Blue Elf Needs Food, Badly

It is some unholy, cow-milking hour of the morning, and I've just got into the car with my eldest son. We have a thermos of coffee and four hours of highway cruising ahead of us. I reach into the back seat, pull out my iPad, and just hand it to him, figuring he'll be looking for it soon anyway. Neither one of us is really awake yet or wanting to think about the hospital visit waiting for us at the other end of the trip. Once we’re settled into cruise control, he wakes it up and asks me if I have anything new.

I’d just picked up a charmer called Amoebattles the day before. At its core, it's a very small RTS. Small as in scale (it's based on microscopic organisms) and small as in scope (only 25 units at a time, only a few variables between them). But it's extremely well executed, and the art is awesome. I got a couple levels in, and I figure he'll like this as well as he'd liked Goblin Commander back in the original Xbox days.

He kicks it off and does the tutorial level, and pretty soon he is directing his cell-shaded troops like a neon-colored Patton. I'm driving with a shifting blue-green glow reflecting off the dawn-silvered windshield and there’s a constant stream of sotto voce orders next to me. As many of us are prone to when we're very focused, he is directing them verbally as well as with the stylus. Glancing over to see him muttering down into the dark glass plane cradled in his lap was like looking at a reflection of myself playing the game the day before.

I chuckle, thinking yet again that however far the apple may have fallen from the tree, it rolled back toward the trunk a significant distance when it hit the ground.

I'm weird like chicken mittens, as all here know. I do get a fair amount of fond teasing from the gang about it, but along with the jabs about my nerdery, they tell me they are proud of me. And while I doubt any of them will ever end up at Carnegie Hall without a ticket stub in their hand, they are good people whom I am proud to know. And I'm even prouder because now that they’re on their own, they choose to share these parts of their lives with me.

When you're at the diapers-end of the kid-thing, their needs are so overwhelming oftentimes that what spare energy you can muster is invested in just getting away from them for a few minutes. But once they're grown and on their own, you end up spending that same energy trying to keep them with you a little longer. And just like how that necessary nap you got to take with them sleeping on your chest got you through another day, him looking up at me to ask a question or tell me the cool thing he'd just done is precious, necessary evidence of the bond we shared and will continue to share over the years.

Another mile goes by, another mitochondria down, and a very space-constrained victory dance ensues. That's my boy!

The connections and commonalities here are one thing, but there are contrasts as well.

If you had been listening to the orders issued under my breath when I had been playing, you would have heard a "GET OVER HERE!" a la Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, me muttering that those Sharks were trying to pull off a "Kilrathi Gang-Bang" or crowing how I'd pulled off the world's cutest little Zerg rush. When I'd gotten my own swarm of Sharks, the Jaws theme was hummed more than once. Then there was the whole "wakka wakka wakka fruit" bit in that algae field.

From him, it is a constant stream of quotes from a PSOne game called Abe's Oddysee and an equally ancient PC game called The Neverhood, interspersed with a few strings of gibberish that sound like he's trying to order Mandarin Dinner #2 very intently.

If you've never played those games, this bears a little explanation. Abe's Oddysee is a 2D platformer/puzzler with an element of Lemmings that came out for the original Playstation. In a design that was years ahead of its time, our enslaved Abe has to not only negotiate the deadly puzzles of Rupture Farms for his own freedom, he also has to rescue his fellow workers and needs their cooperation and good will to do it. This wasn't optional — if you don’t rescue them and/or you piss them off, the rest of your people won't help you when you face the big ugly thing at the end.

There is a full set of commands for Abe to use when asking his fellow workers to do stuff, like Wait or Follow Me, so they can help solve the puzzles. There’s another set of commands to let you hang with the gang, like laughing at their jokes or making farting noises to make them laugh at you, or an angry noise that reminds me of a bumblebee at 3000 RPMs, for when Abe’s friends need a smackdown.

As my son plays Amoebattles, for every "Wait" or "Follow Me" there are several of the angry noises and strings of mangled Chinese. As he gets used to the game's nuances (and it actually has some), the percentage of angry noises fades and in their place we start to get silly noises from Klaymen, like the rendition of the last line of Pop Goes the Weasel as my son drops an omnivorous hammer on some naughty flagellate or other.

My references come from my gaming roots in arcades and with early PCs. His come from growing up with his own games. Abe and Klaymen hit him (and all my gang) right in that sweet spot to be imprinted into their gaming reference lexicon, the same way Blue Elf's need for food is imprinted in mine.

For all our common ground, we each have our own perspective and make our own connection to the same events in Amoebattles. Over the years we have shared enough of these experiences that I understand most of the jokes he makes, but not all of them. He pulls out a couple pompous pronouncements I bet came out of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, but since I haven't played it yet myself I'm not sure.

