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.