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Play Like You're Five

Sean Sands | 8 Mar 2009 14:00
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For the most part, I have tried to avoid the common conceit of talking about everything gaming in terms of being a dad. I recall too well hearing far more about other people's children that I cared to when I had not burdened the world with my own genetic copies, but now that my five year-old has become something of a Padawan gamer himself, I find that he is having as much an impact on me as I on him.

In the simplest terms possible, as a somewhat jaded executive gamer I find that playing with my son lets me inhabit a long lost frame of reference for looking at games, and by doing so I've actually found my hobby to be far more entertaining even when playing on my own.

I've talked at length about experiences over the past year with World of WarCraft, Fallout 3, Burnout Paradise, GTA 4 and all the staples of what I had considered an otherwise mediocre 2008. What I have not shared as much is that amount of time I have spent with games like Indiana Jones Lego, Mario Party 8, Super Mario Galaxy, Wall-E and Peggle. These are the titles that I share with my son, and often in contrast to their far more high-profile and adult peers, these are the games that populate my fonder memories.

Let it be a given that spending time with my son is immediate bonus points for any game before it has even been torn from its plastic wrapping. I don't imagine that if I'd sat down alone with Wall-E I'd have come away with quite such a rosy impression. But, even under scrutiny the value and joy of my experiences isn't so easily dismissed with the tropes of well-spent quality time. In fact, I find that playing games with my son allows me to approach the experience in a new way and gain joy in unexpected ways.

I play like a five year-old.

Let's compare and contrast. Playing Fallout 3, I was always a man with a purpose. Whether that purpose was to dispatch some violent mutants or plumb the depths of some once vital Washington landmark, I was always moving forward in the game. There was an overarching goal, and in order to reach that goal I had to meet a series of lesser goals. I was climbing a ladder, focused on the assent and rarely pausing to find out if I can see my house way up this high.

When my son and I began playing Super Mario Galaxy, I initially approached the game in a similar fashion. Each level was a puzzle of a kind, demanding that I complete it and driving me ever forward toward a star so I could unlock new levels to collect more stars. My son, on the other hand, approached the game very differently. At one point I watched him spend two minutes leading a wayward enemy around a tiny planetoid, just to see how long the angry mushroom-thingy would chase him. He laughed. I puzzled.

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