Those jarring bits of confusion in this sea of common ground make me think about our experiences as gamers and the gaming industry as a whole. A lot of the conversation about any given game is based on comparison between it and various other games. Take any game and try to talk to someone else about it, and on top of the myriad other differences of perspective and preference involved, we add a different dialect. The very root concepts I am thinking about would be difficult to communicate to someone who never played or didn't click with the other games I’d compare with.

How much rancor and dissention in our common discourse is caused by this sort of basic miscommunication? How much time do we spend talking past each other like Captain Picard trying to talk to Dathon the Tamarian? We're all using the same words, but the base meaning is different. We may not even realize just how different. We think we're being clear, but all too often all we get back is Darmak and Jalad at Tanagra, and we're left nonplussed.

These thoughts occupy me for many miles while he completely drains my iPad battery trying to take over that tiny little world. Yes, I mentioned above I'm weird. And it's amazing the lengths my brain will go to in order to avoid thinking about things it doesn't want to when it's stuck stewing in its own juices on a long drive. And even when this trip is over, I'm going to keep thinking about it. Building connections, and keeping them true and strong, is very important.

Comments

I love that episode of TNG.

Me too.

A lovely article, as ever. And I'm sigging "weird like chicken mittens".

Interesting read. Also kinda weird that this one, like your last, also had something to do with a road trip.

Are chicken mittens that weird? I think it might be kind of cute to have little knitted chickens on your hands...wait a minute. Did you mean mittens FOR chickens? Yeah...that is weird.

On another note, I was wondering, if you see this, how old your eldest was? My eldest is 10 and came home a couple months ago, confessing that he had just played Left for Dead with a friend of his. Since it's his own dreams that I'm mostly worried about, I was more impressed that he told me than I was angry that he'd done it. I figure if he wants nightmares, then he can have them. But it makes me wonder how other parents have handled it.

How old did their kids have to get before they were allowed to play L4D? Should this be it's own thread or something? I'm still kind of new here...

And, on one other note, I love your writing style. Your word-smithing is most enjoyable. That should not be confused with smything...

We were talking about some of this in the "I don't like Metroid" thread just last week. I think Gravey brought it up. How a lot of us around the same age assume everyone had an NES or SNES, or everyone played X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Doom, and other early 90s PC titles. Sometimes we assume others have our shared experience and don't get why they don't like x or y game that totally reminds us of that awesome game from yesteryear.

Also a couple certain friends of mine utter Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra to each other, and reply with Shaka, when the walls fell.

LordSpaz wrote:

On another note, I was wondering, if you see this, how old your eldest was? My eldest is 10 and came home a couple months ago, confessing that he had just played Left for Dead with a friend of his. Since it's his own dreams that I'm mostly worried about, I was more impressed that he told me than I was angry that he'd done it. I figure if he wants nightmares, then he can have them. But it makes me wonder how other parents have handled it.

How old did their kids have to get before they were allowed to play L4D? Should this be it's own thread or something? I'm still kind of new here...

/tangent

My parents caught me watching one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies (3, I think) when I was around 8 or 9 on HBO one night. I think their response was something like "Fine, finish watching that trash and enjoy your nightmares tonight. Don't come crying in our room when you can't sleep."

LordSpaz wrote:

How old did their kids have to get before they were allowed to play L4D? Should this be it's own thread or something? I'm still kind of new here...

I'm sure there are plenty of people around here willing to discuss their feelings / experiences surrounding letting their kids play certain games for the first time. If you really want to talk about it, make that thread! I, unfortunately am not far enough along in the whole parenting thing to have experience with this.

Also, you're not new, you just don't post enough, having been here for 4 1/2 years.

mrtomaytohead wrote:

Interesting read. Also kinda weird that this one, like your last, also had something to do with a road trip.

It's because that was my 11th trip to Portland and back in the last few weeks. Between being busy dealing with life/work at home and getting ready to go all the time and being busy while I'm there, road trips are the only time I'm getting 10 seconds to think these days.

LordSpaz wrote:

How old did their kids have to get before they were allowed to play L4D? Should this be it's own thread or something? I'm still kind of new here...

That son I'm talking about is 24, and a combat veteran. Kind of a different problem there.

There are threads about it around here, but I don't mind.

For me, It all really depends on the kid and the amount of parental involvement in general. If you're involved in your kid's life, that stuff isn't so bad as long as it isn't upsetting them. But there's no way for anyone else to really know your setup or your kid well enough to make a definitive call.

