Like most of you here, I started out my gaming career at a very, very young age. I was probably about 4 when I got my shiny new NES, and have fond memories of running around as Super Mario, eating mushrooms and jumping on flying turtles and banging my head against questionable bricks and oh God what the hell am I talking about.
I digress. I remember it so well because it was a formative part of my youth. While I played sports and went outside with my friends and had other interests, I always had video games to fall back on when it was raining or no one wanted to play or I was simply bored and felt like playing. Back then, systems were so advanced in their simplicity: You had two buttons on the NES controller (one almost always jumped, one almost always attacked), one directional pad for movement, and occasionally had to rely on the Select or Start button to perform a special function. It was easy, but it set the foundation for the controllers of today with 917 buttons and a seemingly infinite amount of combinations to perform the required actions of the game.
Simple, just the way I like it!
Now, some 25 years later, I still play videogames when I get a bit of free time. I can remember almost every game I’ve played since I first started, and obviously have a very favorable opinion of gaming in general. Which brings me to my current situation in life: I don’t have kids, but I do have a 5-year-old niece. She owns a Wii U (I don’t even have one of those!) and a 3ds, and allegedly plays them (never seen it happen, though). My fiancée and I babysit her about twice a week, and for a while she was kind of bored at the house. She would watch kids’ shows on Netflix, but she always wanted to play games like Candy Crush on our smart phones (and by play, I of course mean slide the pretty colors around randomly until a colorful explosion happens).
After about a year of watching her, her interests in games has grown considerably. She talks about Minecraft playthroughs she watches on YouTube (she called me a “moustachioed creeper” once – I really hope that’s from the game), gets some decent mileage out of her Nintendo products, and at some point or another has played the original Plants vs. Zombies on someone’s smart phone. A couple of months ago she somehow found out that I have Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare on my PS4 (that I had never even played, and only own due to it being a free game on PS+) and asked to play it. During the first hour or so of gameplay she sort of fumbled with the giant and complicated (at least to her, I presume) PS4 controller as she figured out the simple, but new, objectives of the game. Since the Mrs. and I only let her play a set amount of time, the session ended at that.
Yes, I realize that this is neither a plant nor a zombie; but I think it sort of looks like both!
But as time went on, she would play an hour or two here and there, enough to eventually be decent enough at the game to know what to do. [As a side note, if you check my PS4 trophies for the game, they were all earned by her – I’ve only ever played like five matches!] Now, she’s not my own child and she’s not even related to me by blood (she’s actually my fiancée’s niece), but seeing a sort-of-related-to-me young girl play videogames fills me with a strange feeling; I mean, it’s awesome to see someone get exposed to games just like I did, around the same age I did. I think of all the wonderful memories she can someday look back on, and how with time she can someday become not just a “girl gamer” but a person who has myriad interests and isn’t afraid to do the things she likes to do. I think about that controller with 37 ½ buttons that she has somehow mechanically assimilated into enough muscle memory to adequately play the game (despite not being able to really read all of the words) and how there’s no way I could have done that at her age. I think about how at the end of the day, I should be really proud of her and want to share with her this lifelong hobby of mine, just like a dad would do with fishing, or a grandma would do with recreational cursing at the TV during Tennessee college football games (I had a very passionate and cool grandma).
I catch a glimmer of these feelings every now and again, but I must admit the sad truth to you: When my niece plays videogames, I turn into a grumpy old man, irritated with the kids on his lawn.
Get off my PS4, ya damn kids!
I don’t know what it is. I run the gamut of different emotions and feelings watching my niece play. It usually starts out with just a dismissive, “Sure, you can play” when she asks me to play my PlayStation. After about ten minutes, I start to get frustrated and turn into the backseat driver of videogame spectators (you know, that annoying friend you have who always tells you what to do when he/she watches you play games, but is truly horrible at playing them, thus grating your every nerve), desperately holding back yelling, “GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING JUST SHOOT THE FUC…ZOMBIE…THE..FU…SHOOT IT! STOP HUMMING THE STUPID THEME SONG IT’S EATING YOUR GARDEN, FUCK!!!” as she happily plays the game, unencumbered by the actual goals of the session. About 45 minutes in, I turn into a disapproving stepdad and decide that kids play too many damn videogames these days, and declare an hour is plenty of time to enjoy a game I got for free and have never played and also don’t mention this but I own about 500 stupid fucking videogames and have actually played less than 25% of them but don’t tell her that because I’m really just a fusty old hypocrite. You know the drill.
Above all else, I really want to play my PlayStation. Being an adult means having less time to do the things you want to do, and being forced to devote your time to things you should or have to do. So, at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning, my absolute pinnacle of free time, I really want to waste an hour of my own time playing videogames – not watching someone else do it. Selfish? You betcha. Reasonable? I think so, seeing as how I’m the one who spent $400 on it!
I know this makes me at best a hypocrite, and at worst a stodgy old bastard, but I can’t explain it, myself. For years I’ve wanted to share videogames with someone else who just didn’t “get it.” My fiancée will play a round of Katamari every now and again (which is absolutely delightful), but was totally unresponsive when I tried to get her to play Portal (grounds for calling off the wedding, I’d argue). I mean, this is what I wanted, right? I get to share my passion with the next generation! And while not my own prodigy, I can certainly get a head start with my future children’s cousin, right?
Accurate representation of our gaming time (I'm the cat).
Maybe all of this is a consequence of getting older. Maybe despite my advancing age, I’ve never really grown up. Maybe this means I’m not ready for my own kids yet. Or maybe I’m just a selfish butthole. I suppose I’ll never really know. After all, I’m not going to deny her requests to play; despite my conflicting emotions on the matter, I know it’s something she enjoys, and something I should strive to enjoy with her. I know that it’s an activity that, when practiced with moderation and responsibility, can be a rewarding pastime that can help to bring people together. I know that I’m 95% of the problem, here. I know.
I just wish she’d stop humming that damn theme song into the microphone.
Am I really that much of a butthole? Have you had similar experiences with siblings/younger family members? Why won’t the odor in my shoes go away? Let me know in the comments below what you think!