I used to steadfastly and arrogantly maintain that I was the only gamer in my family. Games are my entertainment, my hobby and, with any luck, my profession. I know all the acronyms and slang, and I keep abreast of the latest news. Most damning of all, I read The Escapist. By comparison, the rest of my family are just noobs, a source of embarrassing stories to tell at LAN parties.
Now I’m slowly breaking away from that narrow outlook. Maybe I have more in common with my family than I thought. My dad, for instance, was a certified Asteroids junkie in the ol’ college arcade. My mother not so fondly recalls their “dates,” in which she would follow him to the bar and find herself stranded while he sat at the machine, making a couple of quarters last for hours. Alas, those glory days have passed, and for a long while he only played Minesweeper and Solitaire.
I’ve long suspected that my dad had retained his hardcore gamer sensibility at heart, but I’ve had trouble drawing it out. I once tried to encourage him with some addictive turn-based strategy games, but he rejected Civilization 2 and Heroes of Might and Magic 3 with the clever excuse that my overtures were too successful; he’d never be able to get any work done, he told me, if he gave these games a try. But even though his tastes weren’t particularly diverse, I have to give him credit: He was really good at Minesweeper and Solitaire.
There was one encouraging month, way back in 2006, when we played all of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess together on the basement couch. I took care of the controls and the fighting, while he helped with the puzzles. It made for a surprisingly effective father-son bonding activity. And his recent progress in Wii Bowling impresses me, but I don’t think it means he’s returned to his gamer roots. I mean, seniors play Wii Bowling.
My mother should get most of the credit for transforming me into a gamer. Her background includes a master’s degree in computers & education. She thought computers would revolutionize the learning process by providing customized lessons and individual pacing for each student. Crushing disappointment ensued. But decades later, when I was enrolled in a lackluster kindergarten program, she revisited computers and games for the sake of my education. I subsequently fell in love with the JumpStart series; thank God nobody told me that it was teaching me stuff. I eventually graduated to The Oregon Trail and a bunch of other games that she could justify as somewhat educational.
But she knew not what she had wrought. I soon grew out of that larval stage, and within a few short years I was desperately trying to get her to play Command & Conquer with me – I couldn’t understand that other people might not love it like I did. The game even inspired me to write my first and only piece of fan fiction for a second grade assignment (obliviously entitled “War and Peace”). It was the only time that my mother was ever concerned about the effect of violent videogames on the developing mind.
To my dismay, my mother was happy to remain ignorant of gaming’s ever ripening fruit. This continued for years until she read an article about Brain Age and asked me if she ought to buy this newfangled Nintendo DS device. In the end, I was able to convince her to get Elite Beat Agents as well, hoping again to remake her in my image so that there could finally be another gamer in the family. Later, she did her share of store-stalking in order to purchase Wii Fit, which was another step in the right direction. But I figured that Brain Age and Wii Fit were games for non-gamers, so she still didn’t make the cut.
My brother has my thanks for introducing me to Command & Conquer and some other classics, but he later became a “former gamer,” an apostate in my eyes. In my formative years, he was either my mentor or a pusher, depending on your outlook. Unfortunately, since then, the “real world” caught up with him. Now he’s one of those mainstreamers that Penny Arcade abhors, off playing Halo 3 with his college buddies. He’s obviously not a real gamer.
But I started to reconsider my elitism when I realized how much we all still played games together. Hours-long poker tournaments are a staple holiday activity, and my dad has made sure we know all the obscure variations of the game. We play our share of Scrabble and Monopoly as well. But it really impressed me when my parents asked me to teach them how to play Rock Band when I brought it home from college. It wasn’t a byproduct of my parents trying to reach out to me; they just thought that it looked fun.
In the past, I think that my parents were turned off by the demands that most games made: to learn a complicated new interface, to know the conventions of gaming or to put up with lackluster story for the sake of the compelling gameplay underneath. It’s no surprise that the videogames that have intrigued them are the ones that don’t look like videogames. My brother, on the other hand, was probably too extroverted to play games the way I did. Online multiplayer was uncommon back then; it’s only natural that a few doses of living room Halo would be enough to satisfy him now.
The ESA says that 26% of gamers are over 50. For the longest time I couldn’t believe it. Just another tortured statistic, I figured. But I was ignoring gamers like my mom, who trains her body and mind with Wii Fit and Brain Age. I discounted my dad, who prefers deep and narrow puzzles to the sprawling epics of the hardcore crowd.
Everyone games. All the families that play poker together, all the grandparents playing checkers or the Wii, all the students playing flash games in class, all the folks playing Bridge or Mahjong every week – they’re all gamers. That’s not to say that there isn’t a distinct hardcore gaming culture, but games are already an integral part of our culture at large. I’ve always known this intellectually, but it’s only after I reconsidered my own family that it really hit me.
Why should I look down on dad’s Sudoku when I’m on my way to play Braid? Why denigrate my brother’s FPS of choice when I’m off playing Left 4 Dead? Why disregard mom’s appreciation of Wii Bowling when the only difference between us is that I take it too seriously? It’s time that I finally accept it: My family is entirely composed of gamers.
Yours probably is, too.
Ed McNeill is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He makes games. Also, he would really appreciate a game design internship for the summer of 2010.