Perfect

"Dad, I don't wa-a-a-nt to play Wii Golf."

This is how it starts. My 9-and-a-half-year-old daughter (the half means "halfway to me buying a shotgun") sits criss-cross-applesauce on the Sumosac in the corner. I've recently lost her into a fathoms-deep angst following her emergence from all 7 "Harry Potter" books in two weeks, only to realize that nobody would arrive on her 11th birthday to whisk her off to Hogwarts. To deal with her depression, she's re-reading "Half-Blood Prince" again. For the 11th time.

Frustrated, I turn off the Wii. "Well, what do you want to play?"

My question falls on deaf ears. She's disappeared back into her book again.

I cross the stained Berber carpet and flop dramatically next to her.

"OK, Jen. If you made the perfect game, what would it be like?"

Unable to resist, Jen puts the book down.

"Well, it wouldn't be a Harry Potter game, although that could be fun," she says.

"Really?" I say, genuinely surprised. "Why not? I figured right about now you'd be begging for a Harry Potter game."

She pauses thoughtfully. "I guess parts could be good, like Quidditch. But I'd already know everything that would happen, like the Lego games. They're boring."

We own all the Lego games: Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Batman. Jen will sit on the couch while her younger brother Peter plays, helping him through tough spots. Generally, however, she's interested just in the cut scenes, looking up from her books, knitting or drawing only to consume the small bits of brick-enabled story.

"So then, what do you do in Jen's game?"

She pauses for a minute, and I let the silence sit. Outside, wild turkeys are pecking at the thyme that's gone to seed in the grass. Jen and I watch for a few moments.

"It starts with just being me," she says hesitantly. "Like I'm a character in Free Realms, or one of your games, where you look at your character on the screen."

"That's called 'third person'," I explain. She stares at me blankly. "So you're playing yourself?"

"Right," she says. "Except the game starts in College."

"That sounds kind of boring," I suggest. "Not even like Wizard College?"

She shoots me a disapproving glance. "No. Just college," she continues archly. "And you start with like a blank game. You have to pick your major, find roommates, get an apartment. You have to buy all your clothes and get furniture for your room and stuff. And the game gives you lists of stuff to do."

This sounds eerily familiar.

"So, what's the point?"

Her eyes drift back out to the turkeys. They've moved to the stream at the bottom of the hill.

"Make money, have kids, get famous, travel the world, write books, make movies. Stuff like that." she says. "You know, to be happy."

She's just invented The Sims. Unprompted, she's stepped outside the boundary of every game she's ever played, or seen me play, and come up with the idea for the best selling PC game franchise in history.

"OK, I think I get it," I demur. "But it sounds totally boring. How is that fun?"

She adopts the voice she uses for talking to small children.

"Well you see, what's my favorite thing to do? Tell stories, write stories, act out stories. Right? Well, in the game, I'd get to make all those stories happen. And I could learn stuff too. Like, how to get a job and how to shop for furniture or whatever. So it would be like trying out being me, just older. I could even get married and have kids without all the gross snogging."

She hides her mouth as she snickers. "Snogging" is her new favorite word, thanks to Harry Potter. But when the smile fades, I see the anxiety of pre-teen insecurity in the corners of her mouth. In the way her eyebrows stay tight just a second too long.

The room is still. The turkeys outside have moved on to better forage. I force myself to let the silence sit again.

In my heart, I say "don't grow up" 10 times fast. A fervent prayer for frozen time.

Her eyes stay focused outside. I hug her tight like a ball.

"And if I mess up, I could just start over again."

--
(Image courtesy Oobinoobie)

Comments

Alright, I understand that it's not really relevant to the piece, and that it would probably hurt the writing if you went into it, but I have to know whether you showed The Sims to her, and, if you did, what she thought of it.

HaciendaSquish wrote:
Alright, I understand that it's not really relevant to the piece, and that it would probably hurt the writing if you went into it, but I have to know whether you showed The Sims to her, and, if you did, what she thought of it.
Ditto. By the way, this almost made my wife cry.

Great read! Either I'm not accustomed to be near kids, or your 9-and-a-half year old sounds like a genius!! To look that forward into responsibilities and consider it as a fun challenge. That's quite a handful you have there. Congratulations!

In my heart, I say "don't grow up" 10 times fast. A fervent prayer for frozen time.

My daughter is only 4 and I say this little prayer to myself every night when I tuck her in bed.

It's almost like I can picture it in my mind, but that may be because I've spent a few days in that room, on and around that Sumosac, listening to turkeys outside.

