Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Play with My Father

Just once would be nice.

I think it would be fair to say I could attribute my love of video games to my father. Well, sort of. My father was always into new technology, and he always wanted to show me the latest gizmo he bought. His interest in electronics and the like was the polar opposite of my mother, who continually resisted anything that came around. Naturally, I became attracted to the digital image and its interactive manipulation. Despite how he always exposed me to and bought me new electronics and toys, it saddens me that he never really joined me in playing them. Even worse, until recently, he always expressed a constant derision towards my life's passion.

Before there was color, there was green.
For my seventh birthday, I asked for the original Nintendo Game Boy. To this day, it is the only handheld system I ever owned, and I poured a lot of hours into it. In fact, I still have it, though I haven't tested its operational faculty in a number of years. Not that I was big into sharing, but I was surprised when my father wanted to play Tetris on occasion. I didn't appreciate it then, but looking back, it was cool that he wanted to play a game at all. That was the only one, though, and he never expressed any interest in the other games I had. Eventually, he also stopped playing Tetris, though he never played it enough for it to be considered sudden. That was it. I never saw him play another game since.

That isn't to say that was the last game he showed interest in. One day, when our home computer was still the Macintosh Performa, he came home with Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands, a graphic adventure game in the same vein as Myst. I was definitely excited since I loved Myst and really looked forward to playing another puzzle game, and I was excited that he wanted to play it with me. The excitement was over almost as quickly as it began because we ignored the hardware specifications that called for at least double the RAM we had on board, and the game would not even launch. As unfortunate as this was, it was more disappointing when he never came back around to play even after we bought and installed the upgrade. I don't know why, and I didn't ask. I just played and enjoyed the game alone and thought nothing of it.

So that was the last game he ever told me he wanted to play, and he never played it. This actually never began to bother me until the last few years. My parents and I did a lot of things separately. Sometimes, we'd all watch the same TV program in our own rooms. Thus, playing video games by myself didn't phase me one bit, and I never grew a desire to play with them either. Nothing about that seemed wrong to me. The time I would spend with friends was sporadic (I was not popular), so I found myself gravitating towards more single-player experiences. Sure, there were games like Street Fighter II and Eternal Champions that were more fun to play with friends, but you wouldn't believe how much time I'd spend playing against myself or screwing with Game Genie codes.

So began my own personal adventure.
Coasting a large number of years into the future, my true love of video games was ignited when I played Final Fantasy VII on PC in 1999, the first half of the last year of high school. Although I played Myst, most of the games I played offered shallower stories; I never encountered something so layered nor with optional story content to discover. After that, I became more insistent that I continually needed something to play. I needed another story. My first "real" relationship, which took place during most of my time in college, was with a guy who would play with me. We even bought a Nintendo GameCube together. Although we had multiplayer games to play with friends, such as Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Monkey Ball, our definition of playing with each other and friends often meant one person playing a single-player adventure while others observed. Even today, this is how I typically enjoy experiencing new games – watching friends demonstrate what they have to offer. It may sound silly, but to me, any game was as exciting to watch as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

Years after dropping that human waste of time, I held out until I met another guy who shared a passion for video games with me. At the time, it was more challenging than it probably is now, what with Gaymercon starting next year. But I met the love of my life, and we have spent six awesome years now playing and loving. I definitely play significantly more than he does, but he has always shown interest, and there are games he loves and have elicited strong emotional responses from him. (He handled a certain scene in Final Fantasy VII a lot worse than I ever did.) However, it was also during the time we've spent together that my father became rather adversarial towards my hobby. My parents naturally ask what I've been up to since the last time I've seen them, and usually I answer with a game I'm playing. My father's natural response has always been dismissive, instantly losing interest in me talking about it further. But there eventually came snide comments, too. I remember speaking at dinner about the Overlord DLC for Mass Effect 2, and I specifically wanted to talk about it because of how it involves autism. My only brother is autistic, so it is definitely a relevant topic of discussion in their house. However, when I began to explain that Mass Effect is a science fiction game, my dad quipped, "all [video games] are science fiction." No, it doesn't make any sense, but I could tell there was no point in continuing to talk about it.

The majority of the Myst games were about a father's relationship with his sons.
Things came to a head a few weeks ago as my boyfriend and I were leaving my parents' house to go home. My father asked what we'd be doing with the rest of the night, and I stated that I'd be playing, and my boyfriend stated he'd be watching a movie and maybe playing. His response was something to the effect of "Tell me how it is. The movie, not the video games. I don't care about that shit." So the conversation went.

