made all the more remarkable for his limited vocabulary of what seem to be a few dozen recognizable words.

But still! When the King of the Cosmos hurls that Katamari to the sky, I imagine that somewhere deep in the interstellar reaches a real and fiery star must suddenly wink out of existence, sacrificed by necessity to the universal conservation of energy for the sudden explosion of joy that manifests before the entertainment center.

Despite his passion for the results, his level of participation in the actual gameplay is predictably minimal. He is, after all, chronologically closer to being a zygote than a kindergartener, but I indulge his incomparable ability at self-delusion by handing him a wireless controller that does nothing, and assuring him that my victory is his victory, to which he pats me knowingly on the back and states, "˜we did it, daddy. We did it!' If he's feeling really enthusiastic, he gives me five. Or, more accurately, he gives me one hundred and thirty, in five part doses.

He does, however, perform other important services during the game. For example, he helps the game sing the theme song. This despite not only his limited English vocabulary as discussed, but virtually no professional singing experience. His opening notes are what can only be described as feline in nature, but to his credit so are the opening notes of the song itself. He stands full before the television and howls, "Meeeeeooooowwwwww, meeeeeeooowwwww". It is possible that he thinks there are cats involved. For all I know, it's possible that cats actually are involved. Frankly, I don't understand much in the world of Katamari.

But his enthusiasm for rolling up objects into heaping balls of potential celestiality (also, not a word), seems positively sedate when compared to his real passion: Burnout Revenge. This is known as simply The Car Game in the nomenclature of my son, but it engages him on a deep and primal level of boyhood; the same level upon which the game engages me.

Never has the word 'crash' been said with such passion, such revelry, and such sheer ecstasy, as when my son speaks it in the aftermath of a digital pickup truck hurling itself off an overpass and onto the apparently explosive flatbed of a passing truck. I have no illusions as to the level of corruption I am installing into my son with such gratuitous and wanton destruction, but I think back to my days of slamming dented and scraped Hot Wheels cars into one another, often resulting in banged fingertips, and my epic burning desire to see them splinter in slow motion into a thousand flaming pieces, and I can't help but feel the kind of joy Handel must have felt upon penning that whole Hallelujah thing.

It is, after all, an act of creation. I put the PS2 controller in his hand, power up the system, and show him the gift of gaming that was so infantile, so monochromatic when I was a tot. And, he absorbs it. Already, and I kid you not on this, he can correctly plug RCA cables into the front of the television, accurately putting the yellow plug into the video input, and the white and red into the audio. And, no, they aren't color coded on the television. He just knows. It is so clearly an integral procedural step toward exploding cars and rolling katamaris, that the knowledge is necessarily fundamental to him. Let me emphasize, this is information not even I mastered for nearly thirty years, and he's got it down short of as many months of life.

As I watch him manage even the mechanical end of this past time, and jump for genuine joy at having cleared a troubling stage, and ask to play videogames, I beam with a familiar fatherly pride. I suppose this is the kind of pride the manly men of the fifties enjoyed after smoking their cigar, enjoying jokes about minorities, and watching their boy score his first touchdown in little league. Ah, yes, I can only hope someday he is as sardonic and condescending as I. Then, truly, I will have created a gamer.

- Elysium

Comments

I've often pictured some fictional future date when I have a son or daughter of my own and wonder if they will take to video games the way I did. I wonder if it's too similar to the way some fathers push football on their sons, and how it is sometimes rejected but I think the pressure and competition (and fun) just doesn't really relate to the exploration and fun of gaming.

I imagine how it will be different for this new generation of gamers. The debate about ratings and morality of mature video games should die out as the idiotic parents who are buying their kids these games, ignorant of content become a minority. I can't imagine I'll stop keeping up with new games so when my 8 year old holds up a copy of Grand Theft Auto 6, Ill know better.

A friend of mine told me a funny story about 3 moms in line at EB Games each with copies of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in their hands. Each looked at what the other had and laughed, bragging to each other about what great moms they were when everyone else around could not help but think how f'ing clueless moms they are.

But.... what happens when your son goes into his rebel stage and the only games that he plays are sports games? What if just to piss you off, he becomes a NLF star?

Of course, by the time he hits high school, gaming will just be something that people do, like watch movies, read books, or talk on the phone.

Elysium wrote:

Ah, yes, I can only hope someday he is as sardonic and condescending as I.

But what will you do if he becomes more verbose?

