Teaching the Young’uns (Part 1)

After last week’s burnout missive, there’s precious little to report this week; despite the suggestions (some reasonable, some barbaric) that were proposed, I’m no closer to deciding on my next major gaming focus. Between cheap Reach Daily Challenge sniping, I took a lot of the suggestions to heart: I gave Geometry Wars^2 another couple of bashes (I seem to be getting worse with every attempt), I fired up Ikaruga for the first time in aeons (blimey, I need to work on my dexterity – and vision), and gave Shadows of the Damned another run (and gave up in scaredy-pants fear after two checkpoints. And I’m still in Act 2!)

My nephew – who knows little other than his blinkered world of gaming – dropped by with his father on Friday night, and – as usual – asked if he could play something. Now, I’m a real stick-in-the-mud of an uncle: he’s only eleven, and I’m very careful about what I will let him play. I’ve admonished him loudly about buying games like inFAMOUS for his PS3 (and then chastised his parents); while he maintains that he doesn’t like “shooting games”, and attempts to project himself as an angel as a result, he had no qualms whatsoever about running around as Evil Cole, electrocuting civilians with abandon. I asked why he never took the “good” option; his response was that he was just chasing the better weapons.

But I’m not going to moralise right now; instead, I’ll just recount what happens when he asks if he can play a game.

Once upon a time, it was simple: I’d just fire up the Wii. I was happy for him to play nearly anything on my Wii (No More Heroes excepted, of course), and he was happy to do so, even going so far as to carry a number of his own games around with him any time he thought there was going to be a Wii in the vicinity. Since his mother bought him a PS3, however, all passion for the Wii has fallen by the wayside: he’s now very much a graphics hound, and the first phrase out of his mouth when evaluating any game now is usually of the form “the graphics are[n’t] very good.”

Which rankles a bit.

A brief side-story: my ex had a couple of twin nephews that we would take from their parents about once a month. Pizza and gaming we traded for their admiration; we were most definitely the cool aunt and uncle (I was introduced to some of their young school friends at a social gathering with almost mystical awe). These boys, too, originally saw little beyond the images projected on-screen; but, over time, I was able to help them see beyond the visual quality, and to look for other aspects in a game: control, storytelling, feeling. Not my nephew, though. He has resolutely sidestepped any efforts to educate, to expand the way he thinks about games. And that saddens me a lot; he’s obviously passionate about gaming (quite possibly at his health’s expense), but that passion is only skin deep. Anyway…

The Wii’s not good enough for him anymore, and the only games I’ve got on the PS3 are Uncharted, inFAMOUS, and WipEout – one of which he lacks the dedication to play, the other two I think are inappropriate for a boy his age. So we’re onto the 360 – handy, because there’s a lot of XBL Arcade games on the hard-drive that I fire up without leaving my seat (after all, I’m a lazy bugger); on the other hand, there’s not that many that I actually want to see elevated on my gamercard. That’s OK, though, since I’ve got a house profile set up… but what to play?

I’ve tried arcade re-imaginings, like Pac-Man – no interest. Too boring. Costume Quest entertained for awhile, but his habit of not reading on-screen text stymied his ability to progress: no progress, no interest (that buggered up Stacking as well). Twin-stick shooters are an abstraction too far, and I’ve even tried goading him – using the phrase “this is one of my most favorite games ever” – with Space Giraffe.

This week, though, I was at a loss. So I fired up Rez. And he hated it. While he played, I tried explaining why I loved it, but he remained mystified. “Not very good,” surmised my nephew, putting the controller down and picking up his 3DS; “it should have some boss battles.”

“You want a boss battle?” I said, snatching the controller. “Check this out.”

I chatted with my brother as I hammered through the early levels of Area 4. The child was disinterested, and I could hear the beeps and boops as he flitted through various NES-era games that he downloaded as part of the 3DS Ambassador Program. Despite my brother’s blank expression as he watched the glowing abstractions of Rez flow by, I explained why I thought Rez was such an important game – both personally, and within annals of gaming – and, despite nearly being fifty and having limited understanding of the form, I could see some words get through to him.

And then came Area 4’s boss: the Running Man. “Now this is a boss battle,” I said, and the boy looked up, half-interested. That’s when Area 4’s music picks up pace, becomes ominous… the early stages, abstract collections of cubes, almost lost him, but when the Running Man appeared with a cacophony of crashing drums, his curiosity was piqued.

“Can I have another go?” he asked. He tried Area 4, convinced he was better gamer than his uncle; he died early. But I could see some absorption: a look beyond the screen. A foot almost imperceptibly tapping with the rhythm.

Then I fired up Child of Eden.

My brother was left murmuring to himself, for the sake of his child – equal parts of “what the fuck” and “bloody hell that TV’s good.” My nephew tried to play, failed to progress very far, tried again, then asked “this is out on the PS3, isn’t it?”

“Later this year,” I said (September 23 over here).

“I might ask for this for Christmas,” he mused, eyes on the screen.

Now, I’ve no idea whether he means that, or whether he was saying what his cool uncle just wants to hear… but I’ll take that as a win.

But his education isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. I’m still waiting for him to get old enough – no, scratch that, mature enough – to start talking about games on a deeper level. I want him to be astute enough to explain why he does (or does not) like Ico without making me bite my lip in frustration. I want him to be able to win me over and get me to try something new – because, even though he knows I hate fighting games, I’m not going to change my mind and admit that the latest Tekken is awesome because it “looks cool.”

But, since I’m the games-as-presents purchaser in the family, he’s going to get Child of Eden for Christmas anyway. And I’ll (ironically) be goading him until he gets the Platinum.

2 thoughts on “Teaching the Young’uns (Part 1)”

  1. Thanks, stark! :)

    Of course, there’s a litany of “Part 1” posts on this site that have no siblings – so don’t expect anything soon… ;)

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