Is there an endgame to Sims?

criss-cross-applesauce

OMG, my kids said that the other day and threw me for a loop. I had to ask them to show me what they meant.
Then I thought we were the only insane parents that managed to send our kids to some insanely PC pre-school.

Indian-style FTW.

mudbunny wrote:
In my heart, I say "don't grow up" 10 times fast. A fervent prayer for frozen time.

My daughter is only 4 and I say this little prayer to myself every night when I tuck her in bed.

Seconded. Mine is 5 and about to start Kindergarten in a couple weeks. I'm simultaneously excited and terrified.

Oh god. The Sims is a big-kid's dollhouse. What have I been doing with my liiiiiiiiiifffeeeeeee?

I'm really interested in how her main focus was the ability to tell stories. In my (very limited) experience with the Sims, I just kind of made people and had them live out their lives. I know a few folks that modeled Sims after friends or efriends, and had them tough it out Survivor style (oh no! Mary immolated herself next to the stove!), but that aspect never really appealed to me.

What an appropriate title for this little vignette.

Hobbes2099 wrote:
Great read! Either I'm not accustomed to be near kids, or your 9-and-a-half year old sounds like a genius!! To look that forward into responsibilities and consider it as a fun challenge. That's quite a handful you have there. Congratulations!

You (effectively) just asked a parent if their child is a genius. What do you expect him to say?

Good read, Rabbit, I'm passing this one on.

Rabbit, I haven't posted in years... but I had to this time. You just made this dad of an all-too-old five year old turn to mush. As always, well done.

I'm simlarly amazed and terrified at my own 9-year-old daughter's slow march toward adulthood. I see those same flickers of grown-up-ness lately, more frequent and pronounced than ever, and they blow my mind. Great article.

Novocain wrote:
criss-cross-applesauce

OMG, my kids said that the other day and threw me for a loop. I had to ask them to show me what they meant.
Then I thought we were the only insane parents that managed to send our kids to some insanely PC pre-school.

Indian-style FTW.


Definition 1 from urbandictionary: The pansy way of referring to sitting "Indian style."

Nice article, rabbit. As the proud papa of a 2.5 year-old, I'm still firmly in the 'little kid' years; I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to growing up or not...

There you have it, folks! Will Wright is a 9 year old girl!

LobsterMobster wrote:
There you have it, folks! Will Wright is a 9 year old girl!

That does explain his haircut.

Truly excellent Rabbit. She'll read this when she has her post-college well-furnished apartment someday and half-not believe it happened, and still no doubt be as dad-huggable as she was when she was 9.

My daughter is 3. I've been keeping her isolated from gaming until I thought she'd enjoy it. I don't what to poison the well with a bad experience.

A couple of weeks ago we were at my childhood hometown. We took my dad out to eat at the local bar/restaurant. Being small town Nebraska, it was the only place to eat. In the corner stood some coin-ops, one of which was a sit down racing game. Such things are a magnet for small children. A big wheel, levers to pull, buttons to push, what's not to love? My daughter planted herself firmly in the seat and wanted a go.

I carefully fished three precious quarters out of my pocket and fired it up. Since she couldn't reach the foot pedals I gave the virtual sports car the gas. She immediately jerked hard to the left and plowed her car into an innocent building.

"No honey, try and steer straight and keep the car on the road.."

"But I want to crash!"

"Well...ok"

Her next attempt sent the car into a flying aerial maneuver that would make a Blue Angel pilot a little green. She laughed with delight as a brilliant fireball erupted on her screen. I gamely pushed the reset button, recentering a fresh victim on the track.

Best 75 cents I've ever spent.

In my heart, I say "don't grow up" 10 times fast. A fervent prayer for frozen time.

Her eyes stay focused outside. I hug her tight like a ball.

"And if I mess up, I could just start over again."

Goddammit, now I've got water-eyes at work. Incredibly beautiful closer, sir. Bravo.

That said, as far as the gaming content of the piece - not to diminish the unquestioned brilliance of your child - one could argue that the real meat of this story is how Will Wright managed to tap into the subconscious of so many people and figure out what the game they really want to be playing is, since obviously Jen is far from the only little girl - or grown up girl - or [insert any type of person here] - for whom The Sims is tantalizingly close to their "perfect game."

