This month's Band of Bloggers theme is about parents/parenthood, and since today is Father's Day, I thought it would be a good idea to share a personal story about my dad becoming an NPC in a video game.
Now, the first thing you might ask is: "Really, wow! What game?" The answer is, well: "All of them!" That might lead you to exclaim that I'm pulling your leg, so let me tell you a story of growing up with my "video game NPC dad."
One of the earliest games I remember playing was Excitebike for the NES. That was because my dad got me into it. He was an avid fan of racing games and Excitebike offered that chance for an '80s father-and-son bonding. I recall finishing ahead of him in some bouts simply because he let me win -- such as pretending to get distracted and crashing his bike in one of the humps.
Fast forward to later years and we faced each other in Mario Kart and Top Gear for the SNES. I still remember bumping into the post of the finish line and getting the scores for both 1st and 2nd place. It was a glitch in Top Gear. I discovered it on my own, and that left him dumbstruck. He was pretty much always there for various game nights when my sister and I were kids. He told us about his days of performing in a band and showed us his vinyl collection. He played guitar, and he got us into music as well. Dad was cool!
During my teen years, however, gaming was no longer something that interested him. This was because certain games ended up having convoluted mechanics, or their graphics were too hard on the eyes. Can you imagine the simplistic controls for old NES and Atari games to the myriad of buttons you needed to press just to circle-strafe and dodge boss attacks in Devil May Cry or to switch out weapons in Metal Gear Solid? Yeah... he passed on those. The same goes for other racing games I had such as Gran Turismo and Need For Speed. He just did not get them anymore. I even got him a horse racing game for the PlayStation 1 which he barely even played since he doesn't understand what was going on.
So without the gaming bonding, we sort of grew apart.
The other factor that contributed was that, well, he was indeed a "video game NPC." And he wasn't the type who would give you quests or important information -- that was my mom's job. If my mom gave me a "main quest" such as "Clean your room = you get 100 gil," then my dad was the type who would tell me about "a dragon attack on Helgen," or that "this town's fair is exciting."
Without any time devoted to talking and chatting, and with his dialogue mostly about generic things everyone knew about -- "it's dangerous to go outside because it's raining; here take this umbrella" -- my sister and I just chalked it off to Randy the Random just having a fairly basic script. It was a little shortsighted for the both of us.
I also realized that, outside of video games, pop culture also affected my perception. We're all aware of the saying that "everyone is the hero of their own story," and so I believed that to be true in mine. Video games, anime/cartoons, TV shows, and movies all had cool kids doing awesome stuff and saving the world. I envisioned myself as one of those characters. I was a hero, and my friends were part of a cadre of saviors and warriors. Oh, and my mom was the reliable character trope while my dad was just the guy who grunted and nodded.
I kept wondering if my dad would ever do something "cool" like father figures in certain games. How about becoming a scientist or a master samurai? What about wandering off in search of lost treasures? Hell, why not turn into a megalomaniac hell-bent on world domination. Literally anything as long as he wasn't just "there."
It wasn't until I had a son three years ago when I realized what my error had been.
Prior to that, I had been talking to my then-girlfriend-now-wife in preparation for when we'd have a family of our own. I'd like for our kid to have me as his best friend, his gaming buddy, his companion in various life activities. I'd be the Luigi to his Mario, the Tails to his Sonic, the Dinklebot/Nolanbot to his Guardian, and the trusty Discipline Priest healer to his Paladin tank.
I was looking for my dad to be my gaming sidekick, my party member, or my bro (or bruh as you young'uns call it nowadays) -- just the way I wanted my would-be kid to think of me when he grows up. I realized that things will eventually change and the future isn't set in stone. All I could do is just be a decent and steady role model for him.
I also realized that some kids focus too much on video games because of broken families -- their parents left them; dad went out one day and never came back. Some turn to video games because they're experiencing struggles with real-life relationships. I've also had friends who lost their fathers when they were still kids. And yet there I was moping around that my dad wasn't "cool" like in games and pop culture.
Now you're probably expecting that this is the part I tell you about those regrets due to someone's passing. Well no, my dad's still fairly healthy at 65. He's enjoying gaming once more after my wife installed some free-to-play games on his mobile phone. He's eating his vitamins and saying his prayers just like Hulk Hogan -- minus the racism, of course, brother.
I guess what I'm saying is that, while it's normal for all of us to envision ourselves as heroes in our own life stories, it's totally fine that our parents don't share the same spotlight as we do. It's okay that my dad's a "generic video game NPC." He never needed to be a Kratos, a Sparda, a Joel, or a Heihachi in the first place. He's just a regular, boring, "NPC" dad. And, if my son's current "coolness" and "smarts" are any indication, looks like I'll be one as well.
Happy Father's Day to my fellow "NPCs" out there!