Navigating life as a gaming parent is tough, so our Editor Matt decided to take on the challenge of writing about it in a long-form format. Welcome to the first part of this epic work from Matt, we hope you enjoy it and you can expect new parts every two weeks. It is also worth noting that Matt wrote this with people that may not understand video games in mind, so feel free to share with your friends and family that are a little lost in this era of gaming and tech.
My Kids Stole My Controller – Intro and Chapter 1 – The Wonder Years
Video Games are strange, right? Even for someone who is as immersed in the video game culture as I am, it is a weird place to dive into. Strange words, cultish behaviour, daunting online interactions and a general sense of foreboding can make getting into gaming a scary prospect for anyone, let alone someone who is trying to guide their own little offspring. That said, there is wonder to be found around every corner. The joy of building, creating and achieving are all present in games. Young (and old) minds can be fine-tuned with lateral thinking and problem-solving. There is perhaps an even simpler reason to play video games and that is that, well… videogames are fun. It’s fun to play with friends, it’s fun to beat your high score and it’s fun to immerse yourself in a virtual world, living out wild fantasies in the process. It is these joys and challenges – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the cherry on the cake, the giant flagpole out the front of Bowser’s castle – that make getting past the roadblocks worthwhile.
That’s what brings us here. The gold, the cherry, the flagpole – the reasons why I’ve decided to commit my experiences in guiding my kids into the world of gaming to the page. This is my chance to share my tales, my thoughts and my reasoning behind gaming, kids, families and everything in between.
What makes me qualified to write a document such as this? To be honest, absolutely nothing. I have no tertiary qualifications in psychology, counselling or even video game design. I am simply a video games journalist, for lack of a better term. I have been writing about video games for close to 12 years now, and in that time I have both freelanced for established publications and run my own online games site. Currently, I am the editor of Player2.net.au, a small site where I look after a group of 25 or so contributors that all share a passion for both playing and writing about games.
I should also mention that I am the father of two boys: one in high school, the other in primary. Not very impressive, is it? Just some average Joe who knows a little bit about virtual worlds who also happened to find a lovely lady who wanted to marry and procreate with him. As far as resume’s go, that probably wouldn’t even get me a start at the local McDonalds, let alone entry into a publisher’s office.
Good thing I’m writing about sharing the joy of gaming with one’s friends and family, and not a sure-fire guide to success in this frequently fickle industry.
Perhaps more than anything else, I am offering one thing with this piece of writing: fun. Simple, honest-to-goodness, no dictionary required fun. The kind of fun that I find in video games all the time. I want you to experience that fun, both in reading my thoughts on games and hopefully in indulging in them, too. If you’re a parent standing on the outside, looking at an increasingly-distant in, I hope that what follows can help you not only connect the dots but find something meaningful in the process. I hope I can ease some of the fears associated with online interactions. I hope I can encourage more people to pick up a controller; that parents may find themselves better able to guide their children through some difficult situations that may present themselves.
Most of all, I hope that I can inject some fun into your nighttime reading, a slither of joy about this topic that might, perhaps, soften any worry or misgivings you have about video games. I hope that this book can show games in a light that is rarely reported on: as a great family activity that can educate, encourage and entertain people of all ages.
The Wonder Years
If upon reading the title of this chapter, you immediately began singing “Without a Little Help” by Joe Cocker* (yes I know it was actually a Beatles song but, a) the Cocker release was the theme song, and b) it is really a much better version), well, I hate to say it, but you’re old. Sorry, but it’s the truth. I had to face that fact, too. Being old (but not really old – that is a position held by my parents and their contemporaries), I have a habit of spending a bit of time looking back at what things were like in my youth. Pre-responsibilities, pre-mortgages, pre-kids. It was a time without care, a period where my time was my own.
I did what a lot of young folks do: I entertained myself. I went to the pub. I played sport. I went to the pub. I dabbled in writing and… I went to the pub. But, when I had free time, I mainly played video games. I played on both computers and consoles, with friends and by myself. I journeyed through alien galaxies, replicated great sporting feats and commanded armies on their road to conquest. I enjoyed myself immensely, competing in virtual worlds, fighting virtual battles and claiming virtual victories. Video games were the solution to a busy day at work, a stressful conversation with my partner about money, a way to waste a day away when feeling ill. Video games filled the shoes of party-starter, lazy Sunday afternoon entertainment and of a general time-waster, something to fit into my (looking back) rather empty days.
It’s easy to gaze back at that time and romanticise about it. Spare time was plentiful, responsibility seldom got more intense than making sure I had sufficient packets of two-minute noodles for the week (with some beer money leftover). The daily routine went as follows: wake up – go to work – do whatever the hell I wanted.
