"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)