I went through this one when my houseapes were growing up and it's a challenge. When my gang was that age, it was Halo. All their friends were playing it, then a friend of mine gave it to them as a gift. Using our system, they did end up playing, but it was only when I played with them.

The way I worked it was by saying the ESRB rating was the default rules. Then, if they (or I) wanted an exception like that I would play the game through to the end myself. Then I would either decide heck no, they could play it once along with me, or we would get it but they could only play it when I was playing with them. Movies were similar. MPAA rating was default, then possible exceptions would be watched by me and rated be heck no, rent once, or limited exposure.

In practice it's pretty simple. They look for the black box and they know where they stand, but there's enough flexibility we could make it work for us. YMMV depending on your situation.

Stele wrote:

Also a couple certain friends of mine utter Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra to each other, and reply with Shaka, when the walls fell. :D

IN WINTER!

My favorite story is Temba, With Arms Wide. Personally I think all the modern interpretations of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra are just derivative.

Also, as usual, loved your article.

I'm not really aware of doing this very much, despite having been a gamer since I was pretty young. But back then, games mostly didn't have digital sound, so the ones I really, seriously imprinted on were either voiceless, or so forgettable that they didn't stick, despite the zillions of hours spent playing them.

One exception, though: I still do Sinistar's, "I hunger!" on occasion. Sinistar was the first game with really, really memorable speech. The whole idea of computers doing anything other than bleeps and bloops was kind of new. You can hear the surprisingly few quotes here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-XE.... There weren't many of them, and it might be several minutes between lines, but EVERYONE remembered them.

Gauntlet was quite a bit later... you imprinted on the sequel, but I still think of the original lines more. "Elf shot the food!" The colorized elves didn't exist in that version. I suppose I might have started using "Warrior needs food, badly!", but that slot was already taken by Sinistar.

Michael Zenke wrote:

My favorite story is Temba, With Arms Wide. Personally I think all the modern interpretations of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra are just derivative.

Also, as usual, loved your article. :D

"Bowls."

Malor wrote:

One exception, though: I still do Sinistar's, "I hunger!" on occasion. Sinistar was the first game with really, really memorable speech. The whole idea of computers doing anything other than bleeps and bloops was kind of new. You can hear the surprisingly few quotes here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-XE.... There weren't many of them, and it might be several minutes between lines, but EVERYONE remembered them.

Gauntlet was quite a bit later... you imprinted on the sequel, but I still think of the original lines more. "Elf shot the food!" The colorized elves didn't exist in that version. I suppose I might have started using "Warrior needs food, badly!", but that slot was already taken by Sinistar. :-)

I, too, am a Sinistar imprint.

"Run, coward!"

Dharma and Greg in Tangiers?

Tanglebones wrote:

Dharma and Greg in Tangiers?

Parker Lewis in Ms. Musso's office.

wordsmythe wrote:
Tanglebones wrote:

Dharma and Greg in Tangiers?

Parker Lewis in Ms. Musso's office.

It's a secret to everybody.

How much rancor and dissention in our common discourse is caused by this sort of basic miscommunication? How much time do we spend talking past each other like Captain Picard trying to talk to Dathon the Tamarian? We're all using the same words, but the base meaning is different. We may not even realize just how different. We think we're being clear, but all too often all we get back is Darmak and Jalad at Tanagra, and we're left nonplussed.

IMAGE(http://i1094.photobucket.com/albums/i453/czpv/youlikeme.jpg)

Another one that just occurred to me, that's a bit obscure. When my wife and I were first dating, we both played a lot of Final Fantasy Tactics. I had a bad habit of saying 'sweet' when referring to something good; there's an early stage called "Sweegy Woods" - I started saying 'Sweegy' instead of sweet, and it's stuck with the two of us.

Tanglebones wrote:

Another one that just occurred to me, that's a bit obscure. When my wife and I were first dating, we both played a lot of Final Fantasy Tactics. I had a bad habit of saying 'sweet' when referring to something good; there's an early stage called "Sweegy Woods" - I started saying 'Sweegy' instead of sweet, and it's stuck with the two of us.

I love things that evolve like that between two people, not necessarily people who are a couple. Having inside content that you share and can evoke with a single word or phrase is priceless (in the actual meaning of that term). While I hear momgamer's point that it can cause a lot of lost meaning and miscommunication because of basic differences of perspective, I feel it also enriches our lives with a wealth of personal level variety that I wouldn't want to live without.

A few years ago, when my brother and I were on our fourth or fifth straight year of WoW, we went back into Upper Blackrock and slaughtered everything as level 80 Death Knights. The whole time, we were yelling harsh admonishments at each other from back in the day when you had to RAID UBRS.... again, I treasure stuff like that.