In the last week or two, I've had a bit of epiphany regarding my kids and videogames. It's one of those things that, in retrospect, if I'd bothered to take even a moment to myself to sit and apply my mind to the situation probably would have popped out pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I live a life where taking a moment to sit and apply my mind to anything is pretty hard - and when I do, it's generally something work related. I've posted about the trials and tribulations of being a GamerDad before, and the situation hasn't changed much apart from one fundamental element - and that's my attitude toward it.
In that post back in March, I was a man engaged in a perpetual conflict. My son wanted to play Fortnite; I didn't want him to play it - for a variety of reasons. I'm not going to go over them again here - the original article spelled them out in detail and they remain the same now as they were back then. My boy's Fortnite fascination continues unabated. We've broadened his horizons a bit - with F1 2018 turning out to be a surprising diversion for him that began six weeks or so ago and continues to today, making it the game he's probably played for the second longest in his life so far. That's as well as it being a game that I've grown to love far more than I thought it was possible for me to love a pretty simulation heavy racing game.
I can still get him to play Starlink if he's in the right mood, and regular Minecraft and Sea of Thieves sessions continue. So, he's mostly consuming the same stuff he was back in March. What's changed? Me. I've accepted a couple of home truths. One might even say I've embraced a bigger picture. There was one truth staring me in the face; and as soon as I recognised that one I realised there were a couple more lined up patiently behind it - all waiting their turn like British people queuing for cold tea in the rain. The first one was this:
Fortnite isn't going anywhere.
I guess I'd been hoping that Fortnite was a "just a phase" my son was going through. Like most 9 year old boys, he's susceptible to fads. If the boys in the year above him at school are into something, then his default state is to also think it's the coolest thing since sliced bread. It doesn't matter whether or not it's really something cool - it's just how it goes. I daresay lots of parents felt the same way, just waiting for this thing to fade away and be replaced by something else. But I really don't think Fortnite is a fad though; if it was it'd be long over by now. All the games that were going to topple it have stepped into the ring, bouncing energetically on the balls of their feet, shadow-boxing with all the enthusiasm of the rookie fighter taking his shot at the heavyweight. And one by one, they've been knocked flat. Sometimes the fight has lasted less than a round, some have gone a couple - it doesn't matter. The result is always the same. That one opened up the next thought, lined up behind it:
Fortnite might be to my boy what Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda were to me.
My games will never be his games - and nor should they be. The world has turned, and time and technology has moved on. I've been playing games with him with the idea in my head that he'd love what I did - and in retrospect that idea is not only ridiculous, it's also unfair. What blew me away bores the pants off him... and that's fine. It has to be fine. He's going to grow up in a world very different to the one I did - a world where everything moves fast. I need to be happy that he loves videogames, and arguably even more importantly that he loves them on his own terms.
The third thought in the queue was shuffling its feet impatiently, with a melancholy expression on its face and drops of rain dripping from its spectacles. It looked a bit sorry for itself - and the message it had for me was a reminder more than anything else.
My parents never cared much about my gaming - they never engaged with it. And I always wished they would.
My parents never played videogames with me. They supported me in a thousand other ways - this isn't a "woe is me" self-pitying thing, it's just a statement of fact. Games were what I liked best, and my parents always pushed against them. My Dad wanted me to play football and I had absolutely no interest in it whatsoever and there was always some resentment there over that, I think. By expecting my kids to love the same things I did, I'm perpetuating that same situation - and I really don't want to. So, even though I'm not a fan of BR's, my son is - and that is reason enough that I should make the effort to engage with it. I won't be "playing Fortnite" I'll be "playing my son's favourite game with him." That's a massive difference. Not only is that being a better Dad, it's exercising basic fairness - as I expect him to play stuff that I like with me. I should absolutely split that down the middle and play stuff he likes with him.
I don't know. It all seems so obvious when it's written down as a couple of centralised points, doesn't it?
Anyway, with these realisations fresh in my mind and a warm mug of tea in hand, we ventured into Duos. I sucked before. I still suck now, the difference being that this time I had a 9 year old to pick me up and show me the ropes. After a couple of painfully poor performances, he suggested playing head to head against each other. The 1v1 was a draw in the first game, I won the second - I took an early lead, but he was pulling it back fast by the end. I've no doubt he'll win the third. Maybe the best thing to come out of this of all, though... is that now he wants to build maps for us to play. He's been beavering away all week, positioning assets, looking at sightlines and generally taking it far more seriously than I thought he was capable of taking anything - and this weekend we'll wade in. It turns out that just jumping in with him was the best way to trigger the creativity that I feared the game was sucking out of him. Him building this map is the 21st century of me and my little brother drawing Super Mario Bros levels and Zelda dungeons on graph paper.
The ride has taken an interesting turn - and best of all, it's only just beginning. Now, I just need to see if there's a game out there that my daughter can be as passionate about.