If my son likes football just as much as Halo 5, The Elder Scrolls:X and Civilization 5, then he'll be right at home

Of course, by the time he hits high school, gaming will just be something that people do, like watch movies, read books, or talk on the phone.

It was when I was in high school (graduated '98)

It must be nice introducing your kid to a passion of yours. I wonder, though, if that introduction is necesssary.

To paraphrase a speaker at an e-commerce conference, new gadgets and products developed in our lifetime are 'technology', things that we may end up taking for granted, but that we've experienced an existence without. If these products alread exist when you're born, they're just 'there' - an accepted part of life.

As other people have suggested, I think your son would have been introduced to games - and become a gamer - even if you weren't around. It's just part of his environment. Perhaps your greatest contribution will come when he's a bit older - when you can talk to him about the history of games and the development of the industry.

That way he won't just be a person that plays games - he'll be a person that appreciates them.

Since nobody else has said it yet, I have to say that was really well written and enjoyable. I'll have to show it to my wife. Stuff like this

I can't help but feel the kind of joy Handel must have felt upon penning that whole Hallelujah thing.

is priceless. Good job!

As other people have suggested, I think your son would have been introduced to games - and become a gamer - even if you weren't around.

Sure, there are all kinds of things he would have experienced without any help from me at all. The prize is in being able to be the one who is there when he discovers these things, to be able to participate in that first experience.

Is it really indoctrination? No idea. I write these things as entertainment, putting in the fun parts and leaving out all the boring specifics and minutia that would probably point out that it's not indoctrination, but more something he saw me playing and wanted to participate in. See, that's not as fun.

Indoctrination or inevitability, it's just worth it to hear him sing like a cat.

My first games were the like of Reader Rabbit, Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt, even some Commander Keen in there but the moment I was hooked for the rest of my life is when my father sat me down and showed me what he would do on the oil rig when it was slow. Wolfenstein 3D. I was already a huge Indiana Jones freak and the idea of shooting nazis all day with my Dad could not be topped by anything else offered during the day. I was probably about 8 years old.

I had an Atari and games for that as well and had been playing games regularly but Wolf3D; that was the final push into gaming immersion. I still play Wolf3D to this day.

I just today posted in the Trading Post (thanks for that by the way guys!) my request for 2 year old boy games! This Katawhogacall it thing... PS2 only I assume?

Edit: a qiuck search confirms it... Console specific games make me and my son cry!

Great read, thanks. I'm jealous, jealous, jealous. My friend does the same, though he's not much of a gamer he has a PS2. We played some tony hawk one day and his son (3 yrs old now) had to have his turn (every five minutes :P.)

I wonder if he'll be showing you how to hook up the new fangled hologram machine to the holo-recorder thingy in the future. My brother and I had to show my parents how to work any new electronic gadget they bought.

This will go the the top of my "Best of Elysium" almanach!

As a father of a soon-to-be-hardcore gamer myself, I loved this article. My son just turned 8, and I gave him a DS for his birthday. Last night I brought him to Best Buy so he could get Kirby for it. It was his bedtime when we got home, so he got everything ready, and after I told him to get into bed, he walks into my bedroom, where I am keeping his baby brother company until he falls asleep, but before I get a chance to yell at him, he tells me there are 3 save slots in Kirby, which he then offered to me.

He and I played X-Men Legends all the way through together, and just finished Star Wars Lego together. One of the best parts of having a gamer kid is being able to share these games with them. I've already got him started on smack talk ("This level will be much easier if you don't crash into that ship - again!") and sarcastic barbs ("Yeah, we'll beat Magneto with Colossus - the guy is metal!"), so he is well on his way.

My boy can be sent into fits of unabashed elation, possibly defined as conniptional (not an actual word), at the very suggestion that a trip to Target to buy milk is in the works.

Don't you love that?

his real passion: Burnout Revenge. This is known as simply The Car Game in the nomenclature of my son, but it engages him on a deep and primal level of boyhood; the same level upon which the game engages me.

We only have Takedown, but he does so love that. The fact that it is largely on rails makes it a joy even to watch him play.

We're playing Ninja Gaiden.

