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Let's take one of his favorite games, Plants vs. Zombies, as an example. As a gamer, I see this game primarily as a challenge to be overcome and the form, while hilariously captivating, is merely the icing on the cake. Sure, I like the cute zombies and the funny plants, but those are just the vehicle for my fun. The ultimate destination is completing all the mini-games or growing my Tree of Wisdom as high as possible.
My son looks at it completely differently. For him, the game is about the form. He wants to see the zombies get eaten and the actual challenge behind it all is entirely incidental. He'll watch me play, offering anxious advice and celebrating each and every victory. He's even aware that there's a greater goal behind this all; once a zombie starts getting close to the house, he gets the same urgent excitement I get, but unlike me he stakes no emotional value on losing to the game's AI. When a zombie finally gets into our house, he turns to me with an amused expression as if to say, "Can you believe the bad luck we just had? I bet we can beat 'em next time!"
Things are much more interesting when he takes control of the game himself. Here, he's clearly motivated more by aesthetics than by tactics. He won't plant sunflowers, because to him they're just not very interesting. They bounce around, and sometimes generate glowing balls. Boring. He'd rather just plant an entire garden of Chompers and watch as they devour wave after wave of shambling zombies. Or use a Jalapeno to clear a lane that only has one zombie in it. He almost always loses in the end, and sometimes quite spectacularly, but I can't shake this feeling that he's somehow found a hidden source of fun in the game, a fun that I can only experience vicariously.
The same experience-focused, fun-first approach applies just as easily to many of the other games he plays, from taking pictures of fish in Sea Life Safari to launching off the ski jump in Wii Fit. When I first introduced him to Sea Life Safari, which is a sort of underwater Pokemon Snap, all he wanted to do was toss out the glow sticks to startle the fish. I would tell him again and again, "The game isn't about throwing sticks; you have to take pictures, too," but the intensity on his face was a convincing argument against my score-oriented view of "the real game."