"They're not shit."
"I think they're shit."
"How can you continue to put down the thing I love to do most like that?"
"It's shit to me. What do you want me to say?"
"I would never put down something you're passionate about. And it's shit that you would say something like that to me."

He just shrugged, but I was rather angry as I drove off. I always got annoyed when he'd dismiss me, but this just took the cake. It was the first time he really just said it plainly, and he managed to make it as offensive as possible. The last thing I said was true, though. I may not have interest in many things my friends love, such as sports, – I may not even care the slightest bit about them – but I would never tell someone that this thing he or she is so excited about is shit. I'd just say I don't like it myself.

Deus Ex: Human Revolutions allows the player to proceed through the whole game without killing (almost) anyone.
From this negative experience came a positive.  It took two weeks, but shortly after my birthday, in response to something completely unrelated, he apologized. He expressed a sincere regret for putting down what I love to do. My father also finally articulated one of his issues with video games, that being the violence in them. It is kind of funny, actually, since he watches and likes some violent movies, and he even owns some firearms. However, I think the issue for him is actually participating in the violence, something movies don't require of the viewer. He actually expressed that he loved Myst, which I don't remember him playing but was once the buzz of the house. This was a significant step forward, and I felt very touched to finally learn more about him.

My response to him was that not every game is violent, of course. Without a doubt, I own some games like Mortal Kombat where the violence is gratuitous, but I wanted to tell him that I'm not always a death dealer. Aside from sharing the artfulness of games like Journey and Papo & Yo, I also went on to talk about games like Grand Theft Auto IV, which match exciting and well-written plots with the violence. I even expressed that some of the best games make you question whether you want to commit violence like Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Most importantly, I told him that I regret never playing Zork Nemesis with him. It only took 16 years to realize that it would have been nice.

Zork Nemesis, the bonding experience that never was.
Sadly, I think that's the end of the positive result. I told him that I own all the games from the Myst series, the sequel, Riven, being incredible, and how I could easily install them and Zork Nemesis on his laptop. However, he said he's too old to play them and doesn't have the attention span for them. I feel like I lost something there. I don't know what exactly. I don't know that if I attempted to include him on what I was playing when I was younger that he would've joined me. Still, I feel much better knowing that my father understands what it means when someone puts down something you care about and that we're past that era of our relationship. I hope one day he'll play by my side, though.

What about you? How involved are your parents with what you're passionate about? Do you play games with either of them? Please share your experience.


  1. My parents always happily bought me and my brother the tools and the hardware, but never expressed any interest whatsoever in them. My mother has watched me play Final Fantasy and marveled at the visuals, but that's really the extent of it. She plays a lot of point & click online, but she refuses to actually purchase any.

    As far as my brother is concerned, I had to make the concerted effort NOT to play with him, since any such instance would invariably end with him losing his shit and starting fights for no apparent reason. Interestingly enough, my most productive video game time was the year and a half I finally stopped talking to him altogether.

    1. I would argue that getting your mother to watch you play a long ass RPG is a cut above the majority of parents even if that's where it begins and ends.

  2. It's natural to want to share something you love with the people you love. It's a very big disappointment when you can't do that.

    There was a time when I would've loved to share video games with my parents, but that time is long and gone.

    On the flip side, I look forward to the day that I finally get to play video games with my daughter.

  3. my brother and i played a lot of video games growing up. my father was similarly into having new technology (although he was usually one generation late) and we had a commodore for as long as i could remember. i don't remember him being particularly into any game, but he was always impressed by the technology. when it came to buying new systems my parents were only has hesitant as the price-point required--"maybe for christmas", which we knew meant "yes, as long as you can wait a year". i wouldn't say either parent were too interested in the games we played, and we didn't exactly yearn to tell them about them (games had weaker plots then). i do remember, though, the only game my father ever really got into was also the only one he openly criticized. he didn't understand why we needed yet another Mario game, especially when Mario's only interaction in the game was "standing there and doing this [arm-motion]". but he eventually relented and we got Dr. Mario (with Mom's money). i'm pretty sure my dad played it more than we did. my brother would have to throw him out of the room so he could do homework or practice his saxophone or sleep eventually.
    i bet if i asked him now he wouldn't remember.