I mean, it's kind of strange to me, having played The Sims and its sequel and never really getting wrapped up in them. And certainly The Sims gets its fair share of ridicule from a lot of "real" gamers. But you don't become the best selling PC game franchise of all time without striking a pretty deep chord with a ton of people. It was a pretty stunning triumph of market analysis (or maybe just understanding one's audience, even when a lot of that audience wasn't at the time generally acknowledged to exist), and I'd venture to say that even most of the very smart non-9-year-olds didn't see it coming.

carljetter wrote:
Being small town Nebraska
What part of Nebraska?

LobsterMobster wrote:
There you have it, folks! Will Wright is a 9 year old girl!

Occam's razor his daughter actually designed the game.

Great article.

My little girl is 17 months now. I have spent every stage of her short life wishing that she would stay the same, only to be amazed and besotted by who she becomes a few weeks later.

Great article, rabbit.

Wow, I never realized "Indian Style" was derogatory. Unless referring to a tasty spicy meal with Garlic Naan, that is. Thanks for the education, J.M. Rabbit!

Thanks a whole crappin' bunch, Rabbit. Now my eyes are getting hot. One of these days, that'll stop surprising me when I read your stuff.

My youngest is 13. She loves the Sims, and has been playing Sims 3 since release.

I found her on an online message board the other night (the message board was for the "Warriors" site, that seemingly endless series of books written about fighting felines.)

I sat quietly sharpening my axe while reiterating to her my litany of warnings regarding who we communicate with online. Meanwhile my eyes smarted with the tears of my little girl who has passed into the pseudo-alien world of a teen.

Your piece is wonderful Rabbit. Cherish the time with your girl.

killer_b wrote:
Wow, I never realized "Indian Style" was derogatory.

My mother insists on saying "giver-taker-backer" instead of "Indian-giver," no matter how many times I explain that it refers to white people reneging on their treaties.

I'm reminded of a Venture Bros. quote: "I hunt black vampires - I don't even know what the politically correct term for that is!"

Dr. Corby wrote:
I sat quietly sharpening my axe while reiterating to her my litany of warnings regarding who we communicate with online.

I can't decide whether that's a metaphorical axe you've got there in your lap, or a literal one. I like the image of the literal one.

The thing that I always admire about Julian's "gamer parenting" articles is that they capture a real balance of experiences that he's been able to have with his kids.

As a father of a four-year-old daughter, I know how difficult it is to maintain that kind of balance while dealing with those pesky, everyday, "real world" concerns. All too often, it seems way too easy to simply plop them in front of a Dora the Explorer DVD to buy some personal time.

But, week after week, Julian provides further evidence that it can be done, that a gamer "man-child" can raise a productive (and, frankly, lovable) family, in spite of the mainstream expectations and stereotypes. It is legitimately cool to not only see how his family can enjoy gaming, but how he's able to capture the innocence of his children as they approach the games and ideas that surround them.

Excellent article.

mudbunny wrote:
In my heart, I say "don't grow up" 10 times fast. A fervent prayer for frozen time.

My daughter is only 4 and I say this little prayer to myself every night when I tuck her in bed.

\

I think this the prayer of every father with a daughter. I know I tell my 4 year old she's not allowed to grow up all the time. She never listens though, just laughs and calls me silly.

HaciendaSquish wrote:
killer_b wrote:
Wow, I never realized "Indian Style" was derogatory.

My mother insists on saying "giver-taker-backer" instead of "Indian-giver," no matter how many times I explain that it refers to white people reneging on their treaties.

I'm reminded of a Venture Bros. quote: "I hunt black vampires - I don't even know what the politically correct term for that is!"

How often does that come up? I don't remember the last time I've needed that term.

As for "Indian Style," I do feel a little uncomfortable with the racial connotations and find it just as easy to call it "cross-legged." I also find that a lot more descriptive as I'd imagine more recent generations have no idea how the stereotype of an Indian sits.

rabbit wrote:
Dr. Corby wrote:
I sat quietly sharpening my axe while reiterating to her my litany of warnings regarding who we communicate with online.

I can't decide whether that's a metaphorical axe you've got there in your lap, or a literal one. I like the image of the literal one.

Years ago I and my next door neighbor sat on my deck watching as our daughters played together below. The sound of the swings creaking back and forth as the girls played was intoxicating. As Bill and I watched, our minds must have reached that harmony that only fathers of little girls have. "What are we going to do when they get to their teens" - one of us said, I no longer know which. "I plan on collecting guns," Bill said. "I think I'll collect bowie knives," I answered.

Bill's gone now, moved to Australia with his family years ago. In my fantasy I have changed "Bowie knives" to "Axes". Guess it is time I started collecting and sharpening, eh?