I feel ya Elysium! My son who will be 2 in January is a sponge. He already runs to the computer chair and jumps in before I can get to it. He smiles at me and pats on the chair for me to sit with him. Ever since he saw me sitting in a chair in front of a keyboard pressing the keys, he has wanted to do the same. He then realized that the mouse was there also. He now knows how to move the mouse around on the screen and if he pushes the buttons right, things happen. Like starting games and other programs. I'm amazed how quickly he is learning. I am full of pride from my son for he wants to do everything ah-pa( daddy in korean) does. I can't hang a picture in the house without him rushing to grab the hammer and help put in the nail. My own fault. I let him try everything I can. I guess when he is sitting in my lap when I am driving a tank in BF2 its not his fault I can't see, or even when I have to clean my monitor from fingerprints. I will be letting him be a full fledged gamer. We bought a Vsmile ( video game for 3-7 year olds ). He is going to be fully capable of whoopin me at games by the time he is oh, 3

Man, now I want to have a kid just so he can beat your kids up in Street Fighter or something.

With my luck, he'll probably turn out to be some nobel laureate who won't "bother with those silly videogames".

Nice, the article got /. 'ed.

That was really well written.

I link you this.

Great article man.

It's things like this that are almost enough to make me re-think my "I'm never having kids" stance.

Then my sanity returns to me and I resume my normal child-fearing state.

SimChild - the world's most difficult game.

While I'm truly a gamer at heart and love all games - video or otherwise - I can't help but have the feeling I would rather push my child to more traditional arts for entertainment and learning purposes. I look back now and see so much time I spent enjoying my chosen vice and can't help but think what I might have accomplished if I had used the time to learn a different discipline - to play an instrument, travel, write, martial arts, etc. (many of those I have done, but not to the fullest I could have) Most would assume I am regretting the hours I spent playing games but I truly don't - perhaps it's just a parent's wish to give their children the things and opportunities they didn't have.

I wouldn't ban games from my children, but I just can't help think that a few less hours of them and a few more hours bettering themselves through more traditional means might help them be a more well rounded individual. Perhaps tailoring their video game playing might be more in order - a little more empire building/strategy and less grand theft auto.

LightBender wrote:

SimChild - the world's most difficult game.

While I'm truly a gamer at heart and love all games - video or otherwise - I can't help but have the feeling I would rather push my child to more traditional arts for entertainment and learning purposes. I look back now and see so much time I spent enjoying my chosen vice and can't help but think what I might have accomplished if I had used the time to learn a different discipline - to play an instrument, travel, write, martial arts, etc. (many of those I have done, but not to the fullest I could have) Most would assume I am regretting the hours I spent playing games but I truly don't - perhaps it's just a parent's wish to give their children the things and opportunities they didn't have.

I wouldn't ban games from my children, but I just can't help think that a few less hours of them and a few more hours bettering themselves through more traditional means might help them be a more well rounded individual.

Boo! Hiss!

Perhaps tailoring their video game playing might be more in order - a little more empire building/strategy and less grand theft auto.

Ok, that sounds reasonable.

Again, I'd like to point out that this is a piece mostly about entertaining readers, and should not be considered a strict interpretation of facts. While my son certainly has enthusiasm for the games we play, the actual playtime is usually an hour or less every other day. Hyperbole and creative license were employed heavily in the piece. I assure those concerned that the boy will be well rounded.

I assure those concerned that the boy will be well rounded.

For eating when he's good and plump! Delicious!

That was beautiful! *sniff* you touched a brutha, man

Certis wrote:
I assure those concerned that the boy will be well rounded.

For eating when he's good and plump! Delicious!

Squishy baby.

Not a video game... but my 2 yr old son beat my wife and I at elmo's Chutes and ladders last night... twice... without us letting him win! I still think he got lucky! Also I'm prety sure elmo jumped up a row or two on the board when I wasn't looking

I'll de-lurk for this one..

My son has been playing games since he was old enough to sit up at the computer. His first love was the original Lemmings on my Amiga 2000.

He's still into gaming though has drifted more towards consoles rather than the PC (I hate consoles). He's 19 now.

Strangly enough, I am still a bigger gamer than he is. Of course, that may be due to my having more free time and fewer interests to compete with my gaming habit. He's got girls, school, employment, friends, parties etc. I have the wife, the gym, TV and GAMES!

Still, I don't regret hooking him on games at such a young age. He even managed to play games like the original Doom and not grow up to be an axe murderer or highschool shooter.

CroakerJoe wrote:

Still, I don't regret hooking him on games at such a young age. He even managed to play games like the original Doom and not grow up to be an axe murderer or highschool shooter.

Don't worry! There's still time! I hear sharp axes make nice Christmas gifts!

Oh dear lord, this was funny. Yay!