The day my son realized that the controller did more than blink lazily was the day he became a gamer. He pulled himself into my lap and politely asked to play the “Bike Game” (Trials) together. It took him some time to figure out how to make the bike level out and how to get farther than a few feet without pitching his rider over the handlebars. But once he did, he became a force of nature with a controller in his small hands.
It’s been a year and a half since he started playing games regularly with us. He graduated quickly from Trials to Little Big Planet 3, which is a punishing platformer for even a seasoned gamer. It requires fast reflexes and a good memory for which gadgets to use in which context. There wasn’t much in the way of reading, however, so he was able to glean everything he needed from a combination of trial and error and asking one of us for help. Three months ago, he finished the game without any intervention from either of us.
There were happy tears that day.
In the midst of that, there has been Lego Dimensions, Towerfall, Journey (which he still talks about), and an abundance of twitchy iPad games. The only missing piece of the puzzle was a handheld console. He would look over at one of us while playing a 3DS or Vita game and wonder why he wasn’t allowed to play, too. (The 3D will ruin your developing eyes, little one, and no, you can’t play Professor Layton yet.)
Growing up, I had access to gaming from a very young age, too. I started with the Atari 2600, moved onto the SNES, the N64, and finally to the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. We didn’t have handheld consoles — no Gameboys for me or my brother — because buying something that individual would take away from one of the kids, instead of giving to both. We had to be careful about where the gaming dollars went. Priorities, people.
I looked at my husband shortly before my son’s fifth birthday in July and we both agreed: it’s time to get him his own handheld console. The Vita wasn’t going to work. The 3DS was too, well, 3D, and the top screen would fracture in a matter of days. Watching his delight at Easter as he played Mario Kart on the Wii-U with his uncle and the rest of the family was enough to push us over the edge to get him a 2DS and Mario Kart.
We didn’t expect the change to be quite so profound, both for his individual growth and for our connection as a family.
There are mornings when the first thing that my son will say as I’m settling in for my early writing session is, “Mama, would you like to play Mario Kart with me?” There are evenings when he makes a beeline for his 2DS and nabs my 3DS from my bedside table, presenting it to me as I settle on the couch for an after-daycare snuggle. “Mama, I think we should try the Lightning Cup again. The third level was hard, but I think I’ve got it this time.” Saturdays often begin with the four of us cuddled on our king-sized bed, three of us engaged in Mario Kart, and the littlest colouring on the iPad.
I’ve long been an advocate on how games bring families together. My earliest escape into gaming connected me with my brother, a connection that has stood the test of time and grief and growing up. We are close as adults because we connected as little gamers, weaving in and out of narratives together, passing the controller to one another as we slowly made our way through our favourite games. My dad and I have almost always had a great relationship because we make time to game together — it connects us back to our roots and to one another. When we’re grieving or angry or disconnected, we always come back to gaming.
As my son gets older, I see myself shining behind those hazel eyes that mirror my own. I see that curiosity and delight that drove me onward as a burgeoning gamer, with my dad and my brother by my side, urging me on. He’ll still crawl into my lap, my big five-year-old, and demand that I hold him while he makes his way through a difficult level in Super Mario 3D Land.
“Mama, what did you and dad play when you were little like me?”
It always makes me laugh when he asks me that.
“Nothing like what you have access to, kiddo.”
Being a gamer parent is a consistent reminder to be mindful of the experiences that we introduce to our kids — the delicate balance of not too much and not too little, without losing the magic of discovery and encouraging curiosity. It’s a responsibility that my parents took seriously and here I am, enforcing similar values with a light touch and a big grin all the way.
(Original Post: The Daily Crate)