The truth about those days, carefree though they may have been, is a little bleaker than the surface actually suggests. The reality was that these were tough times for my partner (now wife) and I. We were young and stuck in quite a bit of a rut. We bought a flat instead of renting (this was before the real estate boom, so it was still a viable option for a young couple) and, if I am honest with myself, I would say that we were probably under-prepared for that responsibility. Am I glad we did it? Sure I am, but that doesn’t change the fact it was tough. I was also going through a string of illnesses and injuries that kept me out of work, with nothing but myself and my warped thoughts to keep me company. Throw all this in with a job that treated me like garbage and, really, things were more like a dreary British drama than the snappy American sitcom that we like to think that youth is actually like.
I have to say, from my current space of comfort and happiness (and a little aged wisdom), that I was probably borderline depressed during that time. I more than likely should have seen a professional, but money was tight and, to be honest, I just couldn’t see it at the time. Two things got me through that period without me tipping over the edge: my partner and playing video games. Video games were the escape from this day-to-day banality that I craved. Perhaps they weren’t the full therapy that I needed, but they represented the therapy that I could afford. Life was easier when I was saving the world from a ring-shaped superweapon or investigating a city of augmented humans caught up in crazy conspiracies. Paying bills, getting belittled and hiding from the world was much less appealing than shooting hoops with Michael Jordan or driving supercars in exotic locations.
At one point during those years, I suffered quite a bad knee dislocation and I was stuck in our tiny, 1970’s flat for 6 weeks due to the difficulty I had in getting around and the fact we were on the third floor. This meant that we had a decent view, but it wasn’t exactly ideal for restricted mobility. Six weeks is quite the time period to be under what was, in function if not literal reality, house arrest, so I turned to the one thing that wasn’t out of my reach: video games. specifically, Tiger Woods Golf. Tiger and I would stay up playing rounds of golf at TPC Sawgrass until 2 in the morning every single night. I would play until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, fall to sleep on our futon so as not to wake my partner (who still had to go to work) and then sleep for as long as possible the next day. My undeniably fractured logic was that if I slept the day away, I would have less time on my own, less time stuck in that flat with nothing but my own bleak thoughts to keep me company. Yes, I recognise the hole in my thinking; yes, I know I was probably by myself for just as many hours as I would have been had I kept a normal schedule, but it was how I coped, how I got through the isolation. Tiger, though it wasn’t his intention or purpose, kept me sane during that time. As before, it probably wasn’t the healthiest form of mental therapy, but it was the one I had access to and the one that worked for me.
There is a reason as to why I am bringing this up in what is a long-form feature that is primarily about kids – specifically, my kids – and video games. I am a part of the first generation of gamers, the first group of people that grew up with video games. This means that my generation is breaking new ground when it comes to identifying problems, issues and potential pitfalls associated with gaming. Video game addiction treatment when I was growing up consisted of my parents telling me to get off the bloody computer before my eyes turned square. And it turns out that eyes don’t actually turn square, so nuts to that. The only microtransaction related to gaming was buying a magazine so you could get a disc full of video game demos. The closest thing to loot boxes was occasionally getting a sweet cloth map in the packaging of a video game. These are all problems that my generation has created, that we have had to learn to deal with. In taking our hobby into new and exciting spaces, we have created new and scary problems. My unhealthy use of video games as a coping mechanism was just one of these brand new issues.
But, in my mind, the glass is very much half full. Brimming, even. My experience, and later recognition, of where I went wrong, where I should have altered my behaviour instead of ignoring it has left me in a better position to be a good example for my children, a guide that can lead them through the very problems that my generation first experienced. I often think about how hard it must be for parents who don’t play games in this era of morning television sensationalism. Who do they believe? What is the truth? Will Fortnite force my kids to worship the devil and dance the Macarena every evening? Why do my kids just dance whenever I encourage them to floss? I can’t imagine being in that position, seeing such sensationalist garbage from mainstream media while trying to guide my child through an activity that I don’t understand. My path is the easier one now because of my experiences with the actual problems that gaming can cause, not the fabricated ones that some ratings hunting, ignorant, so-called exposé invented by tabloid journalism presents to the world on morning television.
More than anything, though, that little rut in our life highlighted one thing to me: that video games could be more than a simple piece of entertainment, more than just a way to pass some time. For good or ill, video games could affect my mood, help me, distract me and influence me. That realisation changed the way I looked at games, encouraged me to write about games, and is something that is at the forefront of my mind every time I am talking video games with my children.
So there you have it: a very long and wordy way of saying that video games are more than just… well… video games.
Stay tuned for Chapter 2 – Player 2 Has Joined The Game, in a fortnight’s time. Special Thanks to Tim Henderson